CULTURE

Ballet great comes to Athens

She is called the «ultimate ballerina» (prima ballerina assoluta) and is considered the best dancer in the world at present. Svetlana Zakharova, the principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet, along with eight other Russian ballet stars, will perform in Athens on September 12, 13 and 14 at the Athens Concert Hall (in the Friends of Music Hall). The performance, titled «Svetlana Zakharova & Friends Gala,» will combine both classical and modern ballet fare, ranging from the romantic («Giselle,» «Tristan und Isolde») to the popular, as well as the Soviet-era «Spartacus,» a taste of Argentina with Astor Piazzolla selections and ending with John Williams’s «Revelation,» choreographed by Motoso Hiroyama. According to Newsweek, the Ukraine-born ballerina is one of the most coveted dancers in the ballet world today. Prestigious companies – among them the New York City Ballet, Rome Opera Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, New National Theater Ballet of Tokyo and La Scala – have been fighting over who will get to book her since 2000, when she received her second successive Golden Mask award. She has received numerous dance awards, as well as being an Honored Artist of Russia since 2005, a title of respect given to an extremely select group of distinguished Russian artists. Recently, she was named People’s Artist of Russia by President Vladimir Putin, an award that is usually given toward the end of an artist’s fruitful career. What’s more, in Russia’s recent national polls, the 29-year-old Zakharova was elected to the Duma. Ballet Magazine has this to say about her: «It’s rare for nature to strain itself and create the perfect figure for ballet. But at the moment, there actually is an example of that rare gift of nature – her name is Svetlana Zakharova.» Critics are likewise enamored of her, waxing lyrical about her «starry, absolute stunning dancing,» «sparkling, diamond-sharp technique» and describing how «her long, elegant legs rose to high extensions and her soft, pliant feet seemed to sculpt the air.» «She is pliant and precise, and can balance and spin with jaw-dropping ease,» «an arabesque to die for, and the most exquisite feet imaginable.» Naturally, a divine body alone cannot propel one to the ballet world’s stratosphere; this is probably where her steely resolve (possibly inherited from her father, a former Red Army soldier) to be nothing but the best came in to play, as she tells Ballet Magazine: «I have this drive inside me telling me that you have to be the best, you have to be Number 1.» She also has a hunger for and recognizes the importance of uniqueness. She refuses to wear the same costume as other ballerinas, making small alterations. Even her street clothes are given the same treatment; she demands that they be one-of-a-kind. For a Hello! photo shoot, she coolly dismissed the hairdresser and fixed her coif herself. This is certainly a lady who knows what she wants and how to get it; we can only sit back and admire her gymnastic feats. Dancing with Zakharova in September’s gala are a carefully chosen group of young up-and-coming dancers, mostly from the Bolshoi, who may soon command headline status in their own right. Among them, 19-year-old Ivan Vasiliev is considered by many to be a new, rawer Baryshnikov. The Telegraph dubbed him «the boy who can fly.» Also dancing alongside Zakharova are Nina Kaptsova, Nelli Kobakh-idze, Anna Nikulina, Andrei Mer-kuriev – whose Espada in «Don Quixote» was gushed over by Ballet Magazine as »the most glamorous that I have seen in this role… [a] knockout» – Artem Spilevskij, De-nys Matviyenko and Andrei Uvarov, Russia’s premier danseur noble and a frequent partner of Zakharova.