Ballet Stars

Svetlana Lunkina: Bringing Bolshoi Brilliance To The National Ballet Of Cnada

Svetlana Lunkina photographed by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

This is Pointe's December 2014/January 2015 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

A rush of energy rippled across the Toronto theater, followed by an ovation that went on for what seemed like an eternity. It was June 12, 2013, and Svetlana Lunkina had just debuted as a guest artist with the National Ballet of Canada, dancing the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, alongside principal dancer Piotr Stanczyk. It was Lunkina's first performance in months and you could almost sense her elation at finally being back onstage. As Kitri, she exhibited that magical combination of daring attack and exquisite control with sky-high extensions and picture-perfect balances. Even Stanczyk couldn't contain his excitement in the lobby afterwards, saying Lunkina brought out the best in him. “I'd do every single ballet with her if I could," he says.

That night, the question at the top of many people's minds was not if, but when artistic director Karen Kain would offer her a contract. The answer came two months later, when—following 15 years with the Bolshoi—Lunkina accepted a yearlong principal guest contract with NBOC. “Svetlana is an experienced and well-known ballerina, but we didn't know her personally here," says Kain. “We really had to find out whether it was a fit."

The trial year proved successful for both—this season, Lunkina signed on as a full-fledged company member. After a glittering rise and then a sudden, highly publicized departure from the Bolshoi, the 35-year-old Lunkina is renewing her career at NBOC. And although the Canadian company is smaller (72 dancers compared to the Bolshoi's 231) and offers a more contemporary repertoire, she's embracing the opportunity to work with new choreographers and learn new roles. “I'm an artist and I want to develop myself," says Lunkina. “I'm really grateful for this opportunity to grow. It's like a new life, with new emotions."


Lunkina in James Kudelka's "Swan Lake." Photo by Aleksander Antonijevic, Courtesy NBOC.


Born in Moscow, Lunkina trained at the Moscow Choreographic Academy, the Bolshoi's feeder school, before joining the Bolshoi Ballet in 1997. Lunkina stood out from the corps from the start with her expressive eyes and long arms and neck. In her first year with the company, at just 18, she was cast as the lead in Giselle—the youngest dancer in the Bolshoi's history to perform that role. To help her prepare both physically and emotionally, Lunkina was coached by the late Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova, who herself had been coached by Galina Ulanova. Following her debut in Giselle, Lunkina's career blossomed, and even before being promoted to principal in 2005 she had already danced leading roles in Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. As Lunkina rose through the ranks, Maximova remained her coach, until her sudden death in 2009. “She was like a mother to me," says Lunkina.

In the meantime, Lunkina married and became a mother herself. Her husband, entrepreneur Vladislav Moskalev, is a dual Russian-Canadian citizen, and they have long owned a second home in the the quaint village of Kleinburg, Ontario, just northwest of Toronto. Their children, Maxim, 10, and Eva, 5, were both born in Canada, and Lunkina has permanent residency status.

In 2012, she made headlines when she abruptly cancelled her performances, requested an extended leave of absence from the Bolshoi and retreated to Kleinburg. At a news conference, Lunkina told the media she feared for her life, saying: “I cannot go back at this time because there were actual threats." The threats allegedly stemmed from a dispute between her husband and his former business associate after a film deal went sour.


Lunkina in rehearsal with NBOC principal Piotr Stanczyk. Photo by Bruce Zinger, Courtesy NBOC.

Lunkina spent the next several months taking company class with NBOC before Kain invited her to perform with them. Luckily, Lunkina found the environment welcoming. “I never felt like a guest," she says. She was eager to work with NBOC artistic staff, and often watched rehearsals for roles she wasn't cast in, just to familiarize herself with the ballets and the dancers.

While the company's eclectic repertoire is a departure from the Bolshoi's, it fuels Lunkina's artistic curiosity. Her eyes light up recalling what it was like to work with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka on his dark retelling of Swan Lake. In it, the Swan Queen is not a maiden but an actual swan. “With James, I had a completely different feeling, a new understanding of the role," she says, admitting she relishes the rehearsal process. “I was amazed at how he worked with the artists, how deeply he collaborated with them."

Lunkina is also enthusiastic about the company's growing canon of contemporary works, describing her first rehearsal in Robert Binet's ballet Unearth as “amazing," albeit challenging. “Everything was so quick," says Lunkina. “It was a lot of information for the first day. Sometimes I need more time to work slower, deeper, and to understand every step—and sometimes you just have to do it."
Her NBOC colleagues say that despite her Bolshoi credentials, she comes with no airs about being a prima ballerina. “There's no ego, just a really generous spirit," says Binet. “Even if I run out of corrections, she still has corrections for herself."

Kain agrees. “She has no barriers to her approach," she says. “She doesn't edit what she likes or what she doesn't like. She just sees what the choreographer is asking and does the best she can do to fulfill that."


Lunkina in Christopher Wheeldon's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Photo Courtesy NBOC.

During a rehearsal for John Neumeier's Nijinsky one afternoon last August, Lunkina kept to herself, breaking in her pointe shoes at the back of the room, while keeping an eye on the corrections being given to individual dancers. Even standing on the sidelines, her enviable facility and her smooth-as-silk quality of movement draw the eye. NBOC ballet master Lindsay Fischer notes that her Bolshoi training gives her extraordinary dynamic control. “The attack is different," he says. “You don't see the blade go in, it's so finessed."

Although Lunkina is quiet, several dancers speak of her sense of humor and contagious laugh. “When she rehearses she has a joy about her—almost like a child who just started dancing," says NBOC corps de ballet member Andreea Olteanu. “Watching her reminds you why you started dancing in the first place."
This season brings more new and challenging roles, including Romola, from Nijinsky, and the title role in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Manon. And last September, Lunkina made her debut as the wicked, over-the-top Queen of Hearts in Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland during the company's tour to New York City.

“I think it was a huge departure for her," says NBOC artist-in-residence Rex Harrington, who played opposite her as the King of Hearts. “She had to work with it a bit. Comedy is all about timing, how you thread sentences together. It was fun to see her interpretation—it was different than everyone else's."
Whether Lunkina will remain in Canada is anyone's guess—technically, she is still “on leave" from the Bolshoi, and her younger sister Yulia remains a soloist there. Right now, however, Lunkina says she's focusing squarely on what she calls her “new life" with NBOC. And when she's not dancing, her children take center stage. She's one of many working moms in NBOC and says family and ballet are equally important to her, and that her children are happy in Canada. “I just want to be in this moment," she says. “I don't want to think about the past or future. I just want to think about what I want to do with this company."

Show Comments ()
Ballet Stars
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.

Even though she has been at New York City Ballet for less than three years, Hutsell, 21, is regularly cast in a wide variety of repertoire. She has already collaborated with several choreographers, including Troy Schumacher, Gianna Reisen, Peter Walker and Justin Peck, on new works. "She's not afraid to make mistakes," says Peck, who has used her in two premieres, The Most Incredible Thing and The Decalogue. "And she's open to exploring new movements."

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Ballet Stars
NYCB's Miriam Miller and Unity Phelan in Côté Cour. Photo by Erin Baiano.

How do you make a leotard line stand out when there are so many options? Erica Sabatini, a former soloist with Carolina Ballet, makes it look easy with her pairing of architectural designs and bright colors. Before officially launching Côté Cour in 2015, Sabatini's interest in fashion was sparked during her Balanchine-based training at the Miami City Ballet School.

Phelan in MIA Multi Turquoise. Photo by Erin Baiano.

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Boston Ballet in Bournonville's "La Sylphide." Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


Wayne McGregor Makes His ABT Choreographic Debut

Ever since Vaslav Nijinsky shocked Paris audiences in 1913 with his Rite of Spring for the Ballets Russes, dancemakers from Sir Kenneth MacMillan to Pina Bausch have tried their hands at choreographing to Igor Stravinsky's infamous score. This spring, Wayne McGregor will be added to that list. The Royal Ballet resident choreographer's first work for American Ballet Theatre, titled AFTERITE, will premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on May 21. Known for his grounded and experimental movement style, McGregor's work will feature video designs by innovative filmmaker Ravi Deepres and sets and costumes by designer Vicki Mortimer, both longtime collaborators. Alessandra Ferri, who has collaborated with McGregor in the past, will join ABT as a guest artist.

Keep reading... Show less
via Instagram

The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.

Keep reading at dancemagazine.com.

Ballet Stars
DePrince soars in English National Ballet's "Giselle." Photo by Laurent Liotardo, Courtesy ENB.

As told to Amy Brandt.

Myrtha is a role I've always loved to watch, but when Tamara Rojo asked me to dance it for English National Ballet's Giselle last year as a guest artist, I thought she was crazy. The role is usually for a tall, strong dancer. I'm strong, but I'm also very petite. I thought people might criticize me for that. I also wore brown tights onstage, since I'm a brown dancer, and I was nervous people wouldn't understand that—but I got great comments on it.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!