An incredibly elegant discipline, traditional Russian ballet is not only beautiful to behold but exceptionally challenging to master, taking jaw-dropping strength, agility and grace. St Petersburg is the country’s capital of ballet, home to many of the 21st century’s most celebrated ballerinas. From Ulyana Lopatkina and Alina Somova at Mariinsky Theatre to Irina Kolesnikova at St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, we take a look at the city’s most talented Russian ballet dancers, and where to watch them in 2017.
Ulyana Lopatkina is widely considered one of the greatest Russian ballet dancers of the 21st century. The breathtakingly talented Kerch-born dancer developed her skills at St Petersburg’s premier ballet school, Vaganova Ballet Academy, which has trained many of the greatest dancers of all time, including Anna Pavlova and Galina Ulanova. After graduating, Lopatkina joined Mariinsky Ballet, where she made one of the most impressive debuts in Russian history as Odette and Odile in Swan Lake. She went on to dazzle the world with her incredible technique, perfect shapes and instinctive style. Her enviable repertoire of classic and dramatic roles has won her many accolades, from the ‘People’s Artist of Russia’ to the ‘Prize of Russia’. Visitors can watch Lopatkina perform with the Mariinsky Ballet, where she’s one of the top prima ballerinas.
Another graduate of the Vaganova Ballet Academy is Alina Somova, a St Petersburg-born ballerina whose style is so eye-catching it was once deemed controversial. Since 2008, Somova has held the prestigious title of principal dancer at the Mariinksy Ballet, the highest rank within a ballet company. She’s played leading roles in many ballets both at home and abroad, gracing the stages of the world’s greatest theatres. In 2013, Somova was awarded the highly-coveted ‘Golden Mask’ for her portrayal of the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse, and praised for her incredible flexibility, which sees her over-extending even vertical moves.
St Petersburg has a reputation for giving birth to world-class ballerinas, as demonstrated by the sheer number of stars who’ve come from the city. One local name worth looking out for is Irina Kolesnikova, who’s been creating waves on the international ballet scene since her debut. At the young age of 21, she was named Prima Ballerina of the St Petersburg Ballet Theatre, where she’d been dancing as a soloist after graduating from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. She’s played leads in a wide range of classic and romantic ballets, such as Clara in Nutcracker, Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Odette and Odile in Swan Lake – a life-changing role that cemented her reputation as one of Russia’s greatest modern-day ballerinas. Kolesnikova continues to dance at home in St Petersburg and around the world – if she’s in town, watching her dance is an unmissable experience.
Ever since she started dancing at the age of six, it was clear Diana Vishneva was going to be special. Born, raised and trained in St Petersburg (at Vaganova Ballet Academy and the Academy of Russian Ballet), Vishneva has long impressed with her emotive style. While just a girl, she claimed her first prize at the city’s International Young Ballet Dancers’ Competition, winning both the Gold and the Grand Prix – an unheard of feat that has yet to be repeated. Now a leading Russian star dancing with both the Mariinsky Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre, she continues to rake in the awards, including the ‘People’s Artist of Russia’, the highest award for outstanding performing artists in the country. Vishneva performs at prestigious ballet theatres around the world and, if you’re lucky, you may catch her back at her original training ground, Mariinksy Theatre.
Murder, intrigue, crime and punishment… St Petersburg has it all. Those fascinated by the more ghoulish side of history will love these significant spots from fiction, and real life.