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|About the Change|
Principal, Kirov Ballet
© Jeffery Taylor
Former dancer, Critic and an Arts feature writer for the
Watching the Kirov Ballet dancing Swan Lake is like a genius playing your favourite piece of music. It is a revelation, like hearing it for the first time with every trusty old note shockingly new and perfect. But the truly flabbergasting statistic behind this particular wizardry is the fact that the St Petersburg company has now performed the piece without a break for 110 years. For over a century the curtain has gone up and down on the Kirov Swan Lake hundreds of thousands of times. How is it possible not to get stale or lose touch with the spirit of a work whose only link between the generations, until very recently, was word of mouth?
On last Monday’s opening night of the Kirov Ballet’s London season the answer was clear. People power. As the stage gradually filled in Act I each individual dancer exuded total conviction. Collectively this certainty, embedded in history, swept away any doubt about classical ballet being the greatest artistic expression of the human condition. Like young Anton Korsakov’s Prince’s Friend dancing with the grave perfection of a boyish Menuhin and the entire female ensemble whose Swan Acts II and IV were a victory of a profound belief in schooling over flashy accessibility.
“Basically speaking dancing is very hard work” says Uliana Lopatkina, whose breathtaking performance in the dual role of Odette/Odile last week emphasised yet again her position as the current world’s greatest female classical ballet dancer. So adored in her native country, which venerates dancers with almost the same passion we reserve for footballers, Lopatkina, 31, is dubbed by the Press as The Soul of Russia.
Uliana Lopatkina as Odile in Swan Lake
© Kirov Ballet / Uliana Lopatkina
Talking to her backstage dressed in a simple black trouser suit, her only jewellery small silver ear loops and her short auburn hair pinned behind her ears with plastic combs, it is clear where her sanctification comes from. Unlike the Imperial ballerinas building empires on diamonds thrown by adoring Tsars, Lopatkina’s power base is the strength of her own convictions. Her deeply religious beliefs inherited from her mother are widely known.
“When I prepare a role,” she explains, “I ask God to help me find the depths of emotion and understanding even I am not aware of to make my performance real and good.
“I have to control my own movement,” she goes on, “the music, my line and shape of my dancing and the character I am creating. It is so subtle and complex I don’t know how anyone does it anyway.” No relying on divine or libidinous intervention there, then. But four years ago a husband, architect and writer Vladimir Kornev, followed nine months later by baby Maria – Masha – managed to change everything.
“Everyone who has a child,” she says, “knows it is sleepless nights, changing nappies and carrying a child in your arms is a very physical labour. No matter how much friends tell you, it is a shock. Also your body will always carry the mark of motherhood.” Lopatkina’s mother lives 2 minutes away in the historic Fontanka district of St Petersburg, which proves extremely useful. “For many years,” she explains, “I was waiting for the time for me to be grown up enough to have my own family. Men wait until they’re tired of being a bachelor before marrying while women wait for the right time in their career. But I fell in love and it was wonderful.”
Uliana Lopatkina and Danila Korsuntsev in Swan Lake
© Natasha Razina
Sightseeing in London is restricted for Lopatkina by her rehearsal and performing schedule – and her aching feet. “I have brought my husband’s new book, it is just published and dedicated to me. I want to sit in a London park and read it in peace. I have brought it to London to get it away from him because he always interferes at home, telling me what happens next and completely ruins it.”
And doesn’t shopping usually provide compensation for a lone female? “No,” she insists. “I am banned from making such purchases, because London is so expensive. I look and admire, but I will get my wrists slapped when I get home if I am extravagant. That’s married life.”
But for those of us who saw Lopatkina’s Swan Lake, it is the memories she leaves behind that matter.