Meet an Iconic Princess Aurora: Irina Kolpakova
Former Principal Dancer with the Leningrad Kirov Ballet (now called The Mariinsky Ballet) and current Ballet Mistress at ABT, Irina Kolpakova is a ballet legend. Her passion and astounding talent reach many generations of dancers and audiences.
In 1974, Kolpakova chose Mikhail Baryshnikov as her partner on the Kirov Ballet’s 1974 tour to Canada, which provided him with the opportunity to defect from the Soviet Union and seek political asylum in Toronto. In Baryshnikov’s last year as Artistic Director of ABT in 1989, he invited Kolpakova to teach at the Company. She has since been an integral teacher and coach for many ABT dancers who have had the honor of experiencing first-hand the profound and lasting impact she has had on ballet.
As one of the most renowned and revered Soviet-era ballerinas, Irina was famous for the role of Princess Aurora in Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty. When the Kirov Ballet presented their New York season at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1961, Kolpakova received rave reviews for her portrayal of the role. The New York Times wrote, “It was a debut worth waiting for. Miss Kolpakova is one of the loveliest dancers of the day, with a style of such unstudied elegance that it can only be called aristocratic… She is as slight as a reed, but there is nothing in the vocabulary that she cannot perform… it earns her the breathless admiration of those who respect artistry—and fantastically difficult artistry.”
In a 2013 interview with The Paris Review, Kolpakova was asked about the role of Princess Aurora and what it has meant for her. She said, “That’s wonderful classical ballet, pure classical ballet. Absolutely genius music. The Tchaikovsky. And Petipa’s choreography. Vaganova told us, ‘With each step, each movement, you’re supposed to do it very clean.’ With Sleeping Beauty, the ballet, we’re asked to be pure in the classical ballet. Light.”