Last weekend, the Mariinsky Ballet announced on its website that one of its most revered prima ballerinas, Uliana Lopatkina, has retired from the stage. A principal dancer since 1995, Lopatkina's interpretation of Odette/Odile and "The Dying Swan", among other roles, was legendary. To honor her dance career, we're re-visiting this interview from the February/March 2013 issue.
What's the toughest part of being a dancer?
More than most professions, ballet erodes the private sphere. You don't fulfill yourself in this career: You serve it; you're a slave to it.
What ballet makes you most nervous?
Swan Lake. Even if it's not the most difficult ballet to perform, it's difficult in another way, a mystical way.
Being in the corps can be pretty unforgiving. You dance in nearly every performance, it sometimes feels like you're only onstage to add to the scenery, and you're expected to fit in—while still vying for soloist roles. It's enough to make even the most determined dancer lose steam. Pointe spoke with three corps de ballet dancers about how they use a combination of self-discipline and creativity to keep themselves motivated.
Shine in Class
After a few years, morning class can feel like a chore—especially during heavy rehearsal periods when your body just wants to rest. But rather than viewing it as a drag, try reframing class as a chance to show your best, hardest-working self. For San Francisco Ballet corps member Rebecca Rhodes, class is a time to push harder, not slack off. "It's a great time to be noticed," she says, especially for dancers hoping to be cast in featured roles. "I make sure to do every combination two or three times, and I try not to pick and choose what's comfortable," she says.
Thumb through Ingrid Silva's Instagram and you'll see plenty of beautiful professional photos of her dancing. But her profile feels much less curated than what's usually found online. She's hanging out with her brindle- coat French bulldog, Frida Kahlo. Or she's working with the outreach program Brown Girls Do Ballet. Or she's rehearsing at Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she's been dancing since 2008, leotard and tights on, Afro out. It's the perfect portrait of a modern-day ballerina.
Last September, as one of The Royal Ballet's coaches walked her through the potion scene from Romeo and Juliet, Francesca Hayward wasted no time marking the steps. Instead of lingering on individual poses, she was instantly focused on the web of emotions behind the choreography. Sitting on Juliet's bed, she seemed to contemplate the events that had just unfolded as Prokofiev's music swelled up, projecting despite her tiny stature; after pretending to drink the poison, she reached for her neck, her eyes filled with fear and disgust.
Are foot stretchers safe for dancers to use? —Marissa
I've often wondered the same thing myself. There are several versions on the market, all promising to improve flexibility by holding the top of the foot in an extreme point. Many dancers swear by them, but to be sure, I asked Boyd Bender, physical therapist for Pacific Northwest Ballet. His advice? Use cautiously, especially if you have feet with flatter arches. "A foot stretcher might create more leverage through the mid-foot and arch area, and possibly create a flatter and more unstable mid-foot," he says. In other words, too much pressure could overstretch and weaken this foot type, increasing the tendency to roll in. Also, he warns that if you have a history of foot and ankle injuries, use a foot stretcher only in the presence of a health professional to ensure that you're not causing additional damage.
.The last few years have seen notable company closures, including Silicon Valley Ballet in San Jose, California. But Los Angeles–based American Contemporary Ballet is moving in the opposite direction, extending its contract and filling out its now-year-round roster of dancers.
"We got the advice to grow slowly because it allows you to make your mistakes on a small scale," says artistic director Lincoln Jones, who founded the company to present ballet as a musical art form. To whit, the repertoire includes work by Balanchine, Fred Astaire and Jones. Performances are always accompanied by live music."
Adding another milestone to his already untouchable career, Mikhail Baryshnikov will take on the role of iconic ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in director Robert Wilson's one-man show, Letter to a Man. The work had its premiere in Italy in 2015 and has its U.S. debut as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, October 15–30.
Though Baryshnikov and Nijinsky were ballet titans of their respective generations, Letter to a Man is theater, not dance. And Wilson's vision won't result in a literal biography of the troubled danseur. Rather, it's an interpretation of the diaries Nijinsky kept while he suffered from schizophrenia. The play's title is from a letter written from Nijinsky to his former lover and Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev—when their relationship was such that Nijinsky wouldn't even say his name.
George Balanchine's Gounod Symphony isn't often performed. This 25-minute ballet, set to the French composer's lively first symphony, has largely faded from popular repertoire. (It was last performed at New York City Ballet in 1993, and by the School of American Ballet in 2007.) But this fall, The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is bringing Gounod back. It will receive its company premiere October 21–23 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The ballet was first performed in January 1958 at New York City Center, its cast of 32 led by Maria Tallchief and Jacques d'Amboise. But the dancer most closely associated with the lead ballerina role was the French-born Violette Verdy. There is something very French about Gounod, a kind of brilliance and formality associated with the Paris Opéra. Its choreography overflows with patterns: crossing and parallel lines, and weaving. Verdy compared it to the gardens of Versailles, and, in fact, the sets designed by Horace Armistead were originally intended and used for NYCB's production of Antony Tudor's Jardin aux Lilas. The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, however, is developing a new look. Though she won't reveal any details, Farrell says the concept "will allow us to see the choreography better."