Uliana Lopatkina on Her Iconic "Dying Swan": A Spiritual Transformation

Photo Courtesy Lopatkina

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

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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