P R I M A
By: Hal de Becker
Natalia Chapourskaya was considered by many to be Nevada Ballet Theatre’s reigning ballerina when she danced with the company from 1995 to 2008. The classical perfection of her dancing, together with her wide ranging interpretive powers and personal beauty, made her an immediate and enduring audience favorite.
Her ballet training began at an early age in Perm, Russia when she was accepted into the prestigious Perm Ballet School now the Perm State Choreographic College. Her unique talent was quickly recognized by the school’s director and Vaganova System specialist, Ludmila Sakharovna. It was she who, when Natalia was 11 years old, selected her to be lead dancer for the school’s performance tour of Austria.
11 YEAR OLD NATALIA ON TOUR IN AUSTRIA
‘Scouts’ from the Perm State Opera and Ballet Theater, Russia’s third most important ballet company after St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi, had long had their eyes on Natalia.
Upon her graduation from the school she was engaged by that company and, in a rare decision, its directors bypassed the customary ‘working through the ranks’ from corps to soloist to principal and immediately gave Natalia Principal Dancer status.
Eventually, the allure of St Petersburg, center of Russian culture, persuaded her to accept an offer to join that city’s Mikhailovsky State Theater of Opera and Ballet as Principal Dancer. (Throughout her career she has always held the rank of Principal.)
She remained with the Mikhailovsky for 11 years and danced virtually every leading female role in the classical repertoire. I asked her if she had a favorite one and she replied, “More than one. I like challenge to show different emotions and act different characters.”
She elaborated. “As Giselle I explore tragic side of love and on stage have experience of feeling it. Some choreography for Swan Lake have happy ending, other have sad ending. Either way, is big drama and I have big pleasure performing Odette/Odile in it.”
“Do you like only the dramatic heroines,” I asked. “Oh no,” she said. “Always I enjoyed dancing Swanhilda in Coppelia. With her I could show ballet can be happy and funny. Kitri in Don Quixote is part I especially liked. Maybe I think is close to the real me.” Then she laughed and added, “Jealous and temperamental.”
Her acting had always been exceptionally persuasive and nuanced. All her portrayals were seemingly informed by deep insight into characterization and a thorough sense of period and style. I asked her about this and she seemed eager to talk about it.
“In Russia as Principal dancer I always get special coaching, especially if role is new one to me. Also, I was doing much reading and research into history and other art related to my roles. My preparation and rehearsals usually take three months. Every physical detail from tilt of head, my arms, hands even fingers, I had to study and learn. Then I did not have to think about those things on stage and was free for expression.”
In 1993 the legendary Prima Ballerina Maya Plisetskaya selected a group of principal dancers from various Russian ballet companies to appear with her in a special gala performance. Natalia still feels honored to have been among those chosen.
NATALIA AND THE LEGENDARY MAYA PLISETSKAYA
When the Mikhailovsky performed Swan Lake at the 1994 Winter Olympics in St. Petersburg, Natalia was seen in the dual roles of Odette/Odile and was offered a contract from Atlanta Ballet in Georgia. Like many other Russian dancers, she had dreamed of performing in the USA and naturally said “Yes.” Maybe even, “Yes!!!!!!!”
Once she was seen in the USA with the Atlanta troupe she began receiving more lucrative offers from other American companies including Tulsa Ballet, Colorado Ballet and Nevada Dance Theatre (now Nevada Ballet Theatre).
Under the artistic direction of Vassily Sulich NDT’s eclectic repertoire of classical and contemporary works, as well as other considerations, convinced her to accept the Las Vegas proposal. So began her 13 year association with the company.
In 1998 when Bruce Steivel began his highly successful ten year tenure as NBT’s artistic director and shifted the company’s repertoire towards more traditional classics, Natalia’s vast experience made her an especially valuable company asset.
She moved easily into the neo-classicism of Balanchine ballets and also shone in non-classical styles such as Steivel’s 1940’s jitterbug ballet, In the Mood and Mark Diamond’s erotic Streetcar Named Desire.
She remained with NBT until retiring in 2008, the same year that Steivel left the troupe. I remembered how beautifully she was still dancing then and asked why she’d retired.
“I perform professionally for 26 years and getting tired and worry about possible injuries. You were dancer, Hal, you know how hard it is. We have to make everything look easy to audience eyes. But they don’t see hard work in class every day to keep good condition and then long rehearsals afterwards and then performance at night. No. Not easy.”
“I had long and wonderful career. I had good colleagues. Many of them now my good friends. Also I had good choreographers and directors. And so many wonderful women I had chance to make alive with my dancing. Juliet, Aurora, Cinderella and the other ones I told you earlier and many more. Good travel, too, the whole world. But mostly the wonderful audiences giving so much appreciation. They always make me feel happy and I hope I did same for them.”
Natalia and her husband, Dr. Vladimir Schwartsman now reside in Park City, Utah. He had a state of the art ballet studio constructed for her in their home where she teaches private lessons in the Vaganova method and coaches professional dancers from around the world in classical ballet roles. She also guest teaches in the area at Dance Tech Studio.
NATALIA AND VLADIMIR
Very few dancers are entitled to wear the Prima Ballerina crown. Natalia wore hers with elegance, dignity and superb artistry. Those who saw her dance still miss her and those who didn’t can never know how much they missed.