This story originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Pointe.
The Dying Swan, choreographed by Michel Fokine for Anna Pavlova, is a short but powerful solo often reserved for the most revered ballerinas. Mariinsky Ballet principal Uliana Lopatkina shares the thought process behind her iconic interpretation.
Although The Dying Swan is a very short piece, it has tremendous depth because both the audience and dancer are facing the question of life and death. Often we don't want to think about that—we want to live forever here on earth. This miniature has special meaning for me, as it helps me overcome the fear of death; it invites us to imagine that moment of transformation into the following life, which lasts eternally. It's very scary to die, but it is just a moment that you need to go through.
This question about death in turn raises a question of how you need to carry on with your current life, so that you can die easily. And I think that these emotions are transferred to the audience as they witness the dying process—they might feel a sense of compassion, a desire to help the swan's soul through the pain.
Photo by Alexander Gouliaev
I once had a chance to perform The Dying Swan six times in a row, which allowed me to explore dying in different ways. My characterization and the way my body moved during those performances depended on how my soul felt that moment, and I took that as a basis for my interpretation. Now, I try to understand how different people relate to and meet their death.
As a person transforms from the earthly state into the next one, the soul is accompanied by a lot of turbulence. As I dance, I want the viewer to reflect with me how that feels—for instance, when death is liberation from pain and suffering. In that regard, you can see it as a happy moment. Or one may fear new experiences, the unknown, especially if one considers their entire life as preparation for a significant test. Or perhaps there is resistance—an unwillingness to separate from the comfort of earth and to glimpse the life beyond it. Or, you can feel sadness for leaving your loved ones behind, with hopes to meet them in the afterlife.
Tip: A dancer's wings start where the lower end of the shoulder blades connects to the middle of the spine. Initiating movement from that particular spot will elongate the arms tremendously. Try to study the grace of a real bird and come up with your own interpretation for your wings, practicing various arm movements—smooth and soft, as well as broken and impulsive.
Translated by Yuliya Didenko