I interviewed Miss Uliana Lopatkina on Wednesday 9 December 1998 at 6:30 pm in the coffee shop of a hotel near the Shatin Town Hall in Hong Kong where the Kirov Ballet gave five performances of "Swan Lake" that week. Lopatkina, accompanied by Miss Shirin Chu who is one of the local organisers of this Hong Kong tour, also brought along Luba, a young Russian interpreter whom the Kirov has engaged from Moscow for this tour. The interview lasted for about an hour, but of course a considerable amount of time was taken up by the translations. Miss Lopatkina had just finished her rehearsal, which explained why she was half an hour late for my interview. That evening's cast of Swan Lake was Yulia Makhalina, and Danila Korsuntsev who only joined the Kirov last year from Moscow Classical Ballet. Lopatkina herself danced on the opening and closing nights partnered by Evgeny Ivanchenko.
In the beginning of our conversation, I was very flattered that Lopatkina remarked about my long fingers just as I started taking notes. I started off by mentioning that I was very impressed by her performance in the second movement of Balanchine's "Symphony in C" during the Kirov's London Coliseum season in 1997. She said that she enjoyed very much doing that ballet, and told me that she also did Balanchine's "Serenade" in St. Petersburg recently.
Lopatkina remarked that Balanchine's foundation was built on Petipa. In her opinion Balanchine is the Petipa of the 20th century. There is an obvious connection between these two genius choreographers. Furthermore, she thinks that Balanchine enriched the quality of Petipa's work.
On the coaching system in the Kirov
Lopatkina loves her personal coach, Miss Ninel Kurgapkina, who was in Hong Kong and also coached Irma Nioradze's Swan Lake. (Kurgapkina helped Nureyev considerably to mount his production of "La Bayadere" for the Paris Opera Ballet in October 1992, several months before Nureyev's death.)
On foreign schools of ballet
I mentioned Darcey Bussell of the Royal Ballet who guested with the Kirov last year. Lopatkina said that she is not very familiar herself with the Royal Ballet's style. When I asked if Igor Zelensky might perhaps have been partly responsible for Bussell's guest performances at the Kirov, Lopatkina agreed.
Lopatkina is more familiar with the French school. She admires greatly Sylvie Guillem. She admires the technique of the Paris Opera Ballet, but still prefers the spiritual quality of the Russian school.
Whether she is satisfied with the present state of the Kirov
Lopatkina remarked enthusiastically that the Kirov is at a 'high point' at present. The dancers are in 'high spirits'. Young ballerinas such as Svetlana Zakharova are being pushed forward in their career. Lopatkina mentioned another talented young dancer named Dasha Pavlenko who is of the same age as Zakharova. (I haven't heard of her before.)
Artistically the company is also on a high level. Alexei Ratmansky's "Poeme de l'Extase" was just premiered in St. Petersburg. There was a new production of "Raymonda". "Legend of Love" was also danced recently.
Whether in her opinion the senior ballerinas are neglected
I mentioned a complaint by some Kirov watchers that senior ballerinas such as Altynai Asylmuratova, Zhanna Ayupova, and Veronika Ivanova etc. who dazzled the London public back in the Kirov's historic 1988 season - the Kirov won the Laurence Olivier Award for dance that year - have been neglected by the present artistic director Makharbek Vaziev. Lopatkina disagreed that they have been neglected. She agreed though that there is a tendency in the search for new talent.
Lopatkina said that Asylmuratova and Ayupova are more visible on the Kirov's foreign tours than perhaps in St. Petersburg. She can see them quite often on these foreign tours.
New breed of tall Kirov ballerinas
I mentioned about the nickname "the Basketball Team" used by some New York critics to describe the current crop of tall Kirov ballerinas such as herself, Makhalina, and Anastasia Volochkova (now with the Bolshoi). In Lopatkina's opinion, Galina Mezentseva (who guested with the Scottish Ballet in the early 1990s) was the first Kirov ballerina to have this long and thin line. Audiences gradually got used to this new aesthetic look. Lopatkina said that right now she herself is the tallest ballerina in the Kirov.
On her partners
Lopatkina said that Evgeny Ivanchenko is more experienced than Ilya Kouznetsov.
Her guesting overseas
Lopatkina hasn't really guested with foreign companies, except in galas and concerts. At present she is contented being with the Kirov, and is not pushing for guest appearances abroad. (I wish Mr. Vaziev were present to hear this!)
Whether she is satisfied with her work
Lopatkina said that she needs more experience to maintain a consistency in her performances. "The burden of being a prima ballerina is enormous," she said. What a memorable quote from her! Also she remarked that "Artistic quality can only develop gradually." She has no regrets.
At the end of my interview, we chatted casually over a number of topics. I discussed with her about the differences in the reactions of the audiences in London and New York, for instance. We then made our way back to the theatre. Half way through our walk, Lopatkina decided to do some shopping on her own in the large shopping arcade opposite the theatre, and said goodbye to Luba the Russian interpreter, Shirin Chu, and myself.