Usually, it’s the jaw-dropping moments on the stage that leave us equal parts inspired and amazed. But National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina has us totally in awe of her behind-the-scenes routine. A 2015 Pointe cover star (and former Bolshoi dancer), Lunkina shares as many clips on Instagram of her classes and rehearsals as she does glam stage shots. Earlier this week, she shared her floor workout—and you have to see it to believe it.
Calling this her “strength and flexibility” exercise, Lunkina begins lying flat on her stomach before lifting her chest and legs off the floor in unison. To make it even harder, she beats her legs and adds graceful port de bras, too. In the most mesmerizing moment of the clip, Lunkina finishes by grabbing her legs and pulling them closer towards her head. Consider this the ultimate motivator to work on your flexibility in the new year.
Massive Party: a Space Odyssey
March 13th, 2017
On April 27, Machine Age Massive – the year’s hottest art party that supports the AGO’s ongoing conservation, public programming and learning projects – will turn the Art Gallery of Ontario into three artistic zones: Industrial, Digital, and Space, where attendees can snack on hors d’oeuvres, dance to tunes from the DJ, and surround themselves with contemporary installations and performances (all included in the ticket price, a portion of which is tax-deductible).
We’ve already introduced you to one artist, Jon Sasaki, who’s taking over the AGO for Massive Party with an inflatable 90-metre smokestack and an interactive dance floor under the theme of “Industrial Age.” This next artist is prepared to take partygoers into the next stratosphere.
Harley Valentine is famous for his public sculptures, including one that stands in front of the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts called Dream Ballet. Though he draws from ancient texts and inspirations, like Greek mythology, he also uses modern technology to build prototypes and to fabricate his large installations. Lately, Harley has been equally inspired by dance in his sculptures.
“I love contemporary dance,” Harley told The Globe and Mail recently. “These days, that’s really modern sculpture to me.”
We asked Harley about his piece for Machine Age Massive.
AGO: How did you get involved in this year’s Massive Party?
Harley: Over the past two years I have been staging large-scale immersive sculpture installations, incorporating dance and the environment. As these works spread through social media, I believe the AGO caught wind. This is my first time participating.
AGO: Can you describe the piece you’re creating for this year’s party?
Harley: My work is titled Bodies in Motion, referencing the role of the artist as a builder and dreamer in modern society, illustrating both the physical and metaphysical strength required to create impactful works of art.
Centre stage will be a recreation of a studio, showcasing the artist’s labour in creating intuitive and/or accidental compositions by physically looping, weaving, and knotting a 200′ Cordian sculpture (a giant metal rope). Every hour the work will be redrawn, and these spatial drawings will be highlighted by dance and movement, choreographed by Robert Binet and performed by dancer Svetlana Lunkina who, on the hour mark, will emerge for the activation
AGO: How does it fit the theme of Machine Age?
Harley: Historically, artists are the underlying drivers of invention that push society forward, and this installation and performance seeks to draw out this concept through endurance performance. Here, the audience is delivered well-beyond a “Machine Age” arriving somewhere at a projected, imagined “Space Age” which is this specific installation’s overall theme.
AGO: “Modern technology” is listed as one of your inspirations in your work – how does technology manifest itself in your sculptures?
Harley: Invention is one of the world’s greatest art forms; this exists in materials, technology, finance, politics, etc. My role as an artist is to harness the inventions of our generation into a form that pushes self-expression to new heights. The audience is always looking for points of discovery in contemporary art (technology, environment, globalization, etc.), and using modern inventions is a direct link to our subconscious.
Canada All-Star Ballet Gala: From Russia with Love
There’s a lot of talk about Russia right now, about its extraordinary influence on other countries’ political structures and growing impact on world affairs. That talk resonates on the front pages of newspapers. And, recently, it could also be heard at the ballet, where a program billed as masterpieces of the classical repertoire –despite also being composed of works from other nations – was Russian to the core. It couldn’t help but be. Canada All-Star Ballet Gala, a one-night only performance that took place at Toronto’s Sony Centre on February 11, owed its grandeur and impeccable styling to the great choreographers schooled at Russia’s Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg more than a century ago. Artistic director Svetlana Lunkina knows that tradition well.
A former Bolshoi ballerina who has been dancing as a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada since relocating to this country in 2013, Lunkina trained extensively in the Russian school while a student at the revered Moscow Choreographic Academy in the 1990s. In her native Russia she danced the classics to critical acclaim and often alongside Sergei Filin, the former Bolshoi dance star who as company director made international headlines when a masked assailant partially blinded and disfigured him during an acid attack outside his Moscow home four years ago. Lunkina received a series of anonymous threats in the months following the incident, prompting a permanent move to Canada. But while she has traded in a world-famous company, for one still finding its way on the international stage, she has maintained the high standards associated with the Russian ballet.
For this gala, the first she has organized in her adopted country and the beginning of what she hopes will become a regular series, the Moscow native has aimed to share some of that legacy with Canadian audiences in hopes of fostering a deeper appreciation for the art form as a whole. Excerpted works from 15 ballets were showcased in a two-hour-plus program meant to illustrate the varying schools of ballet as developed over the centuries in France, Denmark, Russia, England and America. The point was to show how ballet is not a one-size-fits-all discipline, but a heady mixture of choreographic styles and national origins, making it richly nuanced and multifaceted.
Ballet, a nearly 500-year-old art form, continues to enthrall regardless of the passing of time. Each generation of ballet dancers is obliged to carry forward the core values of harmony, grace, poise and elegance. Modern ballet, the focus of a follow-up gala scheduled for Toronto in the fall, could not exist without this layered bedrock of inherited tradition. This was Lunkina’s message, as laid out in a thick and glossy keepsake program documenting the various styles of ballet through the ages. Her evening of dance, she explained, was meant to be educational. Canada, a young country with a fledgling ballet culture as compared to Russia, could benefit in knowing what came first – before the rise of the James Kudelkas and Christopher Wheeldons of this world.
To achieve her goal, Lunkina curated a program of dance gems in which her pedagogical aims were abetted by an international cast of ballet superstars hand-picked from some of the world’s leading classical dance companies. The choreography was equally wide-ranging, with work coming from Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, New York, Paris and St. Petersburg. Choreographers ranged from Marius Petipa in the 19th century to Rudi van Dantzig in the 20th, with masters like August Bournonville, George Balanchine, Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan in between. It was a spectacular achievement.
Lunkina’s artistic mandate permitted the inclusion of some anomalies to a program emphasizing the precision and aplomb of the classics: The Dying Swan, Mikhail Fokine’s tremulous four-minute solo, originally created for the great Anna Pavlova in 1905 and danced here by the National Ballet of Canada’s up-and-coming second soloist Hannah Fischer, for instance; and Van Dantzig’s emotional staging of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, a ballet with a style more modern dance than classical. Four Last Songs is a gorgeous piece of non-narrative dance, and National Ballet principal dancers Jillian Vanstone and Harrison James made it sing. Still, the Russian element dominated with more than half the program composed of ballets of Russian origin, including Don Quixote, Raymonda, La Bayadère and the rarely seen The Pharaoh’s Daughter. Not that any one was complaining.
The Pharaoh’s Daughter, a faux historical ballet which Petipa created for the Imperial Theatre of St. Petersburg in 1862, was lost to audiences until French choreographer Pierre Lacotte recreated it for the Bolshoi in 2000 following the discovery of Petipa’s original notes. This curious artifact of the classical era has been performed only once before in North America, when the Bolshoi played New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 2005. Ballet nerds typically have come to know it from repeated viewings of YouTube performance videos, and so being able to observe the work’s quicksilver footwork and intricate partnering up close in Toronto was a special treat and an evening highlight. Lunkina had danced The Pharaoh’s Daughter in Moscow and she did so again on this night, reuniting with her original partner, Ruslan Skvortsov, the Bolshoi ballet star who flew in especially for the occasion. The two also danced the adagio from La Bayadère, a sparkling performance which started the evening on a high note.
Later on in the program Lunkina danced again, this time an excerpt from Swan Lake (Lev Ivanov’s original 1895 choreography), assisted by Evan McKie, the National Ballet principal dancer. With this work especially, Lunkina gave rich expression to the pliable arms and supple back that are hallmarks of the Russian school. Her undulating limbs appeared boneless, prompting a member of the audience to declare out loud during her performance, “She is not a human. She is a swan.” High praise indeed. There were more thrilling moments besides.
National Ballet dancers Jurgita Dronina and Gabriele Frola brought down the house with a blistering rendition of the pas de deux from Don Quixote during the first half of the evening. Frola’s jet-propelled jumps saw him soar high above the stage while Dronina’s coquettish dance with a fan established her as a ballerina with winning stage presence and a confident hold on technique. Equally meriting admiration was Lauren Cuthbertson, the resplendent dancer from London’s Royal Ballet, who won a new committed cadre of fans in Toronto as a result of her honest and genuinely moving interpretation of the balcony scene pas de deux from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. It was one of the best performances of this ballet ever witnessed.
Dancing alongside the dashing American Ballet Theatre star Cory Stearns (you know him also from the Kylie Minogue video, “Chocolate”), Cuthbertson swooped and slid with breathtaking abandon into her attentive partner’s arms, convincingly communicating the fast-beating passion invigorating the Shakespeare-inspired ballet. The dancers matched each other’s artistry again when performing Ashton’s Rhapsody Pas De Deux, a fleet-footed work punctured by sculptural poses which debuted in England in 1980, on the occasion of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday.
Cuthbertson’s subtly sensual performance combined with Stearns’s irresistible charm and agility looked hard to beat. Yet there were other contenders for the title of the evening’s best ballet duo.
Also making a huge impression was San Francisco Ballet’s Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno, a real-life couple who danced with exquisite control and palpable feeling the “Diamonds” pas de deux from Balanchine’s full-length Jewels ballet. Earlier in the evening, the dancers had paired together to perform an excerpt from Ashton’s Cinderella, a full-length extolling the crystalline clarity of the English school. They were one of the evening’s big discoveries. Speaking of discoveries, Friedemann Vogel of Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet partnered with Rebecca Bianchi of the Rome Opera Ballet to dance the pas de deux from Roland Petit’s La Chauve-Souris, another rarely performed ballet, and one capturing the excitement and allure of the very French (and sexy) femme fatale. Vogel and Bianchi also danced the pas de deux from Raymonda, a ballet in the majestic Czarist style.
Representing the bubbly and buoyant Danish school were ABT principals Isabella Boylston and Alban Lendorf (also of the Royal Danish Ballet) dancing the sunny pas de deux from Bournonville’s 1858 one-act ballet The Flower Festival in Genzano. The partners again teamed up in the second half of the program to dance Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux, Balanchine’s eight-minute homage to the composer whose name is forever connected to the lasting greatness of the Russian ballet. A work highlighting virtuoso dancing and set to a rediscovered Tchaikovsky score, the ballet, dating to 1960, is fast and joyous, allowing for freedom of expression even as it cleaves to the tautness of a strict neo-classic line. This was Balanchine taking the dramatic heft of the old Russian ballet and tying it to modernism. As an expression of ballet’s ability to reinvent itself, it fit right in with an evening in which tradition was made to look new again, and thanks to the discerning eye of a Russian ballerina.
Canada All Star Ballet Gala
Svetlana Lunkina & Friends
Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ontario, February 11, 2017
Ballet galas showcasing the world’s top dancing talent are in vogue. They have been popping up in cities all around the world from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, and as of February, Toronto courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada’s principal dancer Svetlana Lunkina.
Calling on friends from home and away, and with an enterprising spirit, Svetlana Lunkina and Friends’ inaugural Canada All Star Ballet Gala took shape. It’s message was educational too; aiming to present five distinct schools of classical ballet, being French, Russian, Italian, American and British.
To sold-out house, attracting every balletomane in the region (who wasn’t occupied at Youth American Grand Prix, falling on the same weekend and also a first time occurrence in Toronto), sixteen dancers powered handsomely through the classics and some rarer jewels as well, in a programme dedicated to the love of classical ballet.
Cheers were loudest for the National Ballet’s Francesco Gabriele Frola and Jurgita Dronina who gave a very full-out pas de deux from “Don Quixote.” Dronina was sustained in one-handed lifts for heartstopping one-two-three seconds, and Frola at least double-barrel leapt the length of the stage. In the second half of the evening, the pair were equally energetic dancing a duet from “La Sylphide,” with Frola scraping the ceiling and Dronina showing prettiness and strength in her Bournonville form.
Also from the National Ballet, the great pairing of Jillian Vanstone and Harrison James. They danced the pas de deux from Rudi van Dantzig’s sublime “Four Last Songs,” named after Richard Strauss’ compositions. Vanstone is never lighter or more musical than dancing with James, and together they sustained the intensity of feeling in this wheeling, heartbreaking duet.
The dancers mixed the partnerships up, too, adding some fun. Isabella Boylston, American Ballet Theatre principal, danced the classic Bournonville pas de deux from “The Flower Festival in Genzano” with Royal Danish Ballet dancer Alban Lendorf, whose batterie and plumb landings on the note in perfect fifth were so enjoyable. Later they traded national styles, dancing Balanchine’s “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,” where Boylston, gloriously, devoured the stage, beaming her way through the music.
Rebecca Bianchi, principal from Rome Opera Ballet, danced with Friedemann Vogel of Stuttgart Ballet in Glazunov’s “Raymonda,” with upright precision and flirty sideways looks, and then, from repertoire at Rome Opera Ballet, a pas de deux from Roland Petit’s intriguing “The Bat.” The story is a classic honey-trap; a scorned wife attends a masquerade party to get back at her faithless husband, who is dressed as a bat. Stripped down to a nude bodysuit, Bianci’s slicing legs and sharp glances foreshadow the coup de grâce—a pair of scissors she deftly wields, depriving the bat of his wings in a icy metaphor.
Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno, principal couple from San Francisco Ballet, danced a radiant pas de deux from Ashton’s “Cinderella” and were even more luxurious in the pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Diamonds,” also recently on stage at SFB. In terms of styles, here we have a French woman and an Italian man dancing an English pas de deux, and an American one—it’s one thing to show styles apart, but how they meld together was a satisfying counterpoint of the evening. Sylve’s superb harmony of limbs together with Di Lanno’s refined partnering was utterly dazzling, nationalities aside.
How soft the dancing of Lauren Cuthbertson looked by comparison. Her poses rise out of the dance like a wave from the ocean, and ebb with the same organic pulse. The Royal Ballet principal danced with Cory Stearns of American Ballet Theatre and they made a particularly happy partnership first in Ashton’s “Rhapsody Pas de Deux” and a more dramatic one in MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet.” It wouldn’t be a gala without it.
A change to the programme saw Lunkina perform the White Swan pas de deux with Evan McKie of the National Ballet. Lunkina’s artistry is most evident in grand roles such as this, with each finger joint, articulate and expressive, as though taking each vibration directly from the violin string.
Opening the evening she performed the pas de deux from “La Bayadere” with Ruslan Skvortsov athletically holding her aloft like a trophy. Together the Russians closed the programme with a divertissement from “The Pharaoh’s Daughter,” a ballet choreographed by Petipa for the Imperial Ballet while he was still performing in 1862. Having fallen out of repertoire, the ballet was revived by Pierre Lacotte in 2000 for the Bolshoi, where Lunkina debuted in the production. A phrase of musical, antique, interlacing steps below the ankle were some of the loveliest of the night, breathtaking and bizarre, qualities unique to and wholly the dominion of classical ballet.
A spectacular, quickfire defilé sent off the audience in high spirits, with the dancers flitting across the stage in pairs and solos, reprising the signature moves from their pieces, from flashy fish dives to fouettés, leaps and lifts, culminating in a grand pose for curtain—flash photography allowed.