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