During the last two weeks the company has had the privilege to work with (the great) Elena Kunikova on Paquita. Elena is the type of person that can tell you one thing about your dancing and make a world of difference. She has a lot of energy in the studio and can still dance better than all of us (she’s amazing). Elena’s coaching reflects her Vaganova ballet training, which gives the company an opportunity to learn a different way of using our bodies while dancing classical steps we are used to.
Marius Petipa’s first work staged in St. Petersburg, Russia, was Joseph Mazilier’s Paquita in 1847. He added The Grande Divertissement, or Gande Pas, section of the ballet (what we know as Paquita now) to the two act ballet in 1881. Elena first performed in Paquita at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia. Later, as a ballerina with the Maly Theater (now the Mikhailovskiy) she danced in two more versions of the Grande Pas. Elena researched many different versions of Paquita to develop the current version she stages for companies around the world. Her updated version not only preserves the Spanish flare of Paquita but also the style and sensitivity of the nineteenth century ballet. Elena told me she wanted to pass on the charming and sometimes even humorous qualities of Paquita to us at Ballet West.
Elena Kunikova is a graduate of Vaganova Ballet Academy, the Mariinksy (former Kirov) in St. Petersburg, Russia. At Maly Theatre, where Elena started her career, she performed principal and soloist roles in classical and contemporary ballets including Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Giselle, Paquita, Serenade (Balanchine), Macbeth, Carmen, Esmeralda, Sleeping Beauty and many others.
In the U.S. Elena performed as a guest star. She was well received by audiences and very favorably reviewed by the press (New York Times, Dance Magazine). She was known as a “fascinating performer.” Subsequently, Elena pursued teaching and choreography.
In NYC Elena taught ballet and repertoire at the School of American Ballet, Joffrey, The Juilliard, and Columbia University/Barnard College. At Barnard Elena taught technique and academic courses in repertoire/history. Other engagement included American and Japanese ballet companies, as well as art festivals.
In addition to master classes, Elena conducts Vaganova Technique seminars and coaches professional dancers. Many of Elena’s students became well-known performers with top ballet companies around the world (NYC Ballet, ABT, Boston Ballet, Joffrey, Dutch National, Berlin Ballet, Kirov Ballet, and many others). A large number of them were noted for their exceptional artistic achievements.
Over many years, Elena has been active in staging of classical repertoire for American, European and Japanese ballet companies. Among her productions are full-length Don Quixote, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, as well as Les Sylphides, Grand Pas from Paquita, Little Humpback Horse, Esmeralda, Harlequinade, Grand Pas de Quatre, Pas des Odalisque, Esmeralda, Laurencia, and other gems of Russian classical ballet. Her stagings had great success with the audiences and critics who unanimously noted their authenticity and respect for the material. Many critics noticed her detailed coaching with “besotted attention to the particularities of ballet”, “real steps and proper style”, “wit and vivacity”. Robert Gottlieb of New York Observer called her “one of our leading authorities on the Russian classical style”.
As some critics have put it, Elena’s involvement was instrumental and “invaluable” to the success of Les Ballet Trockadero, where she has staged a large portion of their current repertoire, helping them to win a prestigious “Best Classical Repertoire” award from London Critics’ Circle.
Interviews with Elena appeared in many professional publications, documentaries, and TV programs. As a dance writer, she is contributing to Dance Magazine, Pointe and The Wall Street Journal Europe.
Elena’s most recent works include stagings for Staatsballet Berlin, Kansas City Ballet and Ballet West.