ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Uliana Lopatkina, Russia’s square-jawed prima ballerina, pulls on a pink sweatshirt, smoothes down her sequined blue tutu and scans her rose-clogged dressing room. She plops into a chair, unfurls her mile-long legs, and sighs, “I’m exhausted.”
It’s past midnight backstage at the Mariinsky Theater here and the lithe dancer — her face caked with makeup, her hazel eyes intense and her fine red hair pulled tight into a bun — has just finished a series of television interviews after a rapturous gala performance in front of a sold-out crowd.
In Russia, where dance is serious stuff, Lopatkina, 31, is a national legend, arguably the greatest and most popular ballerina in her country today. Critics often say she has tapped into the national soul.
On this evening, she danced several of her signature roles: the grand pas from “Paquita,” “In the Night,” and the Adagio from George Balanchine’s choreography of Bizet’s “Symphony in C.”
She was a triumph — rewarded by a 15-minute standing ovation. Tickets were sold out for months, making the dancer the hot ticket of the acclaimed White Nights Festival here.
Lopatkina’s style is powerful, provocative and graceful, conveying an impression of effortlessness and supreme control. Her movements, nuanced and sexually charged, make it nearly impossible to tear your eyes from her body.
Through a translator, she explains that she joined the Mariinsky, known as the Kirov in the Soviet era, in 1991. Four years later, she was elevated to prima, earning acclaim for her performances in ballets such as “Swan Lake” and “Giselle.”
She arrived on the scene as part of a crop of tall Russian ballerinas — including Anastasia Volochkova, the Bolshoi prima who was dismissed for being too big.
“I’ve dreamed of doing Juliet,” she said. “But I wasn’t ready. Now I am and I’m going to do it for the first time next season.”