What does it take to become a prima ballerina?

In this intimate film, we follow Olga Smirnova, a rising star at the prestigious Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It’s a story about the gruelling dedication and sacrifices a young ballerina makes to see her dreams come to fruition.

You’re inside Smirnova’s world, consumed with rehearsals and little time to breathe. Running on all cylinders, you witness her unwavering work ethic – dancing from dusk until dawn – and the lonely existence she leads, as a result. But she doesn’t seem to mind. She’s living her dream.

Camera and edit: Michael Sugrue
Producer: Fyodor Mozgoyov / The Key Productions
Score: Patricio José Sanchez, Steve Nossiter
Sound recordist: Philipp Starenko
Sound design: Michael Sugrue, Philipp Starenko
Assistant camera: Dima Solovyov
B camera operator: Ivan Markarov
Gaffer: Ilya Maximov
Special thanks: Olga Smirnova, Marina Kondratieva, Katerina Novikova, the Bolshoi Theatre


Michael Sugrue | 99.media

Michael Sugrue

“I was focused on showing
the quiet intensity, concentration,
and also some of the loneliness
that she experiences.”
  • How did it all start with this project? How did you meet Olga?

I was shooting a corporate film in Russia and came up with the idea. My local Russian producer reached out to the Bolshoi to gain access. We met them one time over coffee, and then they gave us exceptional access to Olga in and around the Bolshoi theatre.

  • How did the production go? What were the challenges to take up?

We were completely dependent on Olga’s schedule, which is very, very strict. Down to the minute for some things. We shot for a couple of hours on two consecutive days, so we had a chance to do something again the following day if we liked it the first time.

  • How would you describe your style, both narrative and graphic?

I suppose I would describe my style as cinematic naturalism. It’s probably a cliche, but I like to use the fluidity of the camera, with lighting and composition, to help tell the story, instead of just relying on filming content in a reality-show fashion.

The Prodigy | 99.media
  • What was your point of view, what message did you want to convey with this story?

I wanted to get into her head a little bit, without judgement. I knew I didn’t want to use a lot of narration, so I was focused on showing the quiet intensity, concentration, and also some of the loneliness that she experiences.


  • Could you tell us about your ongoing projects?

I’m currently developing three projects. There are two narrative films based on scripts I wrote. One is currently casting, while the other has just won a couple of screenwriting awards. I’m also developing an episodic series on the impact of Blockchain technology, using real-world use cases that show a profound quality-of-life benefit.


  • A word about 99 and the multilingual subtitling of your film?

I’m really impressed with the beautiful design and thoughtful curation of films. I think it’s a great outlet for exceptional short form content.

Sign up for
our newsletter

Join our
5,000 subscribers ↓