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Posts Tagged ‘Leningrad’

Corps de Ballet: An Interview with Irina Kolpakova

June 13, 2013 | by

Photo: Renata Pavam.

Photo: Renata Pavam.

Irina Kolpakova is a hummingbird of a woman, perfectly erect and poised as she walks into the cozy interview room tucked deep in the recesses of the Metropolitan Opera House. Her brown hair is kept off her face with a thin headband; she wears dark pants and a soft red sweater over which she wraps a leopard-print shawl. Voilà! Instant glamour. We shake hands and she sits, never wavering from that ballerina-perfect posture. Kolpakova is turning eighty the next day, but does not want a fuss to be made over her birthday. Still, the occasion demands some form of ceremony. As we speak, her expression is alert, her tone animated; her passion for her art emanates from her like a heady cloud of perfume. Her hands, as she talks, do a graceful little ballet of their own, and the geranium-pink nail polish only adds to their elegance.

Tell me about the city of your youth.

I was born in Leningrad. I was only there for three years. Then my mom and I moved to Molotov, which is now Perm.

And when did you start taking ballet lessons?

Nine years old.

Where did you study when you were young?

Molotov, because the Kirov Theatre—now the Mariinsky—was evacuated there. When my mom brought me to the first class, Vaganova was still alive. It was the time of Vaganova.

I wanted to ask you about Vaganova because not too many people in this country know about her contribution to classical ballet. What can you say about her teaching method? What was distinctive or different or important?

Vaganova told us to use all parts of our body together at the same time. Not only this movement for the leg, this movement for the arms, this movement you’re supposed to learn how to use for your head, neck. No, all together, all the time. And she was huge—in Paris they called her the Queen of the Variations. She was … amazing. And she was really smart. She combined French method with Danish. I think that’s unique. Her method was unique. Read More »


All in a Single String

August 8, 2012 | by

There’s a black-and-white photograph of me in my grandparents’ old Moscow apartment. I’m wearing a hand-knit wool dress, two white stripes down the front. My hair is a mess of tight curls around my head. A lopsided smile exposes my teeth. With my right hand, I’m petting a guitar that looks like it might be taller than I am. It is polished wood, dark around the edges, growing lighter toward the center, an intricate garland along its bottom edge. It’s my grandfather’s. It has seven strings.

“A guitar with six strings isn’t a guitar,” my grandfather tells me. “You can’t play on it. You can’t sing to it. It’s worthless. A guitar must have seven strings to be worth its name.” He stops. He closes his eyes. His voice takes on a new tone. “The seven-string guitar, that’s the real guitar. Its voice sings. That, that is the Russian guitar.” I don’t quite understand—to me, a guitar is a guitar—but I know enough to realize that the difference is real to him and that I should abandon my attempts, later, to get him to buy a regular guitar in any old American music shop. As much as he might love me and want to make me happy, he will never play a standard-issue instrument. He will keep searching for his lost seventh string—and if he doesn’t find it, I’ll never again have a chance to hear him play. The decision is final.

Some say the seven-string guitar, the semistrunka, was born with the Central European gypsies. A child of the lute-shaped torban, carried back by Ukrainian Cossacks from Flanders after their mercenary stint in the Thirty Years’ War. The torban, whose familiar bass notes distinguished it from other members of its family. Some say it came from the Turks, during their thirteenth-century migration from Abkhazia to Poltava—a descendant of the kobza, that other lute-like instrument that could have as few as three and as many as eight strings—and might not the number have been seven? Some say it is a child of the Renaissance, the flat-backed cittern—an instrument akin to the mandolin and the English guitar (the latter perhaps its closest relative). With its metallic strings, its popularity in song, and its quick spread over Europe, it seems not altogether unlikely—though the cittern had four strings or six, sometimes five. Not seven. The seven-string guitar has many creation myths. But the most accepted version is that, whatever its origins, it first came of age as a uniquely Russian instrument.

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