So at however old she is, Konovalova is well ahead of the curve, and her drawbacks have been what brings down many dancers: Injuries. Three serious injuries, including one requiring knee surgery, sidelined her in Berlin and again in Vienna. Then a foot infection last year threatened her career.
“I danced ‘Swan Lake’ with the hole in the toe almost to the bone,” she recalled. “Doctor was scared and told me if I would continue more, I could lose the toe… It was infection inside.. But I had to do this ‘Swan Lake,’ was no way to cancel…
“But I got the best (review). It is written that I am one of the best ballerinas of our time!”
Her teacher Brigitte Stadler said Konovalova’s return from injury typified the intense work ethic that had led her to success in the first place.
“When Liudmila had to start from zero after her injury, she worked very hard day by day,” said Stadler. “It was not easy to have patience to come back in great shape because it took time. But she did all for it. She was fighting and recognizing that you can develop and grow, also inside, from very bad experience in your life.”
The time allowed Konovalova an opportunity to immerse herself even more into Vienna and to count her blessing of dancing at the historic state opera house, which opened in 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Vienna was also where Mozart composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas, as well as portions of the Requiem, which was largely unfinished at the time of his death. History was at every corner in Vienna. It was taken by Napoleon twice during the Napoleonic Wars. It was where Hitler returned triumphant to his homeland but with a surprising hatred of Vienna which he would have destroyed, if he could have.
The Vienna State Ballet, too, has established itself internationally as a first-class company in large part since 2010 to its illustrious director Manuel Legris, a star dancer of the Paris Opera Ballet for almost a quarter of a century and a long connection to Rudolf Nureyev that he has brought to Vienna.
“I received so much from Nureyev,” Legris has told interviewers about the Russian dancer who elevated Legris to the rank of principal, on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. “(He) was my mentor and director.”
Under Legris, the Vienna State Ballet has staged several ballets, including “Don Quixote” and “The Nutcracker,” that were re-choreogaphed by Nureyev. Legris has also initiated an annual a gala honoring Nureyev at the end of each season.
And it was Legris who in 2011 made Konovalova a principal dancer in Vienna.
“I remember one important thing Maya told me,” Konovalova said, looking back at what her mentor had once confided. “When I got nominated as a principal dancer, she was very happy! And she told me: ‘Now I am happy. Now I am satisfied because in life this (is what) very often happens — People who do deserve to have this position, do not get it, and (those) who do not deserve this position, get it. But in your case it happened exactly right, like it should be.”
Now Austria has become Konovaloa’s adopted home that has opened opportunities she could not get in her native homeland. And from her base in Vienna, Konovalova has made guest-starring appearances throughout Europe, as well as Latin America and Asia.
She has not performed live in the U.S. But in recent years, her popularity has spiked in America because of her starring role as Clara in the Vienna State Opera’s 2012 staging of Nureyev’s version of “The Nutcracker,” whose taping has been shown by the Ovation arts television network to its 50 million subscribers several times a day throughout recent holiday seasons.
For certain, Plisetskaya and Konovalova shared more than their formidable beauty. Their connection seemingly was their dancing, though the eternal maverick Plisetskaya, who tangled throughout her life with Soviet authorities, may have also empathized with Konovalova being a Bolshoi castoff who was challenging the insiders of the Bolshoi-Kirov ballet circle.
Plisetskaya’s watchfulness, though, may have been deeper. She and her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, never had children, and there was no one to carry forth the Plisetskaya genes of genius. In her later years, she had acknowledged that the decision to not have children had not been an easy one.
“It was a choice between a career and childcare,” she told one interviewer, “and I chose the former, a decision my husband grudgingly accepted.”