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About the Change

Ulyana Lopatkina

Kirov Principal

by Natasha Dissanayake

© Kirov Ballet/Ulyana Lopatkina

Lopatkina in reviews

Kirov reviews

At the beginning of May, Ulyana Lopatkina paid a flying visit to London to promote the Mariinskyís forthcoming tour in July. She spent two days in one of the smaller rooms in the Covent Garden Theatreís downstairs quarters giving interviews to a string of ballet critics and journalists. She was interviewed for the Magazine by Natasha Dissanayake

ND:     Ulyana, first of all, I am so glad to see you again in London. It was a disappointment for many ballet-goers last month when you were unable to appear at Cardiffís Millenium Centre. What happened?

UL:     It was flu, just flu, the same flu that plagued our company for months over the course of last winter. More than half our dancers contracted it at some point, and it got to me in April, just when I was meant to be going to Cardiff. I was very sorry.

Two years ago, you sustained a serious injury and couldnít take part in the Mariinskyís season in London. What does that mean psychologically for an artist - to stay at home as others go on tour and dance your repertoire, while you donít even know when you will be back in shape?

I try to be philosophical about that sort of situation, as if looking at it from above. I think of what I did in the past, what I have at present and what should happen to me in the future. I try to take an objective view of life. And so I decided that, since I canít dance and will be undergoing treatment, now would be a good time to have a baby. And the Lord gave me one. After all, everyone gets injured. You canít dance everything everywhere. You canít embrace the unembraceable. So, thereís no point in being upset all the time.

Has anything changed in your approach to your roles since you became a mother? Did you discover anything new in them?

Definitely. I felt an urge to begin all my roles afresh. I spent quite a long time on maternity leave and recovering from the operation on my foot. So when I was undergoing rehabilitation and was unable to dance, I thought a lot about how I would return to my work, how I would do this or that. So I gave a lot of thought to finding new details and nuances. Then, once my technique was back, I could put all those thoughts into practice.

On the subject of technique, can I ask you about the controversial 6 oíclock extensions? To throw a leg so high was unacceptable until quite recently, and now almost everyoneís doing it. What do you think about this?

It seems to me that there have to be some limits. The teacherís and the ballerinaís taste is very important here. Six oíclock is appropriate only at certain special moments, if it helps to express something and Ė what is most important Ė if it doesnít ruin the line. When a ballerina does it, she shouldnít cross the line of the arm with her leg. All diagonals must be kept intact. There must be harmony in the lines of arms and legs. Beauty is paramount. One mustnít mix sport with ballet.

The Mariinsky company with which you work is a symbol of classical ballet, but it has also mastered the neoclassical repertoire and is now dancing modern choreography, such as Forsythe. What gives you the greatest pleasure to dance, and why?

It is immensely interesting to work on Balanchineís, Robbinsís and Forsytheís ballets. I enjoy dancing them. However, the interest disappears after a while because their ideas are not based on human feelings, on the human soul. The concept of their ballets is plasticity and pattern, and this is less understandable and less accessible for the wider audience. The Russian public, for example, compares contemporary choreography with sport and says: "Why should we watch gymnastics? This is more like artistic gymnastics. Classical full-length ballets are more interesting. They have a plot, a love story and picturesque scenery. Itís theatre, after all.Ē


Uliana Lopatkina as Odile in Swan Lake
© Kirov Ballet / Uliana Lopatkina

In Russia they love dramatic ballets with a plot. Box office sales show that audiences everywhere prefer them. But ballet historians, so-called experts, love to talk about the demise of this sort of ballet. Whatís your opinion on this?

These ballets must not die. They must survive and please the audiences, but in order to continue doing so they must become more powerful, they have to be very well structured. A good director holds the key to a good ballet.

Which roles were devised specifically for you, and how did the choreographers work with you - did they come to rehearsals with the finished text for your role, or was it created in collaboration?

The only ballet that was created specially for me was "The Sounds of Empty Pages". The choreographer Neumeier chose the music of Alfred Schnitke. My role there was rather abstract, a symbol of the composerís work: his music and his life achievements. However, the ballet-goers in St.Petersburg gave it a different name. They called it Death, because it was so fatalistic. When that figure appeared, the sense you got was that the end of the artistís life was inevitable. When Neumeier worked with me right in the studio, he would show me some movements, then he would change them. I would dance several versions, giving them my own interpretation. He would add something more, and then say: "Letís keep it that way". Adrian Fadeyev danced the lead with me. Those were our own poses, our own compositions, and, for us, it marked a change in style.

You have peformed a fair number of tragic roles. In some ballet companies, the idea of typecasting has disappeared Ė anyone can dance anything. Do you believe that a dancerís physique in some way determines their Ďline of businessí?

Yes, I think that a ballet dancerís function is determined by his/her physique and they must adhere to it. The tradition of function came about because having the right physique helps the dancer to lend a character or idea better expression. If the dancerís physique clashes with the character, then the audience will find it difficult to believe in that character.

So is that why you have never danced Aurora?

Yes, absolutely. Aurora is a light, carefree, playful child. She needs to look like a French statuette. What would the audience think if they were faced with a tall ballerina, with Ďendlessí arms and legs? They would be looking at a completely different character.

You saw "Swan Lake" at Covent Garden yesterday. What do you think of this production?

I liked Ivan Putrov. My memories of the Royal Balletís "Swan Lake" started when I saw a recording of an earlier version, featuring Makarova and Dowell. That was a brilliant performance, although it was nothing like our Russian version. And I was won over by that performance.

Which role are you preparing for now?

I donít have any new roles at the moment.

Which role would you like to dance?


You said that Aurora was not for you. But is Juliet?

Yes, because there can be different Juliets. Look how many films and theatre productions there have been - all the Juliets were very different, and they were very good Juliets. Therefore, I want to dance my own Juliet.

I remember you said once that your favorite ballerinas are Galina Ulanova, Yekaterina Maximova and Galina Mezentseva. Of course, Mezentseva was the only one you had the chance to see on stage. Your choice isnít surprising, but Iíd like to know what you personally appreciate about these ballerinas?

They all had different personalities. Ulanova was sincere, she astonished balet-goers with her utter fidelity to human feelings. Maximova had exceptional physique and moved very beautifully. And Mezentseva Ė oh, she was serene, she was a queen, she had poise, beautiful lines and a profound dramatism. She cast a spell effortlessly. The strongest impression anyone has made on me was Mezentseva with her Dying Swan.

That has also become your famous concert piece. Is there anything you are very keen to do but donít have enough time for?

I donít have enough time to spend with my daughter Masha and to bring her up myself. Thatís very sad. I am very lucky that my parents help me, and I do my best to spend more time with Masha but, nevertheless, itís not enough for either of us. I would also like to have more time to study foreign languages properly and to study painting techniques and the applied arts.

I hear your husband paints?

Yes, he graduated as an architect but enjoys painting.

Masha is three now. Does she know who her mum is?

Well, I think so. I took her to our theatre and walked her around the building. She sat in the studio during my class. To tell the truth, as early as battement tendu, she had already started asking: "Is it finished yet?" Once, when we were driving past the theatre, she pointed at the building and said: "Thatís a beautiful house. Mummy works there".


Uliana Lopatkina and her daughter Maria (Masha)
© Kirov Ballet / Uliana Lopatkina

Do you believe you have got everything out of life that you wanted, or are you looking for more?

I am grateful for everything I have in my life. Itís up to the individual to get what he or she wants. You have to do everything you can to achieve what you want but you must also be grateful to God for what you have.

Whatís most important for you in life, and why?

Thatís a difficult question, because I am constantly looking for balance between the two most important things in my life Ė my family and my work.

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