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Friday, November 22, 2013

Ballet Break III: The Great Ulyana Lopatkina

Ulyana Vyacheslavovna Lopatkina  (Ульяна Вячеславовна Лопаткина), was born October 23, 1973.  Although Russian, she was born in Ukraine (USSR), where she lived the first ten years of her life. While her parents were not at all thrilled about it, she was sent off at that age to Russia to the Vaganova Academy.  After 8 years of training,  Ulyana graduated from the  Academy in 1991, and  joined the Mariinsky, where in a remarkably short period of time she was promoted to principal dancer (1995). In 1999 she was awarded the State Prize of Russia, and in 2005 she was awarded the very prestigious title Peoples’Artist of Russia.  She is now married, and has one daughter, Masha, born in 2002. 

Today, after a fair number of years of both triumph and heartache, Ulyana, having been sidelined for years with a broken ankle, is back in force, and is considered by many to be the greatest of the modern classical ballerinas, greatly gifted with a near perfect, classically lithe and slender body, capable, through long training, of great purity of posture.  She is also remarkably musical.

While it may be perfectly legitimate to concede to others—most notably Diana Vishneva—a superior attainment in the area of modern avant garde, very athletic dancing, most balletomanes will stand by the classically inclined Lopatkina, whose elegant, classical virtuosity seems unrivaled. Her repertoire tells her story:  Giselle, Le Corsaire, Bayadère   Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, The Legend of Love: A veritable textbook of traditional ballet.

There is perhaps no better or clearer introduction to Lopatkina’s virtuosity than her stunning presentation of Mikhail Fokine’s  eternally popular “Dying Swan,” originally composed for Anna Pavlova on Camille Saint Saëns’ cello solo from The Carnival of Animals:

Isn’t that simply magnificent!   The quintessence of balletic classicism.  If one were to look up “classicism” in a good encyclopedia of ballet, there is a good chance they would find a photo taken from that film! The very long and slender limbs, coupled to the absolute control of the flow of their movement, is, I think it quite fair to say, hypnotic.  I can think of no better word.  And of course her posture, from the port de bras to the ram-rod straight elevated reach; from the arched back so beloved by the Russians, the back-flex of the wrists on the very long arms; all are text-book clean.  The truly important thing, of course, is how this astonishing collection of abilities and gifts is put to use in artistic creation, which is quite extraordinary and very moving

Here is a good chance to see the more aggressive and energetic Lopatkina, in the 3rd act pas de deux from Swan Lake, with Danila Korsuntsev, featuring Lopatkina performing 32 fouettes en tournant as smoothly as can be imagined:

A marvel of elegance, precision and traditional style.  There is little more to say in a brief celebration such as this.  Ulyana is 40 years old now,  and let us hope for more years from this extraordinary ballerina!