Svetlana Lunkina triumphs as Anna Karenina…


1234September, 2017

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. Image courtesy of the artist.

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?

A sample image of Bodies in Motion. Image courtesy of the artist.

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

Svetlana Lunkina and Ruslan Skvortsov in The Pharaoh’s Daughter.

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.

Lauren Cuthbertson as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. (Photo: Bill Cooper)

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.

Friedemann Vogel and Rebecca Bianchi in La Chauve-Souris, in Paris earlier this year. (Photo: Yasuko Kageyama)

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.

Svetlana Lunkina, National Ballet of Canada. Photograph by Karolina Kuras

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.

Jurgita Dronina and Francesco Gabriele Frola, National Ballet of Canada. Photograph by Karolina Kuras

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.

Sofiane Sylve, San Francisco Ballet. Photograph by Karolina Kuras

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.


…the former Bolshoi ballerina Svetlana Lunkina, who Mr. McKie says is famous for her interpretation of Giselle in Russia.

The two recently performed as Romeo and Juliet in the National Ballet’s production in March, a challenge Mr. McKie relished despite some initial trepidations. “I never knew if I would even be good at Romeo,” he says. “I never could see Romeo in myself.” He credits his success in the role in part to Ms. Lunkina. “We really play off of each other.”

 Read More >

Dance Magazine, Japan, April 2016


Meet a Dancer: Svetlana Lunkina – The National Ballet of Canada


Former Bolshoi and Stuttgart stars debut in National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet

Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie take on lead roles in March 20 performance at Four Seasons Centre.


Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie in rehearsal for the title roles in the National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo and Juliet. (ALEKSANDAR ANTONIJEVIC)

While ballet fans will be out in force to welcome Brendan Saye’s scheduled return to Romeo at the March 19 matinee, there’s a pair of role debuts the following afternoon that are generating equal interest.

Principal dancers Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie have been stage partners several times before but not in such emotionally charged and physically challenging roles as Romeo and Juliet.

Lunkina, a former Bolshoi Ballet star, danced excerpts of the iconic Leonid Lavrovsky version in Russia, but her March 20 debut in Alexei Ratmansky’s Romeo and Juliet, commissioned for the National Ballet in 2011, will be her first full assault on one of the most coveted roles in the ballerina repertoire.

Lunkina comes to it with notable advantages. Apart from having danced virtually all the other major full-length dramatic ballets, she’s familiar with Ratmansky’s choreographic approach. He was Lunkina’s artistic director at the Bolshoi from 2004 to 2008.

“It helps me understand Alexei’s vision for the ballet,” says Lunkina. “The choreography is really difficult and there’s a lot of it, but it’s such a deep, emotional story. Everything should seem so natural; every step, every gesture, every moment of eye contact. Dancing Juliet is like taking on a life. You just have to go for it.”

Toronto-born McKie is no stranger to Romeo and Juliet. In his former days with Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet, he danced the male lead in the celebrated John Cranko production. With the National Ballet, McKie made a powerful debut last November as Tybalt in Ratmansky’s staging of the Prokofiev classic.

“Dancing Tybalt was a great way to get to know the production,” says McKie.

“I loved Cranko’s version. It was one of the earliest. Alexei’s is almost modern. It’s contemporary in the movement, the way the dancing really never stops. It requires emotional and physical stamina. And there’s a spiritual quality to Alexei’s work. You feel the way Romeo is really searching for something. I clicked with that yearning side immediately.”


Published Thu., March 17, 2016

The New York Times

“The Winter’s Tale” is a big advance from Mr. Wheeldon’s earlier three-act ballets, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (2011) and “Cinderella” (2013). Like “Alice,” it’s a collaboration with the composer Joby Talbot and the designer Bob Crowley; like “Cinderella,” it uses special effects by the theater artist Basil Twist. Both composer and choreographer have grown as ballet artists, though Mr. Talbot has been in demand as a ballet composer since his score for Wayne McGregor’s one-act “Chroma” (2006). Here he has really begun to create propulsive rhythms as well as to conjure a wide range of dramatic colors.

It’s Mr. Wheeldon, however, who has grown most. Each of the ballet’s three acts has its own distinct character; each character has individual motifs — not limiting shticks but memorable features that return and develop. Paulina (who at the end of the play compares herself to an “old turtle” — i.e., the dove — grieving for her lost mate) has winglike arm gestures; the part was played on Wednesday by Svetlana Lunkina (formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet), who tellingly showed how Paulina’s grief expresses itself in the splayed fingers and turning wrists at the end of those spread arms”.


Published JAN. 21, 2016

“Наши” люди в Национальном Балете Канады!

Chasing Shadows: Behind the scenes

“This is the longest set up ever!” A Plus Creative director Anastasia Adani raised her eyes to the ceiling in silent prayer, sometime before lunch. Studio 401 of the Lansdowne warehouse is a creative mess—rolls of black cardboard, polyurethane opera gloves, black lace bodysuits, fringes and belts—this is the set of what, exactly? “Our answer to Fifty Shades [of Grey],” Ms. Adani says with a wink, clawing at the air with dangerous-looking fingernail extensions.

Svetlana Lunkina, principal dancer at the National Ballet of Canada, is in the makeup chair, being transformed with angular eyeliner and gravity defying hair. She is the central figure in the studio’s newest short film, Chasing Shadows, inspired by Salvador Dali and the Surrealist movement. Conical shapes dot the set, varying in size, and the diminutive dancer’s costume is hanging, ready. But first, to warm up: she pads to a corner of the studio, in loose warm-up gear and gets down to business. It’s about two minutes before she notices that the room is glued to her every supernatural movement. Phones are out, video is rolling, instagram is happening. Svetlana stretches her leg into a 180-degree side split, while standing, leg propped against a beam, casually popping her hip, when one of the crew decides to give it a go. “No!” A cry goes up amongst the team—with a leg on a low table, he says sheepishly, “I just wanted to see how far mine would go.” For professionals only, ladies and gents.

Warm, limber and stripped down to a black leotard, ribbonless black pointes, the fingernails, and just the right amount of duct tape, Ms. Lunkina takes her place on the bizarre set. The team is placed at every level, like an ornate garden of photographers and videographers. Pulsing, edgy electronica moves into the room, and Ms. Lunkina bourrées from behind a cone, shadows tapering long on the floor. It takes some time for her to find it: then, a creature she is, moving in unpredictable, astonishing ways. She attacks triple pirouettes, landing surely, placing a foot precisely as not to demo the set. Part flower, part insect, she improvises her movements, drawing on one of her favourite contemporary ballets, Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma,” (Ms. Lunkina danced in it with the company last week) inspired hip-jutting morphs into classical idiom, a leg bent in attitude meeting momentarily with the crown of head, in a way that leaves mouths open.

“We got it; that’s the one—” the half-dozen crew of A Plus Creative huddle around the mac screen on a trolley; it’s centre stage for now. It’s ten below outside, but the studio is warm, and the energy flows easily from downtime, film crew collecting on the couches in the corner to action, people finding themselves in the right place at the right time. Streams of Russian fly back and forth between Ms. Adani and Ms. Lunkina, who share not only nationality, but a culture of dance, having both graduated from Moscow’s Choreographic Institute.

In an inspired moment, the makeup artist devises the conical hair that quickly becomes the signature look. The day is wearing on, Ms. Lunkina starts to bounce around, adorably. There is one final sequence to shoot—the definitive motif, the emergence from a cocoon. I had envisioned something entirely different, which, I suppose, would have been more like coming out from under a rock. A towering scroll of thick black paper is presented on set. Ms. Adani demonstrated by furling herself in it, and emerging from it. The idea—and inherent challenges—became clear.

Ms. Lunkina, clad in black briefs and bustier, with an embellished necklace extending down to her toned midriff (seriously toned), imposes herself in the cocoon—she rises to pointe, and the whole contraption starts to sway perilously. She begins to manoeuvre the paper construction, peeling open one side, experimenting with her feet and legs. The light works on her cheekbone, and her tremendous muscularity is faithfully captured on film. She continues operating the paper cocoon, folding herself inside again. But the paper tower fails, crunching in on one side, and visions of disaster flood my mind—the camera crew uniformly dash forward, arms outstretched, nearly capsizing a tripod or two. Suddenly, the tower steadies; Ms. Lunkina’s heart-shaped face appears through the paper curtain, grinning, as if to say, “you didn’t think I would fall, did you?”

More Photos…

A Fresh Start

Bolshoi ballerina Svetlana Lunkina is rejuvenating her career at the National Ballet of Canada.

Lunkina in James Kudelka’s “Swan Lake” (photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)

A rush of energy rippled across the Toronto theater, followed by an ovation that went on for what seemed like an eternity. It was June 12, 2013, and Svetlana Lunkina had just debuted as a guest artist with the National Ballet of Canada, dancing the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, alongside principal dancer Piotr Stanczyk. It was Lunkina’s first performance in months and you could almost sense her elation at finally being back onstage. As Kitri, she exhibited that magical combination of daring attack and exquisite control with sky-high extensions and picture-perfect balances. Even Stanczyk couldn’t contain his excitement in the lobby afterwards, saying Lunkina brought out the best in him. “I’d do every single ballet with her if I could,” he says.

That night, the question at the top of many people’s minds was not if, but when artistic director Karen Kain would offer her a contract. The answer came two months later, when—following 15 years with the Bolshoi—Lunkina accepted a yearlong principal guest contract with NBOC. “Svetlana is an experienced and well-known ballerina, but we didn’t know her personally here,” says Kain. “We really had to find out whether it was a fit.”

The trial year proved successful for both—this season, Lunkina signed on as a full-fledged company member. After a glittering rise and then a sudden, highly publicized departure from the Bolshoi, the 35-year-old Lunkina is renewing her career at NBOC. And although the Canadian company is smaller (72 dancers compared to the Bolshoi’s 231) and offers a more contemporary repertoire, she’s embracing the opportunity to work with new choreographers and learn new roles. “I’m an artist and I want to develop myself,” says Lunkina. “I’m really grateful for this opportunity to grow. It’s like a new life, with new emotions.”

Born in Moscow, Lunkina trained at the Moscow Choreographic Academy, the Bolshoi’s feeder school, before joining the Bolshoi Ballet in 1997. Lunkina stood out from the corps from the start with her expressive eyes and long arms and neck. In her first year with the company, at just 18, she was cast as the lead in Giselle—the youngest dancer in the Bolshoi’s history to perform that role. To help her prepare both physically and emotionally, Lunkina was coached by the late Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova, who herself had been coached by Galina Ulanova. Following her debut in Giselle, Lunkina’s career blossomed, and even before being promoted to principal in 2005 she had already danced leading roles in Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. As Lunkina rose through the ranks, Maximova remained her coach, until her sudden death in 2009. “She was like a mother to me,” says Lunkina.

In the meantime, Lunkina married and became a mother herself. Her husband, entrepreneur Vladislav Moskalev, is a dual Russian-Canadian citizen, and they have long owned a second home in the the quaint village of Kleinburg, Ontario, just northwest of Toronto. Their children, Maxim, 10, and Eva, 5, were both born in Canada, and Lunkina has permanent residency status.

In 2012, she made hPointe1.1eadlines when she abruptly cancelled her performances, requested an extended leave of absence from the Bolshoi and retreated to Kleinburg. At a news conference, Lunkina told the media she feared for her life, saying: “I cannot go back at this time because there were actual threats.” The threats allegedly stemmed from a dispute between her husband and his former business associate after a film deal went sour.

Lunkina spent the next several months taking company class with NBOC before Kain invited her to perform with them. Luckily, Lunkina found the environment welcoming. “I never felt like a guest,” she says. She was eager to work with NBOC artistic staff, and often watched rehearsals for roles she wasn’t cast in, just to familiarize herself with the ballets and the dancers.

While the company’s eclectic repertoire is a departure from the Bolshoi’s, it fuels Lunkina’s artistic curiosity. Her eyes light up recalling what it was like to work with Canadian choreographer James Kudelka on his dark retelling of Swan Lake. In it, the Swan Queen is not a maiden but an actual swan. “With James, I had a completely different feeling, a new understanding of the role,” she says, admitting she relishes the rehearsal process. “I was amazed at how he worked with the artists, how deeply he collaborated with them.”

Lunkina is also enthusiastic about the company’s growing canon of contemporary works, describing her first rehearsal in Robert Binet’s ballet Unearth as “amazing,” albeit challenging. “Everything was so quick,” says Lunkina. “It was a lot of information for the first day. Sometimes I need more time to work slower, deeper, and to understand every step—and sometimes you just have to do it.”
Her NBOC colleagues say that despite her Bolshoi credentials, she comes with no airs about being a prima ballerina. “There’s no ego, just a really generous spirit,” says Binet. “Even if I run out of corrections, she still has corrections for herself.”

Kain agrees. “She has no barriers to her approach,” she says. “She doesn’t edit what she likes or what she doesn’t like. She just sees what the choreographer is asking and does the best she can do to fulfill that.”

During a rehearsal for John Neumeier’s Nijinsky one afternoon last August, Lunkina kept to herself, breaking in her pointe shoes at the back of the room, while keeping an eye on the corrections being given to individual dancers. Even standing on the sidelines, her enviable facility and her smooth-as-silk quality of movement draw the eye. NBOC ballet master Lindsay Fischer notes that her Bolshoi training gives her extraordinary dynamic control. “The attack is different,” he says. “You don’t see the blade go in, it’s so finessed.”Pointe2

Although Lunkina is quiet, several dancers speak of her sense of humor and contagious laugh. “When she rehearses she has a joy about her—almost like a child who just started dancing,” says NBOC corps de ballet member Andreea Olteanu. “Watching her reminds you why you started dancing in the first place.”
This season brings more new and challenging roles, including Romola, from Nijinsky, and the title role in Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. And last September, Lunkina made her debut as the wicked, over-the-top Queen of Hearts in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland during the company’s tour to New York City.

“I think it was a huge departure for her,” says NBOC artist-in-residence Rex Harrington, who played opposite her as the King of Hearts. “She had to work with it a bit. Comedy is all about timing, how you thread sentences together. It was fun to see her interpretation—it was different than everyone else’s.”
Whether Lunkina will remain in Canada is anyone’s guess—technically, she is still “on leave” from the Bolshoi, and her younger sister Yulia remains a soloist there. Right now, however, Lunkina says she’s focusing squarely on what she calls her “new life” with NBOC. And when she’s not dancing, her children take center stage. She’s one of many working moms in NBOC and says family and ballet are equally important to her, and that her children are happy in Canada. “I just want to be in this moment,” she says. “I don’t want to think about the past or future. I just want to think about what I want to do with this company.”

Published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue.


Interview with Robert Binet, Choreographic Associate with the National Ballet of Canada

“I love being in the studio, creating—it’s my happy place,” said Robert Binet, choreographic associate of the National Ballet of Canada. On the phone, he sounds exactly that—happy. In just a few years, the 23-year-old choreographer’s career has blossomed. In September, his first piece for New York City Ballet will premiere at their annual fall gala, alongside new work by Justin Peck, Troy Schumacher and Myles Thatcher.

“I’m honoured, and so grateful,” says Binet of the opportunity. The ballet, for seven dancers, is set to solo piano movements from Ravel’s Miroirs, which he notes, is “the right balance of beautiful and terrifying,” and will continue for nine performances post-gala.

Robert Binet with Svetlana Lunkina and Dylan Tedaldi in rehearsal for Unearth. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Binet’s work first made an impact on me at the Erik Bruhn Prize, hosted by the National Ballet, in March. He created a contemporary pas de deux for the National Ballet’s nominees, corps dancers Hannah Fischer and Ethan Watts. The result, “The Wild Space Between Two Hearts” was poetic and striking, and the two dancers looked brilliant in it—brilliant enough to edge Ms. Fischer to victory, winning Best Female Dancer of the evening.

“It’s rare that a piece just happens. The first draft was done in two weeks, back in October.” He points to the dancers themselves when speaking about inspiration. “Usually, if the work is reflecting something in your life, when you put that on dancers, it becomes something else. It just happened that what was going on with me, worked with them perfectly.

“Ethan and Hannah had a natural chemistry. They take risks; it’s a feeling, instinct.”

Binet attended Canada’s National Ballet School, but a career on stage wasn’t in the stars. “When I first started dancing, I didn’t really know that dancing and creating dance were two different things; and I was kind of disappointed to find out!”

In 2013 he participated in DanceLines, a choreographic initiative at the Royal Opera House led by resident choreographer Wayne McGregor. On the strength of his work, a new position of choreographic apprentice at the Royal Ballet was created for him, where he continued to be mentored by Wayne McGregor.

The experience was invaluable. “He put me in so many situations that I didn’t have a clue what to do in. He pushed me hard, wanted me to interrogate my brain and figure it out.”

Since his appointment to the National Ballet in 2013, Binet has created numerous pieces for the company, including “Unearth” (2013), “These Worlds In Us” (2014) and “Polar Night” (2012) for the company’s annual Mad Hot Ballet gala.

Asked how he might define his work, Binet says, “It’s definitely ballet—right now—but a step away from ballet, merging with something else. Everything ballet is and moving it forward.

“Ballet is capable of expressing large ideas and emotions in a way that no other art form can.”

Which is not to say it can only exist beneath proscenia. Binet worked with Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian for their music video, “The Party Line.” The pas de deux he created for them was performed live at their recent concert in Toronto. A short film he created with company dancer Dylan Tedaldi, White Rush (above), abstractly referencing the Greek myth of Leda and her swan, premiered at the Deloitte Ignite contemporary arts festival at the Royal Opera House in 2014.

Binet is somewhat ambivalent about premieres, “It’s a horrible feeling when people are going to watch your work, that after a couple of days feels really beautiful.” I suspect it is something he may have to get used to.

Binet’s “The Wild Space Between Two Hearts” will be reprised at the National Ballet’s gala on June 17.


Nijinsky ballet is ‘quite kind’ to the character of Romola de Pulszky

With National Ballet of Canada’s revival opening Nov. 22, choreographer John Neumeier says ballet star’s wife got a bad rap.


Svetlana Lunkina, left, and Xiao Nan Yu will both play the character of Romola in the National Ballet of Canada’s revival of Nijinsky.

If she were still with us, Romola de Pulszky would probably be grateful to John Neumeier for the broadly generous way he portrays her in Nijinsky, his extraordinary choreographic treatment of the life of the legendary bisexual ballet star to whom she was controversially married.

The two-act Nijinsky, originally choreographed by Neumeier in 2000 for his own Hamburg Ballet, set dance fans abuzz when first performed here by our own National Ballet in March 2013 and returns this weekend.

Dance historians nowadays tend to view Romola as a devious, scheming, star-struck woman who contributed to the mental and professional ruin of an artistic genius.

Neumeier, 72, has read all the relevant literature; he’s a walking Vaslav Nijinsky encyclopedia. In Hamburg he’s amassed the world’s largest private collection of Nijinskiana. In his 30s, Neumeier, already obsessed with the fabled early 20th-century Ballet Russe star, even managed to interview the aged Romola. He believes she may have got a bad rap. After all, even if she cheated on the ailing Nijinsky, Romola stuck by her man when he descended into mental illness.

“Such a clever woman,” recalls Neumeier of their meeting. “I’m quite kind to her in my ballet.”

It was as a charismatic dancer that Nijinsky first caught the eye of the aristocratic young Hungarian in 1912. She soon repudiated an existing engagement to free herself to follow — effectively stalk — Nijinsky. She was that besotted.

“Romola fell in love with what Nijinsky represented,” says Svetlana Lunkina, the former Bolshoi Ballet star now contentedly resettled in Toronto as a National Ballet principal dancer.

“She was in love not so much with the man as his celebrity and his glamour,” adds Xiao Nan Yu, who, like Lunkina, will be making her debut as Romola Nijinsky in the current revival.

Neumeier captures this idea in powerful imagery in depicting the 1913 sea voyage to South America during which Romola and the hitherto distant Ballet Russe star draw close. Romola sees through the man to a mental image: Nijinsky in his sensual role as a mythical woodland creature in his own choreographed version of Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune.

At the start of the ballet, however, we are transported to a realistic recreation of the now demolished ballroom of a St. Moritz hotel where in 1919 Nijinsky gave his last public performance. Here Romola is very much the attentive yet subtly controlling wife, eager perhaps to rekindle her already sick husband’s career.

Yu, who with Guillaume Côté as her Nijinsky will dance at Saturday’s opening and three further performances, is sensitive to the complexity of the real-life Romola.

She explains that Romola probably never expected Nijinsky to propose. After all, she must have known he was intimately involved with Ballet Russe boss Serge Diaghilev but could not anticipate Diaghilev’s rage when he discovered his star had married a duplicitous nobody. She was out of her depth yet, as Yu argues, accepted her lot as the wife of a mentally disintegrating man.

“As Romola, I feel it’s important to show her strength. It’s there in the steps, a determination. She has embraced her burden. It’s something she has to do.”

Lunkina, who is also cast as another important woman in Nijinsky’s life — his mother — will dance Romola in two performances toward the end of the nine-show run.

Lunkina’s role-debuting Nijinsky is corps member Francesco Gabriele Frola, who recently wowed audiences with his dazzling debut as Lescaut in Manon. Lunkina says she’s pleased to find that Neumeier leaves expressive room for the individuality of different ballerinas.

“It gives me room to create; the freedom to explore my own feelings toward the role. My goal is to make the audience feel what I’m feeling inside. It’s very deep.”

After the conventionally linear narrative of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, which opened the National Ballet’s fall season earlier this month, Neumeier’s ballet sets your head spinning in the most stimulating of ways. It’s a time-hopping, juxtapositional kaleidoscope of characters and events that, while partly depicting historical reality aims also to take us into the tormented mind of a brilliant dancer and choreographer.

Neumeier insists his ballet is not a dance biography. He describes it as a “choreographic approach” to a complex man who, more than 60 years after his death, continues to fascinate not merely dance lovers but, given Nijinsky’s avant-garde ideas, anyone interested in 20th-century modernism.

(Sonia Rodriguez and Skylar Campbell will alsoreprise their respective Romola/Nijinsky roles from 2013.)

Nijinsky is at the Four Seasons Centre, 145 Queen St. W., Nov. 22 to 30; or 416-345-9595 or 1-866-345-9595.


NOVEMBER 19, 2014.





At Art Basel, Film Artists Get a Spotlight of Their Own

The main Art Basel venue before the public opening on June 19.  The fair, which runs until June 22, features 20th and 21st century visual art, including paintings, sculpture, installations and film.


Anna Gackell and Svetlana Lunkina film 2Anna Gaskell and Svetlana Lunkina film 

BASEL, Switzerland — Five years ago, Pat O’Neill, an experimental film artist in Los Angeles, was so despairing that his art would find a wide, paying audience that he was ready to give up on a 50-year career.

“I wanted to burn everything and take up something simple, like farming,” he said recently by telephone.

Today, Mr. O’Neill is represented by Cherry and Martin, a young, successful West Coast art gallery. More museums and galleries trade his works — a special license allows six different owners to have simultaneous rights to a single film — and the artist himself is invited around the world to speak about his work.

This Friday, three of Mr. O’Neill’s films — “7362” from 1967; “Runs Good,” from 1970, and “Trouble in the Image,” from 1996 — will be shown as part of the film program at the Art Basel fair. The 99-seat theater is expected to be sold out.

Film is an increasingly important part of this year’s Art Basel — and, by extension, of the collectible contemporary art world. The film program, organized by Marc Glöde and This Brunner and running until Saturday, features a world premiere, a European premiere, and retrospective and thematic evenings.

film by Anna Gaskell and Svetlana Lunkina A still from “& Juliet” by Anna Gaskell, part of the film program at this year’s Art Basel. CreditGalerie Gisela Capitain/Anna Gaskell

 One particular draw is likely to be the European premiere of “Tim’s Vermeer,” directed and narrated by the performance artists and magicians Penn & Teller and shown on Saturday.

The program also offers short films focused on a theme, such as art in an institutional framework. A recent work by the photographer and filmmaker Anna Gaskell, “& Juliet,” shows a ballerina practicing the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” without a partner, wearing gym gear and ear buds.

Although film has been part of Art Basel’s extensive side program since 1999, it was only in 2008 that film screenings were brought out of the fair’s exhibition space and into the Stadtkino, a repertory and art cinema behind Basel’s Kunsthalle on the west side of town.

The cinema allows the showing of films in virtually any format, including 16 mm, 35 mm and various digital formats. And taking the film program out of the bustling fair space and putting it in a proper movie theater has changed the nature of the event, said Mr. Glöde, who has been co-curating the show since its move to the Stadtkino.

“It’s a place where you can show these films adequately,” Mr. Glöde said.

It was difficult to attract large audiences during the first years in the Statdkino. The cinema is at some distance from the buzz of the art fair, and the films were often shown during the valuable time slot of client dinners and V.I.P. receptions. But over time the side event has matured. Art Basel organizers said the film program had been growing in popularity, with a 41 percent increase in tickets sold from 2009 to 2013.

Although experimental film has a long and rich artistic tradition, the films have only recently become collectors’ items. When institutions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art started buying Bruce Conner films after the artist’s death in 2008, other collectors and museums started paying attention and opening their checkbooks.

Films made on film stock the old-fashioned way, with the filmmaker developing and manipulating the images by hand, are taking on a collectible sheen as technology allows virtually anyone with a good laptop and the right software to make movies. “With film dying so rapidly, you really need museums to take care of it, to make sure it is presented properly,” Mr. O’Neill said.

The increasing popularity of experimental art film among collectors has also prompted artists, gallerists and curators to consider how to collect art on a medium that is so easy to duplicate. Besides buying the rights to the film, many collectors wish to have something more tangible. Some filmmakers include props from the film or unique packaging. “Collectors want to have objects,” Mr. Glöde said.

Video art, the moving-image cousin of experimental film, is considered more collectible because the videos and the screens on which they play are often part of a bigger installation, not stand-alone media that need to be specially screened to be experienced.

Major video installations made it into permanent exhibits at museums decades before film. Nam June Paik’s “TV-Buddha” — a Buddha statue looking at a video screen showing a feed of itself — was brought by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam shortly after it was made in 1974. The Buddha stature is as much part of the art as the video feed.

Online versions of film art, whether licensed or pirated, can be problematic because of the intrinsic reduction of quality. Experimental film artists are keenly aware of both the merits and the dangers of having their artwork appearing online.

“People do take my films and put them on YouTube, which we then take off,” Mr. O’Neill said. “We don’t want to be totally overexposed.”


JUNE 18, 2014



Critics At Large : “Feathers In their Caps: Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie in Swan Lake”

Evan McKie & Svetlana Lunkina (with the National Ballet of Canada) in Swan Lake. (Photo: Aleksandar Antonijevic)

The highly anticipated debuts of principal guest artists Svetlana Lunkina and Evan McKie in James Kudelka’s version of Swan Lake readily explains why Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts was packed to the rafters last Saturday night (March 8). McKie who self identifies as a dancer-actor is the Toronto-born principal dancer with Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet who is internationally celebrated for his ability to dramatize a role, and make it matter. Last month, the 30-year-old McKie headlined the Paris Opera Ballet, a first for a Canadian ballet dancer. In April, he will be a featured performer with the New York City Ballet where doubtless his long lyrical lines, his buoyant jumps and aristocratic mien will get audiences there as excited as they have been this past week for his homecoming in Toronto. Russian trained, McKie has also performed with the Bolshoi, making him a choice partner for Lunkina, a star ballerina of the Bolshoi who made headlines last year when she announced she was quitting Russia for Canada following a series of malevolent threats made against her and her family at a time when the Bolshoi was rocked with violence, an acid attack on its artistic director, Lunkina’s former partner Sergei Filin, being one. McKie’s undisputed talent as a gifted dramatic dancer notwithstanding, she was the one everyone had come to watch. The house was filled with ex ballet dancers and au courant balletomanes, all eager to see the controversial Russian ballerina show her stuff. She did not disappoint.

Curiosity about Lunkina has been building since she landed, almost literally, on the doorstep of the National Ballet of Canada last January, a prima ballerina without a ballet company. National Ballet artistic director Karen Kain moved cautiously, initially inviting Lunkina to take company class, then in August offering the 34-year old dancer a season-long contract with five ballets to perform. Two of these were were original Canadian ballets whose world premieres in November, one was The Nutcracker performed at Christmastime, and another, presented just weeks ago as part of the National Ballet’s ongoing Toronto spring season, Sir Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country. But it is Swan Lake, the Tchaikovsky ballet which debuted in Lunkina’s hometown of Moscow in 1895, which has been drawing the most notice. At long last, Lunkina, who with McKie again dances the ballet today (March 16), is commanding in Canada a full-length ballet worthy of her famed Russian training.

While more known for her interpretation of Giselle, Lunkina is no stranger to the dual role of Odette-Odile, having performed it several times during her 15-year career as one of the Bolshoi’s prized cache of prima ballerinas. It did not matter that Kudelka’s interpretation of the ballet classic would be radically different from any Swan Lake she might have danced before. The idea was that Lunkina would bring all her Bolshoi pedigree to bear upon it. She would dance Swan Lake like none before her. And, for the most part, that was what happened. On Saturday night, despite some hints of nervousness, Lunkina, abetted by her exquisitely attentive partner, took the ballet to new heights of emotional and dramatic expressiveness. With McKie, she managed to turn this curious 1999 version of Swan Lake into a tragic love story, something not even the choreographer himself has ever managed to pull off.

Kudelka’s ballet is more about the anti-hero at its dark and gloomy centre, the evil-doing Rothbart (danced Saturday by the slinky first soloist Patrick Lavoie) who lures Prince Siegfried into a fetishistic world where birds, not women, are the objects of this lonely man’s desires. Generally in Kudelka’s version, Odette, the white swan, is an automaton, a creature under a spell pulled and pushed this way and that in service of Rothbart’s twisted need to destroy the human world represented by Prince Siegfried. Odile, the black swan, is his female alter ego who crashes the party in the second act, tantalizing Siegfried to choose her above all the other princesses presented to him for marriage. When he naively acquiesces, Rothbart, that avenging angel seen in the ballet’s prologue, swoops in to snatch his prey.

Love, actually, is irrelevant to the plot. The lack of love can be said to be one of the ballet’s major themes. There’s no love, for instance, between Siegfried and his mother, the Queen. There’s no love, or anything resembling chivalry, among the Prince’s courtiers who, in the first act, gleefully gang-banging a wench (the always tantalizing Tanya Howard) while ignoring her cries for help. There’s no love expected to exist in Siegfried’s impending marriage to one of four princesses presented to him to choose from in the second act. Each has with her an ambassador whose job it is to sell the sex appeal of the maiden in his charge. They are dynasties for sale, one each from Russia, Italy, Spain and Hungary, all vying for a chance to forge a union with power. They compete for attention, performing a thrilling series of character dances that are among the ballet’s more arresting sequences of choreography. The Prince himself is bored by the spectacle, refusing to be seduced – even by the magnificence of second soloist Chelsy Meiss dancing the Russian Princess on Saturday night.

This, then, is the backdrop to a Swan Lake where death and destruction are predicted right from the start. So it is no feat that Lunkina, with McKie’s solid assistance, were able to carve something resembling a quietly beating heart out of such cynicism. Their combined performances, imbued with electrifying artistry, inspired the National Ballet dancers as a whole. The ensemble dancing, among the men in act one and the women in the swan scenes, was especially energized, elegant and musical. Guest conductor Earl Stafford, the longtime musical director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, lead the National Ballet Orchestra to keep perfect time with the dancers. It was, overall, a galvanizing performance punctuated by memorable dancing.

McKie was masterful in the first act, using understated gesture and facial expression to create a portrait of the Prince that felt real rather than typically abstract. His Siegfried was not just a tacit observer of his damned destiny, but an active player who, despite making bad choices on his life’s journey, had about him an air of warmth and decency, He engaged with his courtiers, especially Benno (the aerial Naoya Ebe). He gently teased his Tutor (played her by veteran come any dancer Tomas Schramek) and benignly tolerated his Fool (Robert Stephen showing good command of Kudelka’s devilishly fast batterie). He was recognizable human, that is fallible. Lunkina was more obviously the otherworldly creature.

Skillfully, Lunkina endowed the ballet with tremulous emotion achieved subtly through a series of small but highly nuanced gestures which showed her to be not just a ballerina but an artist, a dancer capable of imparting depth of feeling using only the lift of an eyebrow, the taut line of a mouth. True to the choreography, in the first act, she presented Odette as a creature whose soul has been beaten down in her. She moved with cool detachment, her face barely registering emotion. Lunkina played up her whiteness, interpreting it as an absence of colour, a zombified blank. But there was inside her a human impulse pushing up against the icy exterior. It was detected when Odette extended an arm to the Prince, pushing it just past his grasp but not before pausing to register the heat of his body. Her wrist seemed barely to skim by his, igniting a spark of mutual understanding that suggested there was a mind at work inside that fluttering body, wanting recognition, even compassion. The gesture was repeated later in the ballet, just before the denouement, and it crystallized the unfulfilled longing shared by these victims of Rothbart’s godless universe. It symbolized their fate as would-be lovers kept forever apart.

When Lunkina returned in the second act in the guise of Odile her transformation from white to black was startling and complete. She was an entirely different dancer: spiky, sparky, sexually intense. Her eyes darted fire. Her lips parted to show a tongue licking at the trumped up passion she was driving to boiling point in her Prince. Her party piece would be the 32-fouettés which have graced the black act pas deux ofSwan Lake since the pyrotechnic Pierina Legnani first inserted them into the original ballet almost 120 years ago. Lunkina looked ready to to best the prototypical Odile. She proceeded her leg whipping turns with a roar, throwing her legs out and round with dizzying speed. She could not quite sustain the effort, stopping somewhat abruptly, if not prematurely, suggesting she had given too much too soon. But no one was going to fault her. The audience went wild, shouting and clapping. Lunkina had done what they had hoped she would do: she had bedazzled.

Deirdre Kelly

Sunday, March 16, 2014

“Toronto Star”: Svetlana Lunkina brings love back to National Ballet’s Swan Lake

Former Bolshoi ballerina doesn’t disappoint as Odette/Odile, paired with fellow ballet aristocrat Evan McKie.

swan_lake.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoEvan McKie and Svetlana Lunkina with artists of the National Ballet in Swan Lake. With a ballerina as dramatically expressive as Lunkina, partnered as by McKie as a poetic and ardent Siegfried, love is very much in the air, says Michael Crabb.

It was the moment ballet fans had waited for and when the National Ballet raised the curtain Saturday on a revival of Swan Lake featuring former Bolshoi star Svetlana Lunkina, they had cause to celebrate.

Ever since the Russian ballerina announced in early 2013 that she’d sought refuge in Toronto from sinister goings-on in Moscow, local fans wondered how long it would be before Lunkina was signed by the local team.

It began with a spot in the National Ballet’s gala last June, followed by the announcement that Lunkina, who now lives with her husband and two children just outside Toronto, would become a resident guest artist for the 2013-14 season. Since then she has appeared in a number of works, but it was not until Saturday that Lunkina emerged in her full splendour, dancing for the first time with the National Ballet one of the most challenging full-length roles the classic repertoire has to offer: Swan Lake’s Odette/Odile.

As the name indicates, it’s a dual role. As Odette, the ballerina portrays a bewitched princess, in thrall to the evil sorcerer Rothbart, who has transformed the unhappy maiden and her sorority into those most beautiful of anatidae: swans.

In this condition Odette enraptures the dreamy Prince Siegfried who soon declares his undying love, except Rothbart is bent on wrecking their romance. When in a later scene the prince is exhorted by his overbearing mother to choose a bride from among visiting princesses, an unexpected guest disrupts the proceedings. It’s the scheming Rothbart, without his hideous Act II hair extensions, together with Odile, an exotically delectable princess. By the end of a show-stopping pas de deux — the one with all those celebrated whipped-kick turns — Siegfried is convinced it’s his beloved swan maiden and picks Odile to be his wife, thus breaking his vow to Odette. It’s a fatal mistake.

Lunkina is no stranger to Odette/Odile. She brings to it a natural assurance bred of her experience at the Bolshoi, the company that originated Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet 137 years ago. Saturday, however, was Lunkina’s debut in the dramatically puzzling 1999 production James Kudelka fashioned for the National Ballet during his time as artistic director. It’s a reading that seemingly aspires to project a fairy story onto a higher cosmic plane with Rothbart as some kind of avenging creature-from-beyond, determined to punish a decadent world; or something like that.

Sadly, it tends to confuse and diminish the emotional impact of the traditional Swan Lake’s central love story. Yet, with a ballerina as dramatically expressive as Lunkina, partnered as she is for these Swan Lake performances by a poetic and ardent Siegfried, Canadian-born guest artist Evan McKie, love is very much in the air.

The pair’s first lakeside meeting, even with Rothbart’s incessant interjections, is charged with romantic longing as Lunkina’s articulate arms etch a catalogue of woes, gradually enlivened by the promise of true love.

When they meet again in Act III’s ballroom scene, Lunkina echoes Odette’s allure but with the sharpened accents of the deceiving look-alike, Odile. Then, as the forlorn yet forgiving Odette of Act IV, she responds to the repentant Siegfried with heartaching fragility; a broken spirit, eternally doomed.

Even Lunkina and McKie, natural aristocrats of the ballet, cannot entirely redeem the shortcomings of an odd and enigmatic Swan Lake, but they do their best to put love back at its heart.

“Toronto Star” 03/09/2014

Wayne McGregor’s interview to “Izvestia”

Izvestia: Do you have any special plans for Svetlana Lunkina, which, they say, is one of your favorite ballerinas?

Wayne MacGregor: I do like her. I come to Canada very often, and we see each other regularly there. She is an incredible dancer, a very gifted one: both physically and emotionally, and intellectually too. I’d really like to work with her again.

Link to the full article:

Izvestia 02.18.2014


FJORD Review

Svetlana Lunkina dances in James Kudelka’s “ALLONEWORD”

Svetlana Lunkina photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic

MARKHAM: Svetlana Lunkina, former Bolshoi Ballet principal dancer, is set to dance with Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in James Kudelka’s “ALLONEWORD” on February 27, 2014.

“ALLONEWORD” is a suite of six works, each set to the Guardian Angel passacaglia from Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Rosary Sonatas. Featuring different musical arrangements of the Baroque composer’s work for violin by composer John Oswald, each will be danced by a different collection of dancers in solos, duets, and ensembles. Ms. Lunkina will dance a duet with CLC dancer Ryan Boorne.

The suite assumes no theme other than the idea of seeing and being seen—indeed, this is a chance to see another side of the gifted Ms. Lunkina, who recently joined the National Ballet of Canada as principal guest artist. Dancers on the bill are: Rhonda Baker, Ryan Boorne, Valerie Calam, Bill Coleman, Luke Garwood Tyler Gledhill, Laurence Lemieux, Svetlana Lunkina, Danny McArthur and Christianne Ullmark.

James Kudelka has been CLC’s resident choreographer since 2008.

“ALLONEWORD” premieres at the Flato Markham Theatre, Markham, Ontario on February 27 at 8 pm, one show only. For tickets and more information, see the Markham Box Office or CLC website.

Dance Magazine

Balancing Act

By Michael Crabb, January, 2014

The Bolshoi’s Svetlana Lunkina carves a path for career and family at National Ballet of Canada.

Even in a crowded company class at the National Ballet of Canada’s harborside studios, Svetlana Lunkina stands out. Her Russian training shows in the way she unfurls an arm or extends a leg, articulating every stage of the motion with meticulous control. Her extraordinary coordination transforms her slender body into an expressive instrument; her breathtaking jump seems, gazelle-like, to spring from nowhere. As National Ballet principal artistic coach Magdalena Popa succinctly puts it: “Svetlana has a really nice everything.”
That Lunkina, a Bolshoi ballerina, finds herself at 34 a principal guest artist at NBC has as much to do with her personal priorities as today’s complex Russian and Bolshoi politics. Despite the persistent popular image of the ballerina as a woman who single-mindedly dedicates herself to the unrelenting rigors of an art form that demands total devotion, Lunkina has consistently defied that image. “Ballet isn’t everything,” she says. The mother of two children, Maxim, 9, and Eva, 4, Lunkina and her husband, a Russian film producer, have had a suburban home a short drive from Toronto’s downtown for nearly a decade. For the Moscow-born dancer, her family has as big of a place in her life as her career.
Lunkina’s ability to split her priorities may stem from her having no longstanding childhood dream of being a ballerina. She’s the second of three daughters. Her father had a career in the printing business, and her mother had studied professionally in circus school. Their first daughter, eight years older than Svetlana, became a professional athlete—competing in pentathlons, no less. When Lunkina was about 5, her mother sent her to begin dance classes at the local “House of Pioneers,” one of many Soviet-era youth centers offering out-of-school training in arts and sports. Lunkina did well enough that at age 10, she was urged to audition for the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and was accepted as a day student.


Above: Lunkina has joined National Ballet of Canadas principal guest artist for the 2013–14 season. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, Courtesy NBC

She loved dancing but did not relish the rigorous classes where, she felt, teachers tended to treat students with disregard for their feelings or individuality. “There were times I told my mother I wanted to leave,” remembers Lunkina. Her mother, a constant support, urged her to keep going. It was only when Lunkina reached her mid-teens and came under the tutelage of former Bolshoi star Marina Leonova—now dean of the Academy—that she began to embrace the idea of becoming a professional dancer.
When she was 18, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet corps. During her initial season in 1997, she was picked by Vladimir Vasiliev to dance the lead role in his production of Giselle. Her coach was renowned former ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. With her debut performance, Lunkina became the youngest Bolshoi dancer ever to perform the role.

Two years later, when Vasiliev took his company to Britain, she won the hearts of audiences and critics alike when she made her debut as Kitri in Don Quixote at the London Coliseum. She delighted London audiences again in 2001 when she returned as part of a mixed repertory Bolshoi Ballet program. Though well on her way to international stardom, she soon chose to take off more than a year to have her first child. Her son, Maxim, was born in Canada in 2004. Five years later, in 2009, Lunkina’s daughter, Eva, was born in Canada as well.
Despite her commitment to her family, Lunkina managed to combine motherhood with a successful career at the Bolshoi. While Moscow was her base, her husband, Vladislav Moskalyev, 50, is a Canadian citizen, and she has permanent residence status. Though they did not publicize their second home, it became public knowledge last January when, two weeks after the acid attack on Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin, headlines blazoned the fact that Lunkina had “fled” Moscow because of personal threats—all connected with a business dispute in which her husband was then embroiled.
Lunkina now has an official leave-of-absence from the Bolshoi—extended until this summer—but for a while, her career was in limbo. She rejected the possibility of becoming an itinerant guest artist. “I want to be more inside the process,” she says.
She took company class with the National Ballet while Toronto ballet fans kept wondering if Lunkina might find a new professional home at NBC. With a busy 2013–14 season fast approaching, Karen Kain announced that Lunkina would become a principal guest artist. At around a third of the size of the Bolshoi, the company might seem a step down, but Lunkina admires Kain as a director, noting the way Kain collaborates with her artistic team, a contrast, she says, to the way things nowadays operate at the Bolshoi.


Above: With Dmitry Gudanov; Lunkina  debuted at 18 in Giselle, the youngest Bolshoi dancer ever to perform the role. Photo by Damir Yusupov, Courtesy Bolshoi

“When I joined the Bolshoi in 1997, I caught the end of an era when its constellation of former great ballerinas had become excellent pedagogues. They were the curators of its heritage ballets and the final judges of who was ready for a particular role. Now it’s the theater administration that decides.”
Although the terms of her guest contract included dancing the leads in last December’s Nutcracker and in Swan Lake this coming March, Lunkina feels particularly excited to be part of the development of new work.


Above: Lunkina rehearsing in the National Ballet of Canada studios with principal Piotr Stanczyk. 

She was cast in two premieres in the National Ballet’s November 2013 Innovation program: James Kudelka’s black night’s bright day and Unearth, by the company’s 22-year-old choreographic associate, Robert Binet. “It was such a great way to start,” she says.
 Binet admits he wondered how a top Bolshoi ballerina would respond to working with an emerging choreographer, but was delighted by the way Lunkina plunged into the process. “Svetlana is one of the most friendly, open, energetic people I’ve ever met,” says Binet. “She’ll try anything.”
Understandably, Toronto audiences are hoping Lunkina will find that NBC, where she’s among several ballerinas with children to raise, offers the kind of balanced life she’s always wanted. Kain would certainly like to cement the relationship if the company budget allows. “Svetlana is a very positive presence in our midst. She is so committed, and she’s at the top of her game. There isn’t anything she couldn’t do.”

Michael Crabb is the dance critic for The Toronto Star and is a Dance Magazine senior advising editor.

Ballerina Svetlana Lunkina: from Russia, with star power

 By Deirdre Kelly, November 21, 2013


When the curtain rises Friday night on Innovation, the highly-anticipated program of new work commissioned by the National Ballet of Canada, the forward-leaning choreography won’t be the only attention-grabber.

Dancing in two of the four pieces will be Bolshoi ballerina Svetlana Lunkina, making her debut with the National Ballet as a principal guest artist. The 34-year-old native of Moscow will be dancing as part of an ensemble, only occasionally spotlighted in pas de deux. But her first public appearance with the Toronto-based company is attracting widespread attention, adding a frisson of excitement to Innovation’s program.

“Lunkina is a huge get for the company,” says Jennifer Stahl, editor-in-chief of Dance Magazine in New York. “It’s a real infusion of international star power.”

Lunkina made headlines in January when she announced that, after 15 years as one of the Bolshoi’s top-ranking artists, she was leaving the troubled ballet company for Canada. The National Ballet was quick to embrace the acclaimed ballerina, granting her a chance to continue her brilliant career here.

“I am not ready to surrender,” says Lunkina through a translator in Toronto. “I love to dance. I’m crazy about dancing. I feel there’s still a lot I can do.”

The National Ballet offered her a season-long contract in August after having allowed her to take company classes throughout last winter and spring, a professional courtesy often extended to visiting dancers.

Anyone who watched her do her exercises could see that Lunkina was a cut above. Lunkina is a dancer who embodies the Romantic ideal of appearing lighter than air while simultaneously being strong as steel. For many in the dance community the question was not would the National hire her, but when. “A dancer of her calibre brings new energy to a company and to an audience,” says Vanessa Harwood, a former principal dancer with the National.

Lunkina has already served as muse to some of the biggest names in ballet today, among them Britain’s Wayne McGregor and the Russian Alexei Ratmansky, a former director of the Bolshoi who is now artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre in New York.

Today, her fine-boned but powerfully expressive body is inspiring Canadian choreographers, especially now that Lunkina has become a permanent resident of Canada.

“She is like no other dancer I’ve ever worked with before,” exclaims Robert Binet, the 22-year-old, Toronto-born choreographer whose new work, Unearth, set to an original score by Owen Pallett, includes Lunkina as part of a 14-member ensemble. “She has the most incredible physical facility, and it really just blows your mind.”

When she was 18, Lunkina became the youngest ballerina in the history of the Bolshoi to dance the eponymous lead in Giselle. Trained at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography, where her coach was the late, great Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova, Lunkina went on to become a star dancer not just in Russia but in France, where the late Roland Petit also created ballets which celebrated her lithe frame.

Piotr Stanczyk, who will partner Lunkina in the Binet work, was initially intimidated by her pedigree when he was asked to dance with her in the bravura pas de deux from Don Quixote at a National Ballet fundraiser in June.

“I mean, she’s a Bolshoi ballerina,” he says. “For anyone to become a principal dancer at the Bolshoi is a big accomplishment in their life. I wasn’t sure I would be up to it. But she ended up being the nicest, the sweetest person I have ever met.”

Fellow principal dancer Guillaume Côté will partner Lunkina in a new James Kudelka ballet. “She can balance emotion and meaning in a way that is truly special to watch,” says Côté, who is also one of the choreographers featured on the Innovation program.

Lunkina’s performances with the National will continue for the remainder of the season, with star turns in The Nutcracker followed by Swan Lake in the new year.

Her contract expires in March, and for now it is uncertain if she will become a full-fledged member of the company. But Lunkina is crossing her toes.

“The National Ballet of Canada is my family now,” she says.

The two worlds of Svetlana Lunkina

From the archives: The Bolshoi ballerina, dancing this season with the National Ballet, explains what she’s doing with an unused return ticket to Moscow.

by John Fraser, August 22, 2013 

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Photograph by Christopher Wahl

Svetlana Lunkina, a former Bolshoi prima ballerina, will soon return to a different stage as a principal featured guest with the National Ballet of Canada.

The dancer’s decision to take leave from the Bolshoi came as the legendary ballet troupe made headlines over an acid attack on its artistic director. But Lunkina’s move to Canada was no simple defection.

The following story was first published on February 8, 2013:

The two worlds that Svetlana Lunkina lives and works in do not jibe very well these days. A prima ballerina at the peak of her career at the legendary Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, her life there has become increasingly scarred with wild and unproven criminal accusations about her husband and a savage attack on her artistic director.

Her domestic life in Canada, on the other hand, is almost picture perfect, with a dream house in bucolic Kleinberg, Ont., just outside Toronto, two young children whom she describes as embodying “the essence of my life,” and a quiet career of part-time teaching. The only connecting point between the two lives, it seems, is the miserably cold weather in both places, although Lunkina maintains, “the cold in Kleinberg is better than the cold in Moscow.”

Beyond the surface, the story is infinitely more complicated than a lot of stories that have recently appeared, some of which claim she is “defecting” to Canada because of the troubles back home. In fact, Lunkina is still a star of the Bolshoi, on leave, and is still listed on the company’s roster of top dancers. And unlike the famous Russian defectors of the old Communist Soviet Union, she has not had to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. She can go back and forth at will and has maintained a home in Canada for nearly a decade.

So why the defection stories and why, at 33, isn’t she dancing up a storm on the main stage of the Bolshoi theatre? The short answer is the one she has given everyone recently: she’s scared. The long answer is that she has become convinced that the threats to her and her family back in her country have become so glaring and ominous that the word “defection” has taken on a newly minted meaning, which defines a condition in Mother Russia rather than an action taken by her.

So, yes, a defection connected to Russia is in the news again. Not the dramatic “leap” by Rudolf Nureyev in 1961, or the tour en l’air by Natalia Makarova in 1970, or the jeté by Mikhail Baryshnikov in 1974. Thugs, acid attacks and accusations of money laundering in capitalistic Russia have replaced yesterday’s Bondian ballet tales in the Communist Soviet Union. The leap to freedom—or, more aptly, to peace of mind—is symbolized by an unused return ticket to Moscow. Svetlana Lunkina wants to stay in the true north, strong and free, and Canada is the net winner.

In a long interview this week about her life and career, the only time she frowned and seemed vexed was while discussing the travails of her husband and the related threats to her career and perhaps personal safety. That husband is Vladislav Moskalyev, 50, who immigrated to Canada over 20 years ago to join his younger brother, Andrei, who had arrived earlier. Moskalyev built up a successful business as an entrepreneur and impresario—particularly of international ballet galas, which is how the couple first met a decade ago when Lunkina danced in one of them. He had most recently become involved in film production with a Russian partner, Vladimir Vinokur, who is well-known as a comedian and actor. Together they were going to produce a film about the Russian ballet during czarist times, but the deal fell through and Vinokur, who declined to be interviewed, is now suing Moskalyev for nearly $4 million.

It is, to be sure, a business fallout of serious proportions, but it has come with wild accusations of money laundering by Lunkina herself, charges that have now been completely withdrawn. Along the way, Lunkina’s professional integrity was sullied by a series of absurd accusatory letters to various European ballet companies. Then came the vicious attack on the Bolshoi’s artistic director, Sergei Filin, who was badly burned when a masked assailant threw sulphuric acid in his face on Jan. 17. The only connection Lunkina makes between her husband’s troubles and the acid attack is timing: enough was enough. She did not feel safe in Russia, so she has extended her leave of absence, with the Bolshoi’s permission.

It should not have been like this. Lunkina is an “Honoured Artist of the Russian Federation”—the highest title a performing artist can achieve there. From an early age, she was spotted as a likely star and groomed for that stardom as only the unrelenting ballet system in Russia knows how—from czarist times through Communist regimes and right to the present day. “I was lucky in my family and in nature, I guess,” she says through an interpreter. She understands a lot of English and text-messages brilliantly, but in interviews she prefers to talk through a translator. The middle of three girls, her father is the printer and publisher of a scientific journal. The older sister is a pentathlon athlete and the “baby sister” is, like her, a ballet dancer in the Bolshoi.

“My sisters and I get along very well. My younger sister became a dancer because I was a dancer, and at first I wanted to be an athlete like my older sister. The closeness had a lot to do with the way my mother brought us up. She had a system for discipline that was rough but seemed to work well with us. If any of us misbehaved, and it didn’t matter which sister was guilty, we all had to take the consequences. Believe me, we formed alliances and pacts very naturally. Very quickly, too.

“And from my mother, I had other gifts. The gifts of nature. You may laugh when you learn that she was trained at the circus academy in Moscow. She was trained to be the ‘snake lady’ who could twist in all directions, but she never got to join a circus after she graduated. Instead, she met my father and had us girls and then stayed at home to be with us. We are so grateful to her.”

Like ballet, the circus is a big deal in Russia and has been for centuries. The “snake lady”—or contortionist—is a specialty reserved for young bodies of extra-special flexibility, with limbs and bones that can do extraordinary things. That is precisely one of the great gifts Lunkina is noted for on the stage. Through role after role—and she has danced most of the Russian classical repertoire to huge acclaim—it is her “plasticity” that is noted frequently. This is the quality that was coaxed out and developed through the intense relationship she had with her great mentor and teacher, the fabled Russian prima ballerina assoluta, Ekaterina Maximova.

To try and fully appreciate the depth of passion for ballet in Russia, a Canadian parallel that comes to mind is hockey (which also feeds its own special brand of superstars, violence and pedants who can cite statistics lost in the mists of time). Maximova was like an athlete’s personal coach and she wielded great power, for good, over Lunkina, just as she—Maximova—had been coached and mentored by an earlier superstar, Galina Ulanova. In ballet terms, these artistic successions are practically apostolic in their significance and mysticism—to balletomanes, at any rate.

“Eketerina was my second mother,” Lunkina says. “I trusted her absolutely, even when I was halfway through learning an important new role and she would take me aside and say, ‘My dear, we are going to give it a pass for now as you are not quite ready.’ It was hard, sometimes very hard. But I trusted her and I do not believe she ever led me a wrong way. Much of what I am today is thanks to this second mother.”

Maximova died four years ago and her passing was acknowledged internationally with outsize praise and huge regret. In Canada, she would be remembered vividly by those who saw her dance the role of Tatiana with Rex Harrington in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Eugene Onegin. And now her artistic heir, Lunkina—in a direct line of artistic inheritance stretching back to the origins of the imperial ballet of Russia—is in Canada. Virtually all the leading classical and many of the contemporary roles of the legendary Bolshoi repertoire are part of her own repertoire and the question is left begging: who will be smart enough to get her on stage first?

Lunkina declines to be drawn into a discussion on her immediate future. She is still on leave. She does a bit of teaching and does daily practice at the ballet barre because if she doesn’t, her body will soon rebel at the demands of her art. It surely cannot be too long before the demand—and intense curiosity—to see her perform among us becomes a reality.

Still, the moment I mentioned Karen Kain, artistic director of the National Ballet, as well as those famous companies in New York City (American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet), she just smiles and says she was not putting out an advertising sign. She says she agreed to this interview for Maclean’s because she had seen so many bizarre stories about her circumstances and wanted a chance to explain herself and her situation more fully. “Of course I want to dance,” she says. “Dancers want to dance. Dancers need to dance. But I also live for my children and my home with my husband. We have a wonderful house in Kleinberg and my two children, who were born in Canada and go to wonderful schools here, are so happy. My son tells everyone when asked, ‘I am Canadian’. In Moscow we had just a small apartment and, while I do not want to be critical of my homeland, let me say that Canada is a country I can see my children thriving in without fear, without me having fear for them, without me fearing for my husband’s situation.”

Moskalyov clearly adores her. When he brought her to the interview earlier this week, he would not sit in because he did not want to complicate her story with his own challenges in the legal battles between himself and his former partner. He too has had to face threats, but he is not frightened to go back. He was in Russia just a few months ago and he has various projects on the go there.

Nevertheless, the acid attack on the Bolshoi’s artistic director expanded the framework of danger, even if the attacker remains unknown and the motive shrouded. A recent article in the Independent newspaper in London quoted the general director of the Bolshoi, Anatoly Iksanov, as saying that “an unhealthy atmosphere” had invaded the legendary company and that “evil” was lurking in the wings. Former company members cite Iksanov himself as the source of some of that evil, and the whole Bolshoi “conversation”—like the troubles between Lunkina’s husband and his former partner—has taken on something of the tone of a revenge drama.

All this adds up to the reason this beautiful ballerina, who is among the greatest dancers of our time, finds Kleinberg, Ont., of all places, a demi-paradise and safe haven, a place to find a second breath in the wings before returning to centre stage.

Monolith Digest 2013

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