The St.Petersburg Times - the English-language newspaper of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Friday, January 31, 2003
ARTS + FEATURES
the end of a ballet era
by Galina Stolyarova
Natalya Dudinskaya, one of the last surviving legends of Soviet ballet, died aged 90 on Wednesday
Both on stage and in life, Dudinskaya was the personification of joie de vivre. No other dancer could compare to her lightning-fast cascades razor-edge precise steps. Her dancing technique was once labeled "choreographic bel canto," a reference to the classic Italian vocal school demonstrated at its best by singers such as Maria Callas.
She brought power, passion and a fiery temperament to her interpretations of classical-ballet roles: a regal Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty," a magnificent Odile in "Swan Lake," a tormented Nikiya in "La Bayadere," and a flirtatious Kitrie in "Don Quixote." One of her favorite roles was the title part in "Cinderella," in a staging designed for her by her husband, renowned Soviet choreographer Konstantin Sergeyev.
Dudinskaya's talents were also acknowledged by the state. A People's Artist of the Soviet Union, she was also awarded four state prizes by the U.S.S.R.
A festive-looking dancer, Dudinskaya possessed an avalanche of energy and will. Her perfectionist character and devotion to ballet earned her a reputation as a zealous, even fanatical, workaholic. The same qualities also made her a merciless critic and a demanding mentor at the Vaganova Ballet Academy, where she taught from 1964.
Dudinskaya was born in Kharkov on Aug. 21, 1912. The daughter of a ballerina, she was born to be a dancer, and her career at the top began as soon as she graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in 1931. Due to her status as a favorite student of Agrippina Vaganova - "Iron Agrippina," the legendary teacher who revolutionized Russian ballet in the 1920s to make it conform more to the new, Soviet expectations - Dudinskaya did not have to wait long for the plum roles.
She made her debut at the State Acadmic Opera and Ballet Theater - now the Mariinsky Theater - the year she graduated. During her first season, she appeared in the title role in "Swan Lake," instantly drawing attention and captivating audiences with her talent and fiery temperament. For the next 21 years, until 1962, Dudinskaya performed all the classical repertoire with the company, from whose history her name is an inseperable part.
Dudinskaya's friends compared her career with an inextinguishable firework. No obstacle, it seemed, could wipe the jubilant smile off the dancer's face, and no challenge was too intimidating for her.
"I always avoid thinking about depressing things," said Dudinskaya, who described herself as an easy-going optimist. "Rather, I concentrate on the bright, positive sides."
Dudinskaya loved all the attention she got. Crowds of admirers waited outside her house, and outside the theater when she danced. It became impossible for her to walk the streets of St. Petersburg without being recognized.
Dudinskaya enjoyed a uniquely long stage life - an incredible 35 years - at the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, which was renamed the Kirov Theater in 1935, staying faithful to her alma mater, despite the temptation of a move to Moscow. In her forties, she looked half her actual age, dancing with 20-year-old partners of her choosing, including greats such as Rudolf Nureyev.
"After [my] graduation, our prima ballerina, the great Dudinskaya, approached and and said she would like to dance 'Laurencia' with me," Nureyev later wrote. "It was like a fairy tale."
Even when her stage career finished, Dudinskaya could not leave ballet or the theater, where she began teaching in 1951. She stopped teaching at the Vaganova Academy only in 2001. Her most famous student - also her favorite - was current Mariinsky dancer Ulyana Lopatkina.
"[Dudinskaya] was very attentive; she never forgot us, even long after graduation," said Mariinsky dancer Irina Zhelonkina, who also graduated from Dudinskaya's class. "She was always interested to know how we are, and was ready to give us all her support, whenever we needed it."
Dudinskaya was seen as the uncrowned queen of Russian ballet, for her regal, noble spirit and lack of arrogance, and for her combination of elegant grace and almost masculine strength of will. Her judgements were straightforward and sharp. "I don't mind fresh interpretations of classical ballets, but they shouldn't turn into a destruction of an exisiting piece," she once said, when asked about the Mariinsky's attempts to stage new versions of classical works.
"Ballet is my life and my heart" was a phrase Dudinskaya repeated like a mantra. Yet she had another passion - music - that was just as strong; she even suggested arrangements of certain musical works.
"When you look through the scores of various ballets that Dudinskaya danced, you sometimes see notes in the margin indicating 'Dudinskaya's variations,' meaning she adapted some of the dance [music] to her tempo," said Makhar Vaziyev, the head of the Mariinsky's ballet division. "She was an artist of rare talent, whom it will be impossible to replace. We often hear pompous phrases said about people but, in Dudinskaya's case, no praise is high enough."
Dudinskaya will be buried on Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. at the Literatorskiye Mostki Cemetery - also the last resting place of Turgenev and Blok - alongside Sergeyev, her husband. Members of the public can pay their last respects at a viewing on Saturday at 10 a.m. in the Mariinsky Theater's White Foyer