Liudmila Konovalova: The New Maya

“I guess Ms Plisetskaya realized immediately Liudmila’s strength, her iron will to fight (for) herself and big love for her profession,” said Brigitte Stadler, a retired Austrian ballerina, former partner of Rudolf Nureyev in Europe and now Konolova’s day-to-day coach in Vienna.

“What makes her special is her great discipline which, of course, every dancer should have, but with Liudmila, it is different… She is working on it always 100 per cent, each detail,each step she is thinking. Her work is absolutely clean and pure. She (is) putting her soul into it, so all look natural and easy, and the public is very touched.

“All these attributes are missing in the ballet world. Ballet is not circus. It is art, and Liudmila combine(s) technique and expression.”

To that Konovalova brings the deceptively muscular structure of a professional athlete, much like American ballet sensation Misty Copeland. But unlike the smaller Copeland whose muscles visibly bulge, the 5-foot, 6-inch Konovalova’s muscles flow on her longer body, though they are noticeable in her legs and back and undoubtedly help in doing some of her roles requiring tremendous endurance and technical expertise to produce spectacles.

It is typical, of course, of the DNA of Russian ballet, especially the great dancers who have captured fame and acclaim in the West — from Plisetskaya to Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Barysnikov.

“I love when the Russian ballerina learn a foreign repertoire,” said Andris Liepa, the producer of the March tribute to Plisetskaya and also the son of Māris Liepa, who was one of the greatest ballet dancers from Bolshoi Ballet. “Their technique is more precise and virtuosic. But Russian remains the soul and expressiveness. It is the same with Liudmila.”

Liudmila Konovalova with Tamara Pavlova, Nina Polakova, Liudmila Konovalova, Denys Cherevychko, Eno Peçi and Iryna Tsymbal. (Courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, © Copyright 2016.)
Liudmila Konovalova with Tamara Pavlova, Nina Polakova, Liudmila Konovalova, Denys Cherevychko, Eno Peçi and Iryna Tsymbal. (Courtesy of Liudmila Konovalova, © Copyright 2016.)

It all has added up to making Konovalova part of today’s beloved cultural royalty of Vienna, stardom that has surprised Liudmila perhaps more than anyone, and made her an authentic attraction at the Vienna State Opera on the city’s splendiferous circular boulevard, the Ringstrasse, deluged as it is by its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque embellishments.

Authorities have been so impressed with Konovalova’s rise and her endearment among the Viennese that Austrian citizenship was bestowed on her Feb. 1 — as a gift recognizing her contribution to the country’s arts and culture, without having to go through the usual bureaucratic maze and allowing her to keep her Russian citizenship as well.

Konovalova is indeed a diva, though you would never know it by her down-to-earth lifestyle: She prefers museums and art exhibitions or a walk in the mountains or along a lake to the fast-lfe of Vienna’s club scene.

“To be honest, I am more prefer nice atmosphere like home with close people, where I can feel free, eat home food, wear whatever comfortable clothes and watch nice movies,” she said. “Ha, how I sound boring!”

One confession, she admitted: “I have a (pair) of Jimmy Choo shoes. I bought…  myself when I separated with my boyfriend.”

On this day, like most, even in Vienna’s cruel winters, she took public transportation for the twenty-minute commute from her apartment to the opera house for a rehearsal of an upcoming “Sleeping Beauty” performance as Aurora, a role Konovalova has made her own. Few on the street would have known who she is. For although she loves to shop, she usually dresses casually and could be mistaken for a university undergraduate student. But her use of public transit, she says, may be short-lived.

“I go by tram,” she said, “but thinking to buy a moped — a Vespa — to get there faster.”

A world-class prima ballerina on a Vespa, indeed, and this in a city full of Mercedes Benzes and the hometown of Formula One racing legend Niki Lauda.

The only thing Konovalova may be vain about could be her age. She does not reveal it. Polina Semionova  is 33, and she was older than Liudmila when they took class together in Moscow in 1995. Around the time of the Premio Roma competition in 2007, there was one report posting her age at 20 at that time. If older, it would not be by much, and it is not as though ballerinas — the great ones — are aged out: Plisetskaya performed well into her sixties, and Dame Margot Fonteyn was 42 when she partnered with the then newly defected Rudolf Nuryev and did not retire for another two decades.