She knew when she was as young as four years old and watched in awe as the dancers of a production of the Nutcracker pirouetted across the stage. "Mum, I know what I want to be when I grow up: a ballet dancer."
Twelve years later, Irene Estévez has stayed true to her word. The young Malaga-born dancer has been selected to continue her studies at the academy of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, one of the most prestigious institutions for dancing talent in the world.
Leaving on 1 November, she will be the only dancer from Malaga in the academy. "I'm very excited. This is something I've dreamed of since I was little," explains Irene, a student at the ESAEM stage school (Escuela Superior de Artes Escénicas de Málaga).
She speaks with a maturity beyond her 16 years, a personal attribute which is due to the many hours dedicated to perfecting her technique and taking care of her body. "It is a lot of sacrifice and I have to be very clear about what I want; not everybody has what it takes to succeed," she adds. Growing up she has missed out on going out with friends, birthday parties, summer holidays... "I am always dancing, but I love it and this is what I want to do," she confirms.
Her efforts have certainly paid off. On the recommendation of her teacher at the Russian Masters Ballet Camp, where she has spent four consecutive summers, Irene was encouraged to send her CV to the Moscow State Choreography Academy at the Bolshoi School. She added videos, photographs and a long history of courses, masters and schools that Irene has completed in the last decade.
Lastly, she took lessons with Valentina Letova, a former prima ballerina of the Ballet Stars of Russia who is today a ballet teacher at ESAEM. And she was accepted. Soon she will be packing her bags for Moscow, where she will live in a residence for foreign students.
The crème de la crème
"The level at the academy is incredible. I have to prepare myself, be very focused and make sure that I am at the peak of my physical health because what I'm going to find there is the crème de la crème. I will have to adapt to the level, even if at first it overwhelms me," she says. Despite flying to Russia in a few weeks' time, she is still going to her classes at the ESAEM because she has to remain in top form.
For Irene it is not just about going to a demanding academy with a high level, nor about changing the warm climate of Malaga for the intense cold of the Moscow winter. "Now I have to learn the language," she adds. All of her classes and training will be in Russian.
Luckily, the language of dance is universal and the name of the steps and movements - mostly in French - is the same from one end of the globe to the other. "In dance classes I will be able to work out the language, but when it comes to having a conversation ... it will be difficult." She has already bought a book so she can begin to improve her Russian.
The Moscow school, in addition to feeding dancers to the Bolshoi Theatre, serves as a showcase for the rest of the world's major companies. They know that here is where they can find the number one dancers in the world. Irene Estévez will fight to be one of them.