Turning a no into many yeses

Bolshoi stars Mikhail Lobukhin and Yulia Stepanova perform ‘La Bayadere’ around the country.

(photo credit: DAMIR YUSUPOV)
For many dancers, the path onto the stage was paved by a parent in the field, a studio just down the street or a child’s need to move from a very early age. But for Bolshoi Ballet Company star dancer Mikhail Lobukhin, the route into the limelight began with a rejection and continued with a good excuse to stay out of the army.
“As a child, I loved circus very much, but I wasn’t accepted to the circus class because of my age. I was too little,” he divulged in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “I was attracted to dance, but my parents recognized my talent in music and sent me to study accordion. After a period of playing the accordion, I decided to quit because I didn’t like it. My older brother started to study at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg and then my parents decided to send me, too, so that we could both avoid army service.”
Regardless of the motivation to begin dancing, once Lobukhin set foot in the studio, it was clear he would not be leaving anytime soon.
Lobukhin, 34, is one of the guiding lights of Russian dance today. He has danced nearly every lead male role in the ballet field and has etched out an image that blends masculinity with suppleness, leadership with tenderness. This month, Lobukhin will visit Israel to perform La Bayadere alongside fellow Bolshoi star dancer Yulia Stepanova. The two will be joined on stage by the forty-five dancers of the Chelyabinsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater.
When Lobukhin speaks of his early career, there is a sense of a lack of agency. Lobukhin did not choose to begin dancing, his parents made the choice for him. Upon finishing his studies, Lobukhin did not choose the company he would dance for, rather the company chose him.
“During my last year at the Academy, after eight years of studying, representatives from the major companies came to see the graduates. After the final exams, the director told us which dancers had been accepted to a company,” he explained. Lobukhin had hoped to dance for the Mariinsky Theater and luckily, the company offered him a contract. He spent seven seasons with the Mariinsky before deciding to make a bold move and change companies.
“The choice to move to the Bolshoi was a huge risk,” he said. “After seven years with the Mariinsky, many factors led me to move. The first was the change in the leadership of the ballet and the second was that I really wanted to check my ability to perform the repertoire of the Bolshoi. Today, I am very proud to be a principle dancer of the Bolshoi.”
In his role, Lobukhin performs scores of ballets each season. The Bolshoi has one of the broadest repertoires in the world and, as such, its dancers are required to move between roles easily and often. Certain ballets stand out for Lobukhin and La Bayadere is one of them.
“Because the repertoire is so rich, I dance La Bayadere infrequently, so these performances are a great opportunity for me to get back to the role. I always miss dancing this part when I am not working on it. I think that La Bayadere is a treasure of classical ballet. The role of Solor is very manly, with beautiful duets and solos that require strong technique and acting skills.”
The yin to his yang, Yulia Stepanova will bring softness and precision to the role of Nikiya, the female lead. “Yulia is also a graduate of the Vaganova Academy so we have the same base, we speak the same ballet language. It’s very pleasant to dance with her. She is a great partner, she listens, she is feminine and talented and, when I’m on stage with her, I feel full of inspiration,” Lobukhin said.
The performances, which will take place in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba and Jerusalem, mark the first time that La Bayadere will be performed in full in Israel.
La Bayadere will begin in Tel Aviv at Heichal Hatarbut on November 22 and 23 and will continue to the Haifa Auditorium on November 25, the Beersheba Performing Arts Center on November 26 and the Jerusalem Theater on November 27.
For more information, visit www.eventim.co.il or www.bravo.org.il.