Larissa Ponomarenko’s Journey with Giselle

Larissa Ponomarenko and Patrick Armand in Boston Ballet’s Giselle, circa 1994, choreographed by Lavrovsky after Coralli and Perrot. Photo by Jaye R. Phillips.

Larissa Ponomarenko and Patrick Armand in Boston Ballet’s Giselle, circa 1994, choreographed by Lavrovsky after Coralli and Perrot.

Photo credit: Jaye R. Phillips.

Larissa Ponomarenko reflects on her relationship with Giselle, from dancing the iconic role to staging it for Boston Ballet.

Larissa Ponomarenko in Boston Ballet’s Giselle, circa 1994, choreographed by Lavrosky after Coralli and Perrot.

Photo credit: Jaye R. Phillips.

Larissa Ponomarenko leads Giselle rehearsal with Principal Dancers Viktorina Kapitonova and Patrick Yocum.

Photo credit: Element Productions.

Larissa Ponomarenko in Boston Ballet’s Giselle, circa 1994, choreographed by Lavrosky after Coralli and Perrot.

Photo credit: Jaye R. Phillips.

Larissa Ponomarenko leads Giselle rehearsal with Principal Dancers Viktorina Kapitonova and Patrick Yocum.

Photo credit: Element Productions.

Hailed as one of the greatest romantic ballets of all time, Giselle has been a touchstone in the legacy of generations of great ballerinas. Ballet Master Larissa Ponomarenko, a former Boston Ballet principal dancer and favorite in the title role, now takes on the role of stager: creating her adaptation and putting her personal touch on this classic ballet. Artistic Director Mikko says, “As a legendary ballerina and an incredible interpreter of the iconic role of Giselle, Larissa has an intimate knowledge of this ballet. Everything she touches has integrity and quality.”

What was your first experience with Giselle?

Larissa Ponomarenko: It was quite early in my career, a few years before I came to Boston. In 1989 at the age of 19, I performed the pas de deux from the second act at my graduation performance from Vaganova Ballet Academy in Leningrad, Russia. The performance was held on the main stage of the Kirov Ballet Theatre (now the Mariinsky Theatre), and my partner was a principal dancer of the Kirov Ballet at the time, Marat Doukayev. As a student, I was honored and terrified at the same time. Working with that great dancer, amazing partner, and generous person was an incredible opportunity that I will hold close to my heart and cherish for the rest of my life! 

What was it like to learn the iconic role of Giselle?

My teacher, the incredible and very strict Ninel Kurgapkina, gave me a strong foundation and insight on how to approach the role of Giselle. Working with her was an experience of a lifetime, and I am forever grateful for the generous knowledge she passed on to me. She taught me what to do step-by-step both physically and artistically. I can still hear her voice and recall the brilliance of her coaching. She showered me with valuable information and details, but never praise. So I felt like an Olympian when after a performance, she told me, “Congratulations, you remembered every correction!”

I continued to grow into the role of Giselle at Boston Ballet, working with many incredible ballet masters such as Tatiana Legat, Tatiana Terekhova, Sergei Berejnoi, Maina Gielgud, Anna-Marie Holmes, and Bruce Marks. I am forever grateful to all the wisdom, knowledge, and experience I gained from these giants in the ballet world.

How does it make you feel now to be staging the ballet?

It feels very natural and beautiful to take on the roles of teacher, coach, and stager. I get to share what I have learned, and pass on with love and care what was given with love and care to me. Through the work of teaching, coaching, and staging, I continue to learn every day.

How do you approach teaching movement and mime?

I like to teach mime by layering the process. I focus first on the port de bras (movement of the arms). All of the gestures must be clear and natural, and every movement must be infused with meaning and intention. The dancers’ bodies must “speak”! While ballet is a silent art form, the audience should still be able to “hear” the dancers tell the story.

Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine. Photo by Gene Schiavone.

Larissa Ponomarenko and Roman Rykine.

Photo credit: Gene Schiavone.

How does it make you feel, to be passing down the legacy of the title role to the next generation of dancers?

The role of Giselle is a tremendous test of a ballerina’s technique and artistry. In the short span of the performance, she must grow from a sensitive, spirited, and impressionable young girl to a woman that loses her mind and faces death to an ethereal wisp that loves and forgives. That transformation must be delivered clearly and honestly—not an easy task.

I am excited and eager to get into the studio and start working. I look forward to guiding the dancers through the process of building the character, exploring their emotions, and leaving their own mark on the role.

What do you hope the dancers take away from performing this ballet?

I really hope that each and every dancer realizes their capabilities and expands their horizons. I believe Giselle is a perfect vehicle for that growth, as it provides both technical and artistic challenges.

Why are you looking forward to bringing Giselle back to Boston audiences?

Giselle is a feast for the eyes and the soul. It is full of grace and beauty, as well as a dynamic spectrum of emotions. Most importantly, it reminds us that love is forgiving.

What do you hope audiences will take away from your staging of Giselle?

I can only hope that every member of the audience will find the inspiration they are looking for in their lives. I can promise that what they see on stage is the product of care and the labor of love.

The illusion we create is intended to deepen your understanding of reality.

Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director
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