So many talented dancers grace us with their leaps and bounds across those elaborate stage sets. We love ballet because we absolutely adore the dance. Without the dancers, ballet would not exist. That’s a fact. This blog post pays tribute to three of the many talents that have made ballet what we love, a beautiful dance. Learn more about these famous ballet dancers below!
(The featured photo is a shot of Víctor Ullate Ballet’s Coppélia, and the full performance recording is available here.)
1. Sylvie Guillem
This French native was born on February 25, 1965, in Paris. She originally trained as a gymnast as a child with her mother, a gymnastics instructor, as her teacher. At the age of eleven Guillem began her studies at the Paris Opera Ballet School in 1977. Claude Bessy, ballerina and director of the school at the time, was impressed with Guillem instantly and it didn’t take long for her to become a member of the corps de ballet in 1981.
Two years later Guillem was awarded the gold medal at the Varna International Ballet Competition. I direct result of that accomplishment was her first lead role at the Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote originally staged by Rudolf Nureyev. The very next year Guillem would be appointed to the role of étoile, or high placing ballerina in the company. She is the youngest dancer to ever reach this goal.
In a celebration of Nureyev’s fiftieth birthday in 1988 Guillem was given the lead role in Giselle. It was showcased by the Royal Ballet and a year later she took on the role of freelance ballerina and was continually a guest principal dancer with the Royal Ballet. Her desire to work and dance while not tied down to a specific company earned her the title “Mademoiselle Non.”
Guillem created Evientia, a television show featuring ballet and dance, in 1995. It won a number of international competitions. Three years later she produced her own adaptation of Giselle for the Finnish National Ballet in Helsinki, and in 2001 Guillem performed the same production in Milan for the La Scala Ballet.
She was named the first ever winner of the Nijinsky Prize for the world’s best ballerina in 2001. Two years later Guillem directed a pivotal part of the Nureyev tribute program but her artistic vision of having the dancers perform in front of giant photos of Nureyev was not well received.
Guillem’s final performance was just last year on December 31st live on Japanese television. She danced in Boléro by Maurice Béjart.
2. Diana Vishneva
Born in St. Petersburg in 1976 Vishneva studied the dance at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. Her scores while there have exceeded anything before and after her attendance. When she graduated in 1995 Vishneva was instantly recruited by the Mariinsky Ballet Company and subsequently, she won the Benois de la Danse, which is a respected ballet contest, and the Golden Sofit, the most prestigious theater award in St. Petersburg.
These accomplishments quickly helped Vishneva move up to principal dancer in 1996. It was in 2003 when Vishneva would first perform with the American Ballet Theatre. Two years later she took on the role of principal dancer with that company as well.
Vishneva starred in Ballerina, a documentary released in 2006. Two years after that she became a member of the Honorary Board of Directors for the Russian Children’s Welfare Society. Also revered for her beauty Vishneva became a spokesperson for Discipline, a beauty product line by Kérastase, a French line of hair care products.
Performing in classic ballets like Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, La Bayadére, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, The Firebird, and Giselle, Vishneva is similarly featured in more contemporary pieces from artisans like George Balanchine, William Forsythe, and Roland Petit.
Awards she has received also include the People’s Artist of Russia in 2007, The State Prize of Russia in 2000, Prizewinner at the International Ballet Competition in 1994, and the recipient of Russia’s Golden Mask theatre prize in 2009 for Ballet/Best Production, Ballet/Contemporary Dance, and the Critics Award.
3. Michel Fokine
Also hailing from Russia, Michel Fokine was born in April of 1880. Fokine had a great impact on the 20th-century ballet. He began studying at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg at the age of nine. This prestigious ballet academy is a part of the renowned Mariinsky Theatre.
Fokine also performed for the first time at age nine with the guidance of Marius Petipa. Excelling in dancing, music, and painting Mikhail Fokine had an insatiable interest in the ballet and was known to have a unique attitude toward the dance when he choreographed ballet pieces. Michel performed at the Imperial Russian Ballet for the first time on his eighteenth birthday.
This advanced talent in dancing was on par with his progress as a choreographer. At first Fokine’s vision of artistic unity was not recognized but by 1909 three of his ballets were a part of the Ballets Russes, a ballet company in Paris. In fact, Fokine is credited to the Ballets Russes success as a company.
Fokine remained with Ballet Russes until 1914 and then he went back to Russia but he only remained there for four years. In 1918 he left Russia finally settled in New York City in 1923. Fokine continued to create works but none of his ballets created in the United States would influence the world of dance the way his earlier work had.
Michel Fokine died before completing his final ballet, which was a comedy version of Helen of Troy. This ballet was finished by David Lichine and premiered in Mexico City in 1942.