In English, Le Papillon translates to “the butterfly.” Airy, elegant and frolicsome, Russian ballerina Irina Kolpakova effectively evokes the winged creature in this 1983 clip. Marie Taglioni originally choreographed Le Papillon in 1860 for her protégé Emma Livry; over a century later, French choreographer Pierre Lacotte created his own version for 20th century ballerinas. He made brilliant use of small choreographic details to characterize the butterfly and her human prince, here danced by Mariinsky Ballet (then Kirov) alum Sergei Berezhnoi. In contrast to his grounded chugs and low-relevé swivels, Kolpakova’s quick, buoyant feet seem to flutter. Her arms billow up when she lands from jumps like wings catching the wind and, at the end of the opening pas de deux, she alights on Berezhnoi’s knee as delicately as a butterfly would on a petal.
Both dancers had celebrated careers in Russia and have passed their talents on to new generations. Berezhnoi spent time teaching at Boston Ballet, and Kolpakova coaches ballerinas at American Ballet Theatre. Happy #TBT!