A short talk with Liudmila Konovalova, Principal Vienna State Ballet, April 5th, 2018.
A quality I most admire is the one that makes possible to people to laugh about themselves.
Margot Fonteyn once said: “The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous“
A common saying is “don’t take yourself too seriously”. It is nearly essential in order to live and lead a pleasant life. This is becoming more and more important every day.
Liudmila Konovalova can laugh about herself – and along with all her fine Artistry, which I so much admire, this quality makes her an endearing, pleasant, normal person. I love that.
Take a quick look at this Swanlake Rehearsal that she has posted on Instagram. By the time she has to “leave the stage” (it was a rehearsal in the big classroom at the Opera), she has no way of “getting out of there” because the girls from the corps-de-ballet had already entered the “stage” (or as Miss Konovalova brilliantly put on words: "Swan traffic"). A hilarious moment.
And as I said before: she posted it. Once more she was laughing about herself. And with you and me! This is pure joy.
Anyone who can post a video like this has that certain quality of humour which I most admire. A very healthy one (Please pay also attention to the reaction of lovely Miss Firenze - the soloist just entering the scene facing Miss Konovalova exactly on her way! Beautiful!)
At long last we managed to settle a date for our interview. She is a busy lady. Very busy. I arrived a bit earlier to prepare myself for our talk, which, as I had sensed before, would make us travel through an afternoon of thoughts, exchanges of them, precious memories, feelings and (many) laughs. Life should always be like that.
Yes, and since 2010 after being invited by Manuel Legris to join his (at the time “new”) company, she has been delighting audiences with a row of exquisite performances and appearances. Even though her beautiful dress was the “talk of the down” during the last “Opera Ball”, she seemed not to care so much… that is “it” about her: she has a huge following but hers is a very serious one – one that takes her WORK on Ballet seriously, not superficial appearances in the glamour world or on red carpets. All that is so ephemeral.
“Liudmila, once you told me a story that I would like to share with our readers, the one about the Competition 2007… The “Premio Roma”. Would you like to tell us a bit about it?”
She grins. Nearly a kind of wicked grin that made her eyes shine and become very alive.
“Yes…” she says while seeming to get these memories out of some “box”, stored in a shelf of fond remembrances. “It was 2007 during the competition “Premio Roma” in Italy... At the very last moment I found out that my biggest idol, Maya Plissestkaya, was head of the jury” and she swallows her own words while taking a gulp of air “MY idol... I could not believe it. I had quite a hard task that evening: Grand Pas Classique and Odile... Everywhere I looked to I “saw” Maya's face. And then, it “happened”. I had done my 32 fouettés, I was safe “at home” and, at the end of the variation, all of a sudden I fell on my backside. Not doing anything complicated or tricky. And I heard HER laughing. My idol”, she sighs. “But at the end of the Coda, I could see her, standing up and applauding me. Dazed and confused I left the stage and while I was in the corridor, going to my dress room I heard someone screaming my name _ Konovalova, Konovalova – and there she was. Maya, hugging me, excited, making compliments , something that I would soon find out, that she did only very seldom or hardly never! As her husband told me: “It is quite rare that Maya makes such compliments!”. I won the first prize that evening and Maya “fought” with the rest of the jury because she did not want me to share it with another dancer” she says, “I got it even having fallen on my backside... “ she adds smiling that lady-like smile of hers.
“What about your creative process while preparing for a new role, Liudmila?” I ask.
“In case there is a story, of course I 'll read it... the book, the libretto, the story and the history around it, especially the time in which this specific story took place. All this helps me immensely in the understanding of the choreographer's “visions” of the story, of the role. But a role is always changing. Developing in fact. That is why I adore Margot Fonteyn's words about premières: “A baby never looks its best on the day it is born”. There's lots of truth about that!”
“And the technical side, Liudmila? You are a dancer also known for your excellent technical displays... “. She smiles a shy smile as if confronted with something nearly irritating and says “I feel more comfortable knowing the steps and having a clear idea of what I am supposed to do – that is why I sometimes watch videos but I never copy any other dancer's performance!”
“And how do roles and their interpretation change along one's career? Think of Baryshnikov's “starry eyed” Albrecht at the beginning of his career and how he turned him into a cynical character by the end of his (classical) career...”
“I do not quite agree but let us take exactly “Giselle” as a example. People may change with time but there are situations in life will always throw you back to the “start line”. Like falling in love. Even if you are more mature, experienced and older as a performer there are situations in which you are taken completely unprepared. Giselle is madly in love, she does not really want to know about Albrecht's life and about his bride. She wants to believe him. Like an ostrich she buries her head into the sand, refusing to look into reality. And that is somehow the secret of these roles. Allowing yourself to understand the character and its motives... even if they are not too comfortable to understand and you do not agree with them”
Here, Miss Konovalova, showing to us the wonderful head and neck movements - and beautiful swan arms. Yes. The english were not so keen on being "Swans". Fonteyn always said that "they are girls, she is a princess that is turned into a swan to be captive" The Russians started this "Swan craze". And, to be honest. I love it. Pay attention to her head...
The above video is from the Berlin State Ballet. Permission to publish it kindly given by the Ballet's director, Mr. Nacho Duato.
Many Thanks to Miss Konovalova for this interesting, revealing interview, I will leave you with these thoughts about characters, their motivations, Giselle and facing the truth. And about the quality of laughing about one's self. Thank you!