Born in Kerch, Crimea, Ulyana Lopatkina stands out amid other ballerinas not just because of her 175cm-height and size-10 feet. Rather, she is unrelenting in being the best, despite her age. Here in Kyiv this week to demonstrate her inexorable talent, she takes on the tango alongside other world ballet stars with music by Astor Piazzolla. We get face to face with the steely beauty and talk tendues and temps lies.
You were born in Kerch, one of the most ancient cities of Ukraine. Did its history affect you growing up at all?
The city of Kerch will always be the city of my childhood. I am still surprised and happy to learn of its history, at one time deliberately forgotten. And of course the sea affected me romantically too. I think romance is necessary for a ballerina. Otherwise, she runs the risk of becoming more like an athlete.
Was ballet a given in childhood or did you have other dreams?
I do not remember dreams of becoming a ballerina, but I do have memories of wanting to be a kindergarten teacher.
You attended the Vaganova Ballet Academy in your formative years. Do you consider it the best method of training?
I graduated the Vaganova Ballet Academy in 1991. This technique is considered unique internationally for its analytical dissection and is consistent and beautiful if accurately executed. It has since been augmented due to changes in the aesthetics of dance in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Now, gymnastic elements are firmly established in ballet, and ballerinas are to be increasingly flexible with muscles trained to inexhaustible stamina. In my opinion, however, the dance and its biomechanics must continue to be based on the writings of Professor Vaganova. Only then do ballerinas remain, and, moreover, will not break their backs and everything else attached...
What was it like training with former Russian prima ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya?
It was Natalia Mykhailivna Dudinskaya who moulded me for the harsh world that is ballet. One must have nerves of steel to withstand the stress. But it’s not just nerves that are necessary; to teach you must also have some sort of angelic patience. Natalia was an optimist and a fighter – the latter being an especially necessary quality in this profession. She not only led by example, but was able to inspire us also. And she never scolded us immediately after the performance for mistakes made on stage, for which we were grateful. Our “debriefing” began in the next lesson.
It did not take long to reach professional status – would you say you had an edge over the other dancers?
Everyone is given chances. What is important is that you recognise such as opportunities and decide what to do with them. Then life will flow, or, you suffer from the path chosen.
What is your favourite role to date?
My favourite role? Perhaps the dying swan. The essence of this miniature is very deep.
Do you think being tall has helped or hindered you?
I am considered a tall ballerina, but I have never been a tiny dancer, so I do not know the difference. Classical ballet is a profession highly specialised and requires extensive training. Each dancer has his own individual specifics, with which he works.
According to various sources, you have a love for grapefruit juice and enjoy a biscuit and glass of kefir before bed. Are there any other interesting eating habits you stick to?
With food everything needs to be “clean and non-fat”. The reason is simple – to feel good both in work and in life. I don’t like spicy food at all – I have tried it and simply end up unable to taste anything. Exotic dishes too are not for me. I can eat snakes and frogs, sure, but only with my eyes closed, and I eat oysters only for medicinal purposes. Generally though, I stick to my own conventional regime.
How has your life changed, both personal and professional, with the arrival of your daughter?
When I gave birth to my daughter, I found that I matured. It was an unusual feeling – to be responsible not only for yourself but for a helpless human creation, the formation of which you are deeply involved in. This role of motherhood is now forever a part of me, even if it is very difficult.
You are dancing the tango in Kyiv this week – what is your relationship to this genre?
Dancing the tango – a dance filled with energetic rhythm, strength of temperament, and the power of the elements – is one I dive into with gusto, flying after the music without looking back.
What would you like your audience to take away from the performance tonight?
It would be great if the audience came away inspired with a refreshed soul.
Grand Tango Gala
Featuring Ulyana Lopatkina (UA)
27 October at 19.00
Tickets: 150 –3,000hrv
National Opera Theatre of Ukraine (Volodymyrska 50)
by Lana Nicole