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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Dying Swan' Reborn In Mariinsky Soloist

"The Dying Swan," the best known of all ballet solos, lasts less than five minutes. A few ballerinas can make you wish it lasted forever.


Uliana Lopatkina's spellbinding performance in Moscow this week at the Pushkin Theater proved her a worthy successor to Russia's greatest ballerina, Anna Pavlova, for whom "The Dying Swan" was originally choreographed. In fact, it is not hyperbole to suggest that the young Mariinsky dancer will become the finest ballerina of her generation.


In the decades since Pavlova's first performance of "The Dying Swan" in 1907, the solo has been become somewhat hackneyed, a kind of ballet boiler plate, fodder for parody, an anthem for aging ballerinas -- the arms are the last thing to go, after all. Few are the interpreters who capture the essence of this cameo about the struggle between life and death.


Lopatkina brought such freshness to the role that the swan's death came almost as a surprise. Her dancing was like a mesmerizing poem, recited in a whisper. Where other dancers have made a show of their undulating swan arms, Lopatkina made a more serene entrance, her arms fluttering slowly, her movements unhurried. With her supple back, lovely arms and exquisite phrasing, Lopatkina conjured breathtaking images of the vulnerable but valiant swan as life ebbed from her.


The extraordinary dancer is a 1991 graduate of St. Petersburg's Vaganova Academy and a rising star at the Mariinsky. Lopatkina's debuts are sensations at the venerable theater, where she has been entrusted so far with the roles of the Lilac Fairy in "Sleeping Beauty," Zarema in "The Fountain of Bakhchisaray," Giselle and Myrtha in "Giselle," Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake," and, most recently, Raymonda in the ballet of the same name.


Lopatkina's expressiveness and musicality have already attracted the attention of choreographers, including British choreographer John Neumeier, who created the miniature "Pavlova and Cecchetti" for her.


Before her performance of "The Dying Swan," the dancer was presented the "Soul of Dance" award by Russia's Ballet magazine. During Monday's program at the Pushkin Theater, other honorees were also announced, including Nikita Dolgushin.


A partner of Natalia Makarova before Makarova defected to the West, Dolgushin is now artistic director of St. Petersburg's Rimsky-Korsakov Ballet. He was hailed as a "Knight of Dance." One of Dolgushin's past projects was to revive miniatures that were danced by Pavlova. Those pieces, including "Dragonfly," "California Poppy" and "The Dying Swan" were performed by Dolgushin's troupe during the awards program. It was fascinating to compare the original choreography of "The Dying Swan" by Mikhail Fokine with the streamlined version performed by dancers today.


Also honored was the Bolshoi's rising star, Nikolai Tsiskaridze. A dancer with a beautiful line and beautiful legs to match, Tsiskaridze ascends into leaps like a cheetah and lands as softly as a panther. Among his roles so far at the Bolshoi are Mercutio in the revived Lavrovsky version of "Romeo and Juliet" and the Golden God in "La Bayad?re."


He and the Russian Ballet's Tatyana Guryanova performed the technically exacting "Grand Pas Classique," which gave Tsiskaridze a chance to display his filigree footwork in midair. But Tsiskaridze seemed more preoccupied with strutting his stuff than with being a good partner, at one point knocking the ballerina off balance.


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Bolshoi dancer Ilze Liepa triumphed Tuesday with the latest of her artistic evenings.


Liepa and partner Vladimir Kirillov of the Stanislavsky Musical Theater premiered "The Song of Frenzied Phaedra," a ballet for two inspired by Racine's play based on the Greek tragedy about passion's destructive force.


Although there was little innovative in newcomer choreographer Veronika Smirnova's steps, Liepa gave the piece enough dramatic weight to make it memorable.


The aristocratic dancer can make drama even out of something as simple as curling her right hand upward. Balletgoers will remember the power of Liepa's performance earlier this season as Juliet's mother in the Bolshoi's revival of "Romeo and Juliet."


It is not surprising that Liepa is gifted both as a dancer and an actress; her father, Maris, was one of the greatest dancers the Soviet Union ever produced, and her mother, Margarita, is a talented stage actress. Liepa as Phaedra was relentless, moving from purring seduction to frenzied desire for her stepson Hippolytus, played with noble innocence by Kirillov.


As for the dancing, the expressiveness of Liepa's arms was sometimes reminiscent of Maya Plisetskaya, another dramatically forceful dancer.


Another trait that Liepa shares with Plisetskaya is a willingness to risk. She has staged a number of independent artistic evenings offering intriguing new material.


Liepa's co-stars included soloists who performed various short contemporary pieces. Among them, Alexey and Tatiana Ratmansky, who now dance with Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, were especially delightful. Alexey Ratmansky also created the evening's final number, a humorous piece in which Liepa was cast as a persnickety Italian director trying to whip the cast into shape. In the end, Liepa had them hopping like obedient bunnies -- a whimsical footnote to a fine evening.


The "Diamonds of World Ballet" gala performance April 12 was an artistic success, but fell short of its financial goal. The Russian Dance Association had hoped to raise the initial money for a foundation that would aid retired dancers, send young dancers abroad for training and competitions, and support new choreography. But despite major funding and 200,000 ruble ($40) tickets, the gala registered a $20,000 deficit.


"The important thing is that the public enjoyed it, and that they know what we are trying to do," said the disappointed but undaunted association executive director, Oleg Shevchuk, who is discussing future "Diamonds" galas with interested parties abroad.


The ambitious, four-hour event featured 21 principal dancers from leading companies in Russia and abroad, including New York City Ballet's marvelous Ethan Stiefel.


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Next month, it's the duel of the shrews. The Bolshoi will dance the Russian premiere of British choreographer John Cranko's 1969 ballet "Taming of the Shrew" on May 5, while Stanislavsky choreographer Dmitry Bryantsev premieres his version of Shakespeare's play May 8.