Evgenia Obraztsova was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on 18 January 1984 to a family of ballet dancers. Her future career choice (which course her parents made for her initially) was predetermined by the girl’s liveliness, energy, excellent physique and obvious artistic talent. Moreover, the world of ballet was close and intimately familiar to Evgenia from a very young age. Tied to her theater seat with a belt from a ballet robe, lest she jumped onto the stage to join the action, she saw the entire classical ballet repertoire. But by the time Evgenia had to make a definitive career choice, she also became fascinated with dramatic theater. This love for the theater developed into a lifelong romance and almost cost the world the great ballerina that Evgenia was to become. Nonetheless, the unity of music and theater, the stylistic beauty and the incomparable atmosphere of the ballet world ultimately tipped the scales in its favor. Another reason why ballet ultimately won over Evgenia was the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Evgenia still vividly remembers her first acquaintance with the Philharmonic: Evgeny Svetlanov was conducting, and the artistry that he displayed that night taught Evgenia how to truly hear and appreciate music. The Philharmonic was to become her third home for many years; it was a place where she would come every evening after her classes at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.
During her years at the Vaganova Academy, Evgenia worked with a number of teachers who played an important role in shaping her style and personality as a ballerina. At different points in time, her class was taught by Lyudmila Sofronova, Inna Zubkovskaya and Marina Vasilieva, and each of them imparted something of her own that helped shape the overall individuality of the young ballerina. Lyudmila Sofronova, one of Vaganova’s last students, instilled into her girls the rules and the genuine feel of the St. Petersburg ballet style. Inna Zubkovskaya helped them develop their inner strength and a true ballerina aplomb, while Marina Vasilieva, a highly experienced teacher, enabled them to systematize the knowledge they received and made them feel self-confident. One must also mention the graduate of the Moscow ballet school Nikolai Tagunov, who developed an impeccably clean dancing technique in his students through hard discipline. As for the Vaganova Academy’s acting skills instructor A. A. Styopin, Evgenia continues working with him to this day and happily turns to him for help when preparing new roles.
In 2002, Evgenia graduated from the Vaganova Academy and was accepted into one of the world’s best companies — the Mariinsky Ballet Theater. At the ballet school Evgenia had already appeared on the stage of Mariinsky multiple times.. However, the real start of her artistic history as a Mariinsky dancer was marked by three crucial life events in the 2002-2003 season. First, during her very first year at the theater, she was invited to take part in the Mariinsky’s tour in Paris. Second, Ninel Kurgapkina, a sublime ballerina with a God-given talent for teaching, took Evgenia under her tutelage at the theater’s request. A guardian of the true St. Petersburg style, Kurgapkina later helped Evgenia prepare for the roles of Shirin, Princess Aurora, Sylphide, Maria, Giselle, Kitri and many others. But that was still to come, in the meantime, the third and most fateful event of Evgenia’s first season at the Mariinsky occurred — she was given a major role debut as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by Leonid Lavrovski. For this role, still among Evgenia’s favorites, she prepared for an entire six months together with her tutor and acting skills teacher.
2004 started for Evgenia with a second major role at her home Mariinsky theater — the title role in La Sylphide, now generally considered to have become her calling card. To help prepare for this role, Evgenia and Ninel Kurgapkina enlisted the help of S. Berezhnoi, a guardian of this ballet’s traditions at the Mariinsky. The preparation was very meticulous, as Evgenia and her teachers wanted her Sylph to be an example of the true St. Petersburg ballet style. In general, the City on the Neva River has meant a lot for Evgenia as an actress. For one, even Marius Petipa, when he created his famous semitransparent descending shadows scene in La Bayadere, was inspired by images of St. Petersburg — a city filled with music and poetry, a city that may feel bit distant and cold, but at the same time be one of the most romantic cities in the world. The ethereality and poetry of Evgenia’s heroines are also in great part a reflection of her native St. Petersburg.
In the same 2004, Evgenia performed another important role in her career — that of Shirin in The Legend of Love by Yuri Grigorovich. Having herself been handed that role directly by Grigorovich many years ago, Ninel Kurgapkina made it the only one that she specifically requested for her protégé. Kurgapkina truly loved that character and, thus, demanded extreme precision and attention to detail from Evgenia’s performance.
2005 was another key landmark in Evgenia’s dancing career. That year she won the Gold Medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition. Having arrived to participate in this competition entirely on her own, without counting on anyone’s support, Evgenia managed to outshine a number of strong rivals and win. Winning the medal was a goal that Evgenia had set for herself while still graduating from the ballet academy, and this victory opened up the international ballet scene for her. Already in 2005, she started receiving her first personal touring invitations. Her first such experience was in the premiere of Konstanin Sergeev’s version of The Sleeping Beauty in the USA. That same year, she was invited by the Teatro Dell’Opera di Roma to take on the highly complex, yet interesting work in Carla Fracci’s Cinderella. Evgenia would later return to the Roman Opera as a guest soloist several times: first in 2006 as Margherita in Faust by Luciano Cannito, and then in 2010 in the title role of Giselle by Carla Fracci. Italy witnessed two other very important events in the ballerina’s career. In 2006, Evgenia was invited to dance alongside other world ballet stars in the famous Roberto Bolle and Friends project, which was the first time that she performed on the stage of La Scala in Milan. In 2007, she made her first appearance at the renowned Arena di Verona, where she danced at the invitation of Maria Grazia Garofoli. 2005 also gave Evgenia interesting experience in cinema work, when she tried her acting skills in front of a movie camera in Les Poupees Russes (The Russian Dolls) by French director Cedric Klapisch.
In 2007, Evgenia graced her admirers with a performance of the title role in Giselle. Evgenia may not appear as often as the audiences might have liked it in this role, probably the most important one in the romantic ballet repertoire. But every time she does perform it, her heroine changes, with her inner world becoming ever deeper, and the audiences being less and less able to hold back their tears over Giselle’s death in the first act or their admiration for the fortitude of her immortal soul in the subsequent scenes.
2008 brought an unexpected and, thus, a much welcome treat for ballet audiences when Evgenia took on the role of Kitri in Don Quixote. Rarely do ballet heroines, even the vivacious ones, manage to survive and attain happiness at the end of a play, but Kitri is one of the few fortunate exceptions. The audience discovered Evgenia as a completely different actress –mischievous, light-hearted, but with a strong personality, a classical St. Petersburg ballerina, yet with a genuine southern temperament. Soon after the debut as Kitri on her home stage, Evgenia was invited to reprise this role in Sergei Vikharev’s version of Don Quixote with the Tokyo-based ANB Ballet company. This Japanese Don Quixote was one of the many collaborations between Vikharev and Obraztsova. She danced in his other ballet productions as Flora in The Awakening of Flora, Columbine in Le Carnaval and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.
2006 brought a whole kaleidoscope of ballet premieres for Evgenia. She debuted in the role of Maria in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai, then made her long awaited appearance as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and took on a new and unfamiliar dance plastique in Cinderella choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky. Finally, 2006 was also the year when Pierre Lacotte’s Ondine premiered — the first ballet staged specifically in collaboration with Evgenia. The French small step technique, uncommon for the Russian style, as well as health problems that caused significant hardship during final rehearsals and the premiere — all of these were overcome by the ballerina with such effortlessness and grace, that the unsuspecting audience was nothing short of amazed at her virtuosity and lightness, and heartbroken together with Leonid Sarafanov’s character by the ballet’s tragic climax. The role of Ondine earned Obraztsova the most prestigious theatrical prize in Russia — the Golden Mask.
2007 presented Evgenia and her admirers with an encounter with Giselle. Evgenia may not appear as often as the audience might like in this role, probably the most important one in the romantic ballet repertoire. But every time she performs it, her heroine changes, with her inner world becoming ever deeper, and the audience being less and less capable of holding back its tears over Giselle’s death in the first act or restraining its admiration of the fortitude of her immortal soul in the subsequent scenes.
2008 brought an unexpected and, thus, much welcome treat for ballet audiences when Evgenia took on the role of Kitri in Don Quixote. Rarely do ballet heroines, even the vivacious ones, manage to survive and attain happiness at the end of the play, but Kitri is one of the few fortunate exceptions. The audience discovered Evgenia as a completely different actress —mischievous, light-hearted, but with a strong personality, a classical St. Petersburg ballerina, yet with a genuine southern temperament. Soon after the debut as Kitri on her home stage, Evgenia was invited to reprise this role in Sergei Vikharev’s version of Don Quixote at the Tokyo-based ANB Ballet company. This Japanese Don Quixote was one of the many collaborations between Vikharev and Obraztsova. She danced in his other ballet productions as Flora in The Awakening of Flora, Columbine in Le Carnaval and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty.
2009 turned out to be both happy and very sorrowful for the ballerina. The tragic death of Ninel Kurgapkina ended their 8-year creative union that gave audiences a number of performances by Evgenia that were truly moving in their depth and precision. But 2009 also brought new roles — first and foremost the first duet in Jerome Robbins’s In the Night, as well as the character of Syuimbike in Shurale by Leonid Yakobson — and marked the start of Evgenia’s creative collaboration with her new teacher Elvira Tarasova. Another very important event in the ballerina’s life that year was her appearance in the role of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty as a first-time guest soloist at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, where she had performed previously on multiple occasions while on galas or on tour with the Mariinsky Theater. Although Aurora had been in Obraztsova’s repertoire for some time by then, at Covent Garden she had to master a new version of this ballet, as well as the English ballet style, which significantly differs from the Russian. According to critics and audiences, Evgenia accomplished this task brilliantly, successfully conquering yet another leading world ballet stage.
Among Evgenia’s other notable accomplishments have been her performances at Staatsballett Berlin, where she appeared twice in the ambitious Malakhov and Friends project, as well as at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Musical Theater, where Evgenia has been a guest soloist since 2010. It was on the stage of the Musical Theater, where Evgenia, for instance, had her first encounter with the work of the remarkable choreographer Jiří Kylián, and where in 2010 she also danced Giselle together with one of her favorite partners, the Paris Opera etoile Mathieu Ganio. Just prior to this engagement, she participated in the Etoiles Gala au Japon event, where she first danced the duet from McMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet (together with Ganio), and also starred in Pierre Lacotte’s new ballet The Three Musketeers (set to the music of Michel Legrand) in the role of Constance Bonacieux. Partnering with Evgenia in that performance were such renowned world ballet stars as Mathias Heymann, Benjamin Pech, Matheu Ganio, Alexandre Riabko and Jiří Bubeníček.
2011 for Evgenia without a doubt became the year of Swan Lake. Obraztsova spent over six months preparing for this role — probably one of the most important and difficult ones in a classical ballerina’s repertoire. The premiere took place in April 2011 at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Musical Theater where Swan Lake is danced in the version of Vladimir Bourmeister, which is one of the most interesting, yet complex versions of this ballet. By taking on the role of Odette-Odile, Evgenia once again had to fight against popular preconceptions regarding her typecasting, and once again she came out victorious! In spite of her touching fragile vulnerability and the desperation of her tragic fate, Evgenia’s Odette was still a character of royal blood — not a strong powerful leader, but a gentle flower that had known only beauty and love until brutally and mercilessly torn out of her familiar world. Appearing in sharp contrast to this very embodiment of tenderness was Evgenia’s Odile, a cold calculating vixen, whose brilliant glances were akin to flickers of light reflecting off a cold and indifferent mirror. Odile was like a diamond, a cold rock whose masterly cut enthralled and whose brilliance made one forget that a stone is incapable of giving warmth. After such an Odile, it seemed that the ballerina could no longer return in the finale as the same Odette, and she did not. Odette in the fourth act displayed a different type of desperation — no longer that of a girl torn out of the comfort of her world, but of a woman with a broken heart. There was no sense of desperation in this Odette anymore, only a sense of fate. She no longer saw the prince as her hero savior, but had rather come to accept him just the way he was. Their devotion to each other was put through a trial, and Odette passed hers, thus breaking her curse. She no longer needed her wings, for now she had love. The change of masks between Odette and Odile, as well as within the character of Odile that Evgenia displayed that night was simply amazing. It was perhaps the chief artistic achievement of that performance. Evgenia managed to accomplish something that few others can — she created completely different characters in the same play and it was difficult to tell which one was closer to her seemingly «obvious» typecasting.
Another important performance for the ballerina that year was the Russian premiere of Pierre Lacotte’s La Sylphide in December 2011, also at the Musical Theater, where Evgenia appeared in the title role, thus eagerly continuing her long-standing collaboration with the famous French choreographer. Of course, the French La Sylphide shares some kinship with the Danish version, but it is a distant one. The music, the choreography and even the very image of the air spirit are very different in the French ballet. The French Sylph was a true femme fatale, a creature of witchcraft behind whose lovely smile lurked some very intense passions. In the end, these passions burned down both the Sylph and her unfortunate lover (partnering with Evgenia at that performance was Thiago Bordin from the Hamburg Ballet), but not before she managed to weave an elaborate threadwork of small steps characteristic of the French ballet style.
In October 2011, Evgenia Obraztsova had a taste of what it is like to be a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater, debuting on its stage as a guest dancer. For this debut she fittingly chose the role of Kitri, as Don Quixote can be considered one of the more «Muscovite» ballets in the theater’s repertoire. The Bolshoi Theater soloist Vladislav Lantratov became Evgenia’s Basil that night.
Finally, in 2011, Obraztsova first tried herself on television, taking part in the Russian Channel 1 program Bolero, which paired ballet dancers with figure skaters in a dancing competition. Evgenia’s partner was a world famous skater Maksim Staviski. While not without some controversy, this experiment nonetheless proved useful and expanded the ballerina’s circle of friends and admirers.
Despite the fact that 2012 has just begun, one can already claim it as one of the most important years in the ballerina’s career — in January 2012, Evgenia Obraztsova became a full-time prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater! In this new rank, she has already appeared as Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty (version by Grigorovich), debuted in the role of Anyuta in Vladimir Vasiliev’s eponymous ballet and danced in Johann Kobborg’s version of La Sylphide.
Evgenia has a lot of wonderful roles, unorthodox character interpretations and artistic treats for her audiences ahead of her. The ballerina does not aim to confine herself to narrow typecasting, adhere to stereotypes, or follow expectations dictated by conservative tastes. The main goal for the actress is to live through and interpret her roles in a way that makes audiences truly believe in the authenticity of the stage action. Among Obraztsova’s heroines there are strong-spirited women, as well as naïve fairy-tale characters that differ greatly among themselves. A sweet Sylphide today, a graphical Terpsichore tomorrow, and on the following day a playful Kitri who transforms from a girl to a grande dame over the course of a single play — all of these characters are so distant from one another. Yet if a ballerina is a real actress that can be convincing in each of these dissimilar stories, does it not mean that her defining style is not a stereotype, but a collection of roles that one truly senses, lives through and is able to relate to the spectator?
Text by Maya Farafonova
Translation by Dmitry Kostov