The Great Russian Ballerinas of Our Time


In a long line of tradition, Russian Ballerinas have always been standouts in the world of ballet. These harolding names have been forever immortalized in ballet. Names like Anna Pavlova, Olga Preobrajenska,  Maya Plisetskaya and Natalia Makarova. These names have had to stand up against the male ballet superstardom of Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Diaghilev, Nijinksy, and Fokine. These names harold in ballet and unfortunately the names the general public associates ballet with. But in the past two decades, ballet has been remolded and women of ballet started to redefine the way we see ballet, especially Russian Ballet. These women each possess a different quality, and have uniquely shaped their international careers.

Ulyana Lopatkina

Graduate of the famed Vaganova Academy, Ulyana Lopatkina danced as a principal at the Mariinsky (formerly Kirov), from 1991-2017. While she joined the company in 1991, freshly out of the Academy, she was promoted to principal in 1995. Her ethereal body and long limbs have garnered her fame in the documentary Ballerinas, and her performances have been recorded, broadcast and sold across variatious medias. By 1007, two years after being a prinipcal she won the Prix Benois de la Danse. She has additionally gained numerous Russian accolades for her performances. 

Diana Vishneva

Diana Vishneva is probably known all around the world for her ferocity on stage. But when she graduated Vaganova school, she scored the highest score in the school’s history at that time. She graduated in 1995, but was already dancing in the company. By 1996, she won the Benois de La Danse and the Golden Sofit, and was promoted to principal dancer the same year. In 2003, she landed a second contract outside of the Mariinsky, with American Ballet Theatre. This international superstar has guested with over 20 companies around the world, and performed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  She is such an icon that she was photographed by fame photographer Patrick Demarchelier for an exhibit in Moscow.

Maria "Masha" Kochetkova

Unlike the dancers above, Kochetkova trained at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography/ Bolshoi. She then joined the Royal Ballet and English National. This tiny little dancer stands at  5’0″ and has some of the most ridiculously amazing proportions. Known for her eclectic sense of fashion this power house joined San Francisco Ballet as a principal in 2007, and then added a second contract with American Ballet Theatre in 2015. This young standout has always mixed classical ballet and contemporary qualities making her one of the most stunning dancers of our time. Unlike most Russian Ballerinas, Kochetkova has competed and won numerous awards including Varna (2002) and Lausanne (2002).  Now, Kochetkova, like many other artists is a freelance principal dancer.

Svetlana Zakharova

Queen. Seriously does she need an introduction? Svetlana is a graduate from the Vaganova Academy, but is known for skipping two grades. The only dancer male or female to do so. She joined the Mariinsky in 1996 and by 1997, at the age 18, she was promoted to principal. French choreographer Pierre Lacotte, a leading authority on classical ballet, pushed her quickly, and by 2000 she was performing as at the Paris Opera, and La Scala. In 2003 she left the famed Mariinsky to move to the dynamic Bolshoi Ballet. Technically brilliant, Svetlana is the body that classical ballet dreams of. She won the Benois in 2005, and then again in 2015. 

Natalia Osipova

If Svetlana is the body ballet dreams of, then Natalia Osipova is the bravura of female ballet. A Graduate from the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (Bolshoi Ballet Academy), Natalia Osipova joined the Bolshoi in 2005. By 2010, at the age of 23, she was promoted to principal. In 2011, she left the Bolshoi to join American Ballet Theatre, and in 2013 she left ABT to join the Royal Ballet. She is known for incredible ballon in her jump and her incredible quickness. She won the Benois in 2008 for a stunning season. The UK National Dance Awards has named her the best female dancer three times over.

Evgenia Obraztsova

Evgenia Obraztsova, is another female featured in the 2006 documentary, Ballerina. This wonderful dancer graduated Vaganova Academy in 2002 and joined the Mariinsky. This dancer is known for her sweet and charismatic interpretations of the classical roles. She was promoted to soloist in 2003. She then left to the Bolshoi and was promoted to Principal in 2012. Another ballerina tapped by Pierre Lacotte, she has garnered international fame on stages across the world. Her popularity amongst international critics have made her one of the most like-able and approachable ballerinas. Because of her acting abilities, she starred in the film Russian Dolls.

Alina Somova

In 2003, Vaganova Academy had a very tall girl year for their standards. Of those tall girls, one stood out amongst them all. Alina Somova. Standing at 5’7″ her long willowly body was born to dance. She joined the Mariinsky in 2003 at the age of 17, and was given the opportunity to dance Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. In 2004 she was promoted to soloist, and principal in 2008. She has performed across the world’s stages and has gained her fame from her lyrical qualities as a ballerina. Her flexibility and body make her a stand out, and we have watched her transformation live via social media. She was also featured in the documentary Ballerina.

Olga Smirnova

In 2011, Olga Smirnova graduated from Vaganova Academy and the whole world was watching. Already publicized as a student, Olga Smirnova was destined for greatness. Immediately after graduation she received her contract to the Bolshoi where she was in the corps for 1 day. She was promoted to soloist on her second day. By 2012 she was a leading soloist and by 2013 she won the Bensois. In 2016 she was finally promoted to principal at the age of 23. Her long neck and hypermobile body only exudes ballet because she herself exudes ballet. Her sultry quality and striking face makes her one of the most in demand ballerinas today. 

Maria Khoreva

At 18 years old, she is probably the youngest female to push herself into stardom. But, it wasn’t just talent. This Nike sponosred Instagram Ballerina, has been letting us follow her story for years. She hasn’t even been out of the Vaganova school for a year and she is already headlining as a soloist for Mariinsky. She is already being harolded as the next Diana Vishneva. Her story via instagram showed three young ballerinas rehearsing Balanchine’s Apollo before she even gradauted. Upon her graduation she had six contracts, but like most Russian Ballerinas, staying in Russia is a prioirtiy. But she is already headlining. Last month alone while the Mariinsky was on tour she danced almost every principal role.

Of these nine exceptional women, I have been lucky enough to watch six of them live. (I was not lucky enough to see Ulyana Lopatkina, I was supposed to see Alina live, but she pulled out due to announce her pregnancy, and I have yet to see Maria Khoreva, as I had to decline tickets to DC as I opened my own school. But still, out of the performances I have seen, and including youtube and instagram videos, Olga Smirnova by far is my favorite. 




The Position That Makes Ballet, well ballet…


Sara Michelle Murawski’s, a soloist at Slovak National Ballet, super famous arabesque picture that probably one of the first pictures that made dancers addicted to instagram.

Contemporary Dancers have the tilt, jazz dancers have the layout, but ballet dancers have arabesque.

For those of you who are auditioning for the first time, the reason why everyone asks for an arabesque picture is for the following reasons: arabesque is one of the hardest positions to make in ballet, and it shows your turn out, flexibility, hyperextension and feet in on photo without hating yourself. If ballet auditions asked for, say…ecarte derrière… no one would audition… ever.

Now, there is a great debate of what arabesque technique is correct, or where it actually comes from, but should we really get into all of that mess? Maybe, just little bit. Just generalizing some things about companies that have a very specific type of arabesque.

Royal Ballet, the Ashton Arabesque is this super classical, dreamy position that requires the following: a hypermobile back, beautifully arched feet, and rarely is placed above 90 degrees. In addition, I think the artists of the Royal Ballet are the only ones that don’t let the supporting leg turn in. Their turn out is bangin. The arms are always super relaxed, and rarely go above their faces. Ultimate restraint. (Royal Ballet’s arabesque line isn’t the RAD line. I don’t believe in the RAD method, so I am not going to talk about it.)


Plus, who doesn’t love some Sarah Lamb on any given day? Ironically, she is an American, with Russian training, dancing a Jerome Robbin’s piece set on NYCB, but staged on Royal Ballet.

The Russians have their own arabesque line as well. They are known for their incredible height and stretch. Besides the majority of women coming out of Vaganova school are beasts, their primas have create this unique fragile but stretched arm position. Standing leg is turned in.


For the sake of irony, the super stunning Uliana Lopatkina, a Russian Dancing a Balanchine piece set on Bolshoi.

Then we have the super “classical” arabesque which is the mish mosh of cecchetti, vaganova and french… which is now lumped into the category of classical:

ballet pose

Perfect turn out, not so hyper mobile, lifted up and forward, relaxed elbow, and spatula hands… just kidding, just a soft middle finger down…

Then we have the Balanchine Arabesque, which isn’t really a change in the principals of arabesque, but more of the arm and hand positions.

ashley boulder

Ashley Bouder and Jonathan Stafford in Tchai Pas. Ironically, everyone calls their hands the claw… or that they are really wristy, but Russians are more…  aka the super stunning and talented force Evgenia Obraztsova

evgenia obraztsova

And then finally, there is the Paris Opera Arabesque… which is basically like the impossible arabesque. Which is only possible if you are well… given everything and trained at Paris Opera.


Another Irony, Paris Opera is the home of ballet, and here we have the Sylvie Guillem in a contemporary work. I have never really understood the Paris Opera arabesque besides it looking beyond perfect. David Hallberg who trained at POB has one of those arabesque that are beyond pulled up. A lot of the etoiles of paris opera have these super raised hips.

Another note… we gag on arabesque pictures on IG and tumblr, but the reality is… do we ever see these massive arabesques on stage… unless you are russian… Or Dark Angel in Serenade? I think the “style” of arabesque also comes from the role you are doing, the tempo of music, etc.

Now, here are some things that are really difficult for young dancers when it comes to arabesque…

Higher isn’t always better.

Being Square is in reference that both pelvic bones are on the same level of space.

Tilting your hip is really just for side extension.

Things regardless of what “style” of arabesque you are doing…

Your spinal chord can’t be compromised…

You either have a hyper mobile back and hips or you don’t.

Regardless of the arm placement, the torso doesn’t twist…

My favorite motto when teaching: when in doubt, turn out.

Finding what arabesque works on your body is really important as well. If you look at the women of NYCB, none of them have the same arabesque line. You have to find what looks best on your body… for anything in ballet, but especially for arabesque. As you develop into an artist you find your stride in arabesque, and what looks best on your body type. Arm placement, stretch, reach, quality… Those are the things that really distinguish an arabesque. No two professional arabesques are the same. When training, it might be a different story, but because no body is alike, the technique looks different on everyone.