There are few places on this Earth that are as synonymous with ballet as Russia. While the dance began in the courts of the Italian Renaissance and made its way through Europe first, there is no denying that, once Russia experienced ballet, they dominated the scene and created a history that is all their own.
We would like to look at a few Russian dancers of ballet and familiarize ourselves with this rich and historic culture.
(Cover photo is of Mariisnky Ballet performing Balanchine’s Jewels – click here for more information.)
1. Nina Aleksandrovna Anisimova
Born in the ballet capital of St. Petersburg, Russia on January 27, 1909, Anisimova first studied dance at the Petrograd Ballet School. This school would later become Leningrad Ballet school and while Anisimova was attending there she trained under Maria Fedorovna Romanova, Alexander Shiryaev, and Agrippina Vaganova. When she was seventeen she graduated from Petrograd and moved on to the Maly Theatre of Opera and Ballet for some time.
In 1927 she moved on to the Kirov Ballet, also known as the Mariinsky, in St. Petersburg and danced with them until she was forty-nine years old. Her most notable performance was in Flames of Paris, a full-length four act ballet composed by Boris Asafyev and choreographed by the legendary Vasily Vainonen. The music was based on tunes about the French Revolution.
It was in this ballet that Anisimova first proved to the ballet world that she was talented at creating characters with her dancing. From dancing this ballerina spent some time choreographing original performances. Her first attempt at choreography was with Emmanuel Chabrier’s Andalusian Wedding and the performance was held at the Leningrad Ballet School.
Anisimova’s other choreography successes include Gayane by Aram Khachaturian in 1942 and Songs of the Crane by Stepanov and Ismagilov in 1944.
2. Natalia Osipova
The contemporary ballet dancer is a current principal dancer who performs at the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg and with the Royal Ballet in London. Osipova was eight years old when she first started training professionally as a ballet dancer. Her first school was the Mikhail Lavrovsky Ballet School.
Osipova left Lavrovsky Ballet School in 1996 and began training at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. She finished her studies there in 2004 but not before learning from Marina Kotova and Marina Leonova. At the age of eighteen she was given a place to dance as a member of the corps de ballet for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.
The next year she was given a significant role in Don Quixote and her performance garnered a great deal of critical commendation. In 2006 she was moved up from the corps and became a soloist. Dance Magazine put Osipova on their “25 to Watch” list in 2007. Two years later she took home the Prix Benois de la Danse and was given the role of lead soloist.
After dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet for one year but left due to pursue “artistic freedom.” Osipova worked as a guest dancer for the American Ballet Theatre when they were performing at the Metropolitan Opera House for a season. From there she went on to dance with Mikhailovsky Ballet in 2011 and then joined The Royal Ballet in 2013.
3. Marina Semyonova
Like many other Russian dancers, Semyonova was born in St. Petersburg yet she was the first prima ballerina trained under the Soviet Union. Born in 1908 she made her way through the Vaganova School and finished her training there in 1925. From there she went on to dance with the Kirov Ballet but, in 1930, Joseph Stalin relocated Marina and her husband, Viktor Semyonov, to Moscow so she could dance for the Bolshoi Theatre.
We don’t know what happened to her first marriage but she is reported to have married Lev Karakhan after she moved to Moscow. HE served as the Deputy Foreign Minister and was a counsellor to Sun Yat-sen, the founding father and president of the Republic of China. Karakhan was of the Old Bolshevik Guard.
In 1935 Semyonova danced as a guest with the Paris Opéra Ballet alongside Serge Lifar in Giselle. In 1941 she was awarded the Stalin Prize and would go on to dance professionally for nearly ten more years before retiring in 1952. After she stopped dancing in ballets Semyonova began to teach and went on to become an essential educator at the Bolshoi.
When she was well into her nineties, Semyonova decided to hang up her pointe shoes and retire from teaching. She died six years later in Moscow right before she turned 102. In 2003 she was awarded a lifetime achievement from the Prix Benois de la Danse.
4. Michel Fokine
This Russian dancer’s influence on ballet was immense in the 20th century. Born in 1880, Fokine started his professional training at nine when he attended the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. It was also at the age of nine that Fokine had the fortune to perform for the most eminent Russian choreographer, Marius Petipa.
Fokine excelled in a plethora of artistic genres including painting and music, as well as dancing. His love of the dance was unmatched and his attitude toward his work was said to be unique, especially when he choreographed his own pieces. When Fokine was eighteen he performed with the Imperial Russian Ballet for the first time.
While he was making strides as a dancer, Fokine also made vast strides as a choreographer. When he first came on to the scene his artistic vision was not recognized, yet, by 1909, Ballet Russes performed three of his works and he is forever synonymous with the prestigious ballet company in Paris.
Fokine danced with the Ballet Russes until 1914, then traveled back to Russia but stayed less than five years. In 1923, Fokine moved to New York City can continued to create ballets but his impact was not as strong as it had been in Europe and Russia. He died before ever finishing his final ballet, a comedy version of Helen of Troy. David Lichine finished the work and it premiered the piece in 1942 in Mexico City.
5. Natalia Mikhailovna Dudinskaya
The last one of the Russian dancers of ballet was born in Kharkiv in August of 1912 and she also danced for the Kirov Ballet. Her time spent there was mostly from the 1930s until the 1950s. Born to a ballerina mother Dudinskaya was first trained by the renowned Agrippina Vaganova as well.
Dudinskaya is especially known for her portrayal of lead role in Cinderella at the Kirov Theater. Other performances she is noted for include roles in Bayadère, Don Quixote, and Laurencia. In the latter, she played the title role.
Married to Konstantin Sergeyev, another Russian dancer, she would frequently dance beside him professionally, as well as, Vakhtang Chabukiani, a Georgian dancer, and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1961 she retired due to health issues yet came out of it for a short time to perform in a film version of Sleeping Beauty on which her husband worked.
She has been awarded four Stalin Prizes and was named a Peoples Artist of the USSR. Dudinskaya went back to where she started when she decided to teach becoming on the most revered educators at the Vaganova Institute.
After Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union Dudinskaya, and her husband, became a subject of scrutiny to the Soviet higher-ups. Then, when Natalia Makarova defected as well, both Dudinskaya and her husband were stripped of the positions at the ballet company. Yet she continued to teach and had a hand in the success of others after her.