If it had been up to her ex-gymnast father, Salome Leverashvili would have created a furore on the bars, balance beam, mat and vault. But as a child, Salome proved too flexible for gymnastics – “I had to get stronger first” – which led to her following in the footsteps of her mother, a former dancer.
At the age of four, Salome started classes in Georgian folk dancing, and soon there was no stopping her. “I often danced for my grandparents. Then I performed for two minutes and they had to clap for ten. So my grandfather said, ‘Please take her somewhere she can get rid of all that energy’.” So Salome started going to ballet alongside her Georgian dance classes. When her teachers told her, at the age of ten, that she had to choose between the two, she opted for ballet and was accepted for the Vakhtang Chabukiani State Ballet School in her hometown of Tbilisi.
As the youngest pupils at the school only did two performances a year, Salome was regularly bored in the early years and she entertained herself by translating her favourite poems into dance. She laughs, “The choreography was probably awful, but just like my grandparents, the teachers had to clap, of course.” It was only when she got her first solo roles that her passion for ballet was really kindled. When she was just sixteen, she danced a demi-soloist role in Balanchine’s Symphony in C with the State Ballet of Georgia, and for her graduation performance she shone in the role of Gamzatti in La Bayadère.
By then, Salome already knew she would leave Georgia after her training. “In Georgia, I was in too much of a bubble.” She took a summer course at the Royal Ballet School, but decided that London wasn’t the place for her, so chose instead to take up the offer of an extra year’s training at the famous Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg. Around the same time, Maia Makhateli (principal with Dutch National Ballet) got in touch with Salome’s teacher (who was also Makhateli’s teacher) to say that Dutch National Ballet’s Junior Company might also be a good option for Salome. But Salome was determined. “I’m going to Russia.” That was until she got a call from Makhateli herself, saying, “Just come to Amsterdam for a week and then decide.” Salome says, “I agreed, and when I arrived in Amsterdam the sky had just turned pink. Everything was so beautiful. I watched David Dawson’s Overture and my jaw dropped. I’d never seen anything like it before. I called my mother and told her I wanted to stay in this magical city.”
Since starting with the Junior Company, in 2016, it’s been one wonderful, fascinating journey, says Salome. “I’ve learned so much and feel so privileged to have found a place where I really feel at home. And I’ve worked with so many fantastic people.” From Ernst Meisner, Caroline Iura and Rachel Beaujean to David Dawson, Hans van Manen and Toer van Schayk, but, she says, “The list is too long.” And mention must definitely also go to her dance partner, Timothy van Poucke. “It’s not easy to find such a good partner; someone who really pushes you and helps you grow, like Timothy does.” To date, they’ve danced together in ballets like Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, Van Manen’s Sarcasmen and Wubkje Kuinderma’s Echoes of Tomorrow. Other important main roles for Salome include Frida and Mata Hari in the full-length productions of the same name by, respectively, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Ted Brandsen. Salome says, “As a child, I always longed to have more birthdays, and now every leading role feels like a birthday party.”
‘Dancing is who I am’
Her main goals are to continually approach everything and everyone around her with an open mind and to always be sincere in the way she dances. “I’ll never think, ‘so, now I’ve made it’. There’ll always be something to learn and a new place to go to. For me, dancing isn’t simply about the steps. I really need to put my whole heart into it, and dare to be ‘naked’ on stage and show who I am, otherwise it doesn’t work for me.” The jury of the Alexandra Radius Prize endorsed that in 2022, when they named her the winner, saying, “Salome’s dancing is always about more than the steps alone. She adds a distinctive interpretation and power of expression to every role she dances.”
Neither does Salome see dancing as work. “I don’t come in two versions. Dancing is who I am. Whether I’m interpreting a main role or doing a little dance at home after good news or a delicious meal, the energy and the sense of happiness are just the same.”
Place of birth:
With Dutch National Ballet since:
Career with Dutch National Ballet:
Soloist (2021), grand sujet (2020), coryphée (2019), corps de ballet (2018), élève (2017), Junior Company (2016)
Vakhtang Chabukiani State Ballet School (Tbilisi, Georgia)
2022: Alexandra Radius Prize
2016: Rigas Pavasaris ballet competition, Riga (Latvia), gold medal
2013: International Solo Tanz competition, Berlin