Why Strictly’s Katya is swapping St Petersburg for Peterborough this year
A post-Strictly Come Dancing Christmas for one of its brightest stars Katya Jones usually means resting up, eating too much and going home to Russia for the biggest night of the festive season –New Year’s Eve.
But this year – for the first time ever – she won’t be with friends and family in St Petersburg to see in the new year. No, she will be here in Peterborough, for the closing night of the New Theatre panto The Wizard of Oz.
As we chatted in the glass fronted theatre bar overlooking Broadway, it is clear that the prospect of her first ever panto performance (she is playing Glinda the Good Witch) fills her with excitement, nerves and trepidation.
But the steely determination that has landed her numerous national, international and world titles in dancing – not to mention the 2017 Strictly glitter ball – means that she will be ready, come what may.
But how will walking out on the New Theatre stage, with up to 1,000 people watching, compare to going out onto a dance floor, something she has done thousands of times?
“It will be very different,” she says. “ I haven’t done theatre performances where you have to talk to the audience directly, so very different. “I did my first rehearsals in August because I knew I was going to be limited on time (with her Strictly commitments – she lasted until week eight with BBC presenter Mike Bushell ) so it was just me and James (Tobias) the scriptwriter and director.
“I felt like my voice was getting used to it, talking and projecting, the energy. I have also been doing some singing lessons – not for singing, just to train my voice, to use it in the correct way, doing warm ups that kind of thing. That is going to be really important I feel. Even though panto is only two weeks, and some people do a lot more, doing something continuous like that will be completely new and different. I can’t wait.”
And with a beaming smile she adds, excitedly: “I feel like the first word, coming out and just saying hello to everyone will be amazing.
“I hope they are not going to go quiet,” she laughed. The cast met up for rehearsals this week, although Katya has spoken to some already.
“They are amazing,” she says, still in excited mode “and we have got a dog, which is really good, but my one worry is when you work with an animal in a production anywhere they steal the spotlight, so no matter what I do as soon as there is a dog out on stage everyone is going to forget about me. But I don’t mind, I love dogs.”
So is she learning her lines and how to behave on stage quickly as new dance routines?
“That is interesting,” she says. “We (dancers) learn really quick and our brain is used to the pressure I am very competitive as well with myself and really hard on myself, so even before I came to first rehearsal I was apologising in case I forgot one word and he (James) was saying it’s ok, it’s your first rehearsal! And I am saying no, I forgot the word. I want to get it right I am so hard on myself, I am a perfectionist. I went home and the whole night I was rehearsing and sending James videos saying look I am practising, I promise. But it seems to be alright and he has been fantastic with adjusting it (the role) to my own personality. He was really open to changing some of the wording.
“His vision of the character being quite sassy, she has attitude, which is great – like me, loud, too much energy – but we have worked together and he is happy with the type of character she has turned out to be. Hopefully the audience will get behind her.”
Katya remains busy with Strictly, of course, and says next year is shaping up to be super exciting, but first it is panto.
“I have got my first panto here taking me somewhere new, which is really nice.
“Of course we have hopefully got Strictly every year if we get brought back that takes six months out of your life and then if you do the tour it is another couple of months.
“It just feels like this is taking me in another direction, which is really really nice. In a way there are some similarities performing, under pressure and in front of an audience, that is fine.... but it is not for a dance I am going to have to express myself, we are talking acting and I think in a way panto is a great way to start with acting because it is cheesy, over the top, quite loud and you can get involved and if things go wrong you just get on with it.
“I seem to be pretty good at falling over on the dance floor (referencing her much talked about Strictly mishap with Mike Bushell), so you might see that or some costume malfunction because we are having to adjust it for me in order to dance – and I am a dancing Glinda. It is such a big outfit and there is a costume change on stage. There are a lot of things that could go wrong (more laughter), but if it happens I feel like we are in the perfect place to act it out.
“And we have live animals,” she adds excitedly once more “and you never know what they are going to do on stage.”
So, why now?
“Last year made me think you know what, I want to do something over Christmas, because I had so much time off – of course I enjoyed it, you are normally quite tired after the whole Strictly thing – so I take a few weeks off, then it is Christmas and I always go home to St Petersburg for New Year’s Eve because this is our big celebration. And this is going to be my first time ever I will be missing a family New Year celebration in order to do panto, so this is quite a big deal – but St Petersburg and Peterborough, not so different, I will feel like I am at home,” she said with a smile.
“So this is what happened, last year I had so much time on my hands, I enjoyed my food a little bit too much, got a bit lazy and I thought nah, I am going to do something next year, something that is going to push me a little bit more and challenge me in a different way.
“I feel panto is the perfect thing, and then this opportunity came up. And it is a new production, which is fantastic, and that means everybody is going to put all their energy into it to make it great, prove ourselves in a way. So I feel quite privileged to be able to do that – the first time at the New Theatre with Prime Pantos. Everyone is really excited so the energy is going to be really fresh and new.”
Katya’s Strictly commitments mean she will be at the live final on December 14 and miss day one of the panto run. So how does she think it will turn out?
“This year has been very different,” she says. “People get more and more educated about the dance and they have seen so many dancers or people who have learned how to dance and they have been quite harsh on everyone – they want to see really good dancers . They appreciate those who try and are not the best but you have got to be good to make it through.
“And it keeps changing, even the top of the leader board every week and those that you thought were potential finalists they have gone, some of them, people like Michelle and Dev even earlier which makes it interesting. But I feel that the ultimate nation’s dream is for Anton to win. For the first time in 15 years he got a 10 so if he can push further, make it to the final I feel that this is the dream, for Anton to win... now we will have to wait and see what happens on the day.”
The Wizard of Oz runs from December 14 to 31. Tickets at www.newtheatre-peterborough.com