'I loved it since I can remember," says 19-year-old professional ballerina Alana Borza, home in Ireland from her job with The Opera and Ballet Theatre in Izhevsk, Russia. Lots of little girls love ballet. Mostly, they love the costumes - who could blame them? - and the glamour. What was it that appealed to Alana? "I loved the work. The discipline."
So much did Alana love ballet that she decided it would be her career. She trained with Monica Loughman, and by the time she was 15, had been accepted to the Perm State Ballet School, close to the Ural mountains. "I knew I wanted to go to Russia, and do Russian ballet. I've always been very determined. And I was really lucky. My parents are very supportive. My dad wasn't huge on me going to Russia, but my mum was. She was a gymnast when she was younger, and it was her dream to go to Russia or Romania. So when I wanted to do ballet in Russia, she was always 'how can I help?'"
After her Junior Cert, Alana left school in Killiney, where she grew up - her father Camillo is part of the Borza Italian chipper dynasty - and moved to Perm, to train full-time as a ballerina. "I'm one of three kids," she says, "I have two younger brothers, and they work in the family restaurant; they're great at it and they love it. But I'm not a people person... All I ever wanted to do was dance."
And even when the dream came up against reality - leaving home, alone, aged 16, to travel far away to a new culture - Alana didn't waver. "I was very excited." At Perm, she lived with "the other foreigners," including three other Irish girls, in a residency across the road from the ballet school. "The Russians were there since the age of 10. They had different training to us... We had to work twice as hard to make up the ground."
Alana's training was intense. "Two-hour ballet class every day except Sunday, gymnastic classes every day, also character classes, duet classes, rehearsal…" And she loved it. At first. "The first four months were a dream for me. Then after Christmas that first year was kind of difficult. I wasn't loving Perm any more. I didn't like being in a foreigner class; I wanted to be with the Russians. I felt homesick."
She considered coming home. "I called my mum and she said 'finish the year. You can't leave it unfinished, this is actually what you wanted.' And I'm so glad she did. I'm not someone who quits, so I stuck it out, and then I moved to St Petersburg, and I couldn't believe I'd ever thought of leaving."
The move to St Petersburg was to work with Anton Ploom in The St Petersburg Classical Ballet Theatre. "After two years with Anton, I realised that yes, I love Russia. I love the language, the country, I love the style of ballet. Now, it's home."
Last July, Alana auditioned for the Opera and Ballet Theatre in Izhevsk. "I have a contract for a year. After that, we'll see. Izhevsk is about a two-hour flight from Moscow, and culturally, not like St Petersburg or Moscow - it's older Russia. But already, I feel so comfortable."
Her Russian is pretty fluent. "I understand almost 100pc and I'm speaking a lot faster. I can be a little bit shy, and I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I don't like to speak unless I know that what I'm saying is absolutely perfect. But my friends are very helpful." In fact, she says the hardest part has been "learning all of the choreography. You have to be ready to rehearse at a moment's notice. When I go back, we'll have Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and a new performance of Broadway, all on at the same time, and I have to know straight away what I'm doing. You're a pro, you have to be 100pc every time, or they won't put you into the dances."
She is equally matter-of-fact about body weight. "In Russia, it's more important than maybe in other countries. They're very thin and the style is very elegant. You would certainly try to stay under 50kg, because of the boys - they can't be breaking their backs lifting a heavy ballerina. But," she says, "when you're dancing that often, it isn't that difficult. You don't even have time to eat three meals a day, and you're working it off. It's just part of your job."
So what's next, or has she thought about that? "I have. I've always thought at least five years ahead. After Junior Cert I left school altogether, so I'd like to do online courses, but I want to stick with ballet. My plan is to stay in Russia - I'm hoping to audition for the Kremlin Ballet in the future - and after my career is over, maybe when I'm 40, I'd like to come back to Ireland and start a dance school. I'd like to learn as much as possible from the Russians so I can give it back."
Alana will have her premiere in La Bayadere from March 6 - 9 at Opera and Ballet Theatre of the Udmurt Republic State, Izhevsk, Russia.