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Galina Ulanova

Galina Sergeyevana Ulanova was born in St. Petersburg Russia on January 8, 1910. She studied in Petrograd with Agirppina Vaganova at the Leningrad Choreography School, and her own mother, Maria Romanovna, who was a ballerina with the Imperial Russian Ballet.

Galina graduated 1928 and danced with the Kirov Ballet until 1944 when she transferred to Bolshoi Theatre by Joseph Stalin where she became Prima Ballerina Assoluta for 16 years. A year after she was transferred to the Bolshoi, she danced the lead role in Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Prokofiev was so fasinated with her he is quoted as saying, “She is the genius of Russian ballet, its elusive soul, its inspired poetry. Ulanova imparts to her interpretation of classical roles a depth of expression unheard of in twentieth century ballet.”

Her impact on both Russian and Western ballet was enormous. She was considered as unforgettable in Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Les Sylphides, Fountain of Bakhchisarai and many others. In 1959 she became ballet mistress of the Bolshoi Ballet.

Galina was also a great actress as well as dancer, and when she was finally allowed to tour abroad at the age of 46, British papers wrote that “Galina Ulanova in London knew the greatest triumph of any individual dancer since Anna Pavolva“.

Galina retired from the stage at the age of 50, she taught many generations of the Russian dancers. Ulanova was the only dancer to be awarded Hero of Socialist Labour, and she was also awarded the highest exclusively artistic national title, People’s Artist of the USSR. She was also awarded the Lenin or Stalin Prizes in 1941, 1946, 1947, 1950, and 1957.

Galina died in 1998, she was 88 years old. Galina’s apartament in Moscow, is preserved as a memorial museum now. Monuments to Ulanova were erected in Saint Petersburg and Stockholm. See a video of her dancing Swan Lake in the video section.

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Ballerina Biographies – Gelsey Kirkland

Gelsey Kirkland was born December 29,1952, in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Her father was Jack Kirkland, a playwright, and Nancy, an actress, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. She also had an older sister, Johnna.

Johnna started attending the School of American Ballet and Gelsey started soon after, starting an intense rivalry between the sisters.

As a student Gelsey, was incredibly dedicated, she was considered a workaholic. When she first started attending the School of American ballet Gelsey was not very flexible at all and worked on her stretching to achieve the flexibility required. She also took extra ballet classes and worked as a model, to pay for ballet classes, and later on quit high school so she would have more time to dance.

When Gelsey was fifteen George Balanchine asked her to join the New York City Ballet, and two years later she became a soloist. At this time Balanchine created his new Firebird, with Gelsey as the lead. Although Firebird did not become a success there was, Gelsey was amazing in the role and later on she danced the lead in Jerome Robbins� Goldberg Variations.

In 1972 the New York City Ballet toured to Russia where Mikhail Baryshnikov first saw her dance. Two years later, after he defected in Toronto Mikhail asked her to be his partner. In September of 1974 Gelsey left the New York City Ballet and joined the American Ballet Theatre as a principal dancer opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov. The partnership between Miss Kirkland and Mr. Baryshnikov was incredibly successful, they were in perfect harmony in performance.

Gelsey’s perfection was in the area of romantic ballets. She had a delicate body and precise technique. She amazed audiences and critics alike. Edward Villella described her as having steel-like legs that are doing the most fantastic technical feats while the upper body is soft and lovely as though nothing were going on underneath in Time magazine.

Unfortunately, in 1976 her complicated personal life caught up to her. She had been very concerned about her looks and undergone several plastic surgeries. She was also anorexic and addicted to cocaine. Finally she collapsed due to nervous exhaustion and a potassium deficiency and was forced to stop dancing. This kept her from appearing opposite Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie The Turning Point. After some time she was able to return to the stage. She made a moving debut as Clara in Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker.

She met and fell in love with Greg Lawrence and they helped each other out of their drug problems and depression. He also helped write her autobiographies, Dancing on my Grave, published in 1986 and The Shape of Love, published in 1990.

Gelsey was a success when she returned to the stage, and was asked to do a Command Performance in 1986 for Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II with the Royal Ballet.

Gelsey is now retired from performing and has become a teacher and coach.

Ballerina Biographies – Marie Taglioni

 Marie Taglioni’s life touches every ballet dancer to this today. She was the first ballerina to dance on pointe. This technique was a novelty in the nineteenth century but now an essential part of ballet training. With her weightless technique and uncanny ability to balance on her toes in darned, soft-toe ballet slippers, Marie made this gravity-defying pointe work popular among ballet dancers and the audiences. However it was her talent, particularly in her signature role in La Sylphide, that inspired a devoted following and forever changed the style of ballet.

Marie was born in Stockholm on april 23, 1804 and moved with her family to Vienna at a young age. Her father Filippo was a dancer and choreographer, while her mother Anna was the daughter of a popular singer and dramatic author of the time, Christopher Karsten. Marie studied ballet in Vienna with her father, and in 1822 made her first performance at the age of 18 in one of his ballets, titled La Reception d’une Jeune Nymphe à la Cour de Terpsichore. Fanny Elssler, an Austrian ballerina born in 1810 and who would later become one of Marie Taglioni’s greatest rivals, also danced in the corps de ballet for this performance. Marie went on to dance in Munich and Stuttgart before making her debut with the Paris Opéra in 1827. She performed with the Paris Opéra for the next 10 years, with her father as her primary teacher and choreographer.

Onstage, Taglioni was known not only for her gracefullness  story ballets but also for her excellent character dancing. Marie created the title role in La Sylphide in 1832, in a part choreographed specifically for her by her father. This role became her signature and where for the first time a ballerina danced on pointe. She became known as La Taglioni. A special costume created just for her for that part is now considered to be the standard romantic tutu. She wore a form-fitting bodice baring her neck and shoulders, a bell-shaped skirt in a light, white material that ended mid-calf and pink tights. The style was later reproduced in ballets such as Giselle in 1841, choreographed by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli, and Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides in1909.

Marie’s style of dance included unusual posture and port de bras, which have become an example of the Romantic ballet era. Many historians now believe that these movements and poses were originally created by her father to compensate for a deformity in her back, which could have been anything from a hunchback to a severe spinal curvature. Whatever the handicap, Taglioni became known for her very light and delicate style, with curved arms overhead, framing her face, a forward body posture with the legs in fourth position on pointe and the shoulders slightly tilted in effacé.

Marie’s personal life during her performing years was chaoic and restless. In London in 1834, she married Compte Gilbert de Voisins. Together they had a son, and separation followed a year later. Also Fanny Elssler’s arrival at the Opéra in 1834 created a rivalry for Marie’s position, and the main reason for both Marie and her father accepting  contracts at the Russian Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1837. There they collaborated on a number of ballets that premiered in London at Her Majesty’s Theatre after the were performed at the Maryinsky in Russia.

Marie gave her last performance in 1848, at the age of 44, after a 26-year career. Her retirement was short-lived, however, due to mismanagement of her funds. She was forced to return to Paris in 1858, where  she became Inspectrice de la Danse at the Paris Opéra in 1859, and  created an examination system for the ballet school. In 1860, she choreographed Le Papillon for her protégé, Emma Livry, who died tragically when her costume caught fire after brushing against the stage gas lighting. After losing her fortune during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871, Marie taught ballroom dancing in London. In 1880, she moved to Marseilles, where she lived with her son until her death on April 24,1884 at the age of 80.

Ballerina Biographies – Svetlana Zakharova

Svetlana Zakharova is a principal dancer with the both the Bolshoi Ballet and the Teatro all Scala Opera.

Svetlana was born in Lutsk, Ukraine, on June 10, 1979. At age six, her mother took her to learn folk dancing at a local studio. At age 10, Svetlana auditioned for and was accepted into the Kiev Choreographic School. Just four months later, however, her father’s reassignment in the army to East Germany forced Svetlana’s withdrawal from school. Six months later, her family returned to the Ukraine and Svetlana auditioned again for the Kiev Choreographic School. She was readmitted and immediately joined the second class, under teacher Valeria Sulegina.

In 1996–1997, she debuted with the Mariinsky Ballet , appearing as Maria with Ruben Bobovnikov, in Rostislay Zakhavoy’s The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. In 2003–2004, she accepted a long-standing open offer with the Bolshoi.

Svetlana now tours and dances as a guest with the world’s great ballet companies. She is considered one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation. She is highly regarded for her technical expertise, for her beautiful feet and for her exceptionally high extensions, as well as her great artistry.

She is married to a Russian violinist Vadim Repin, and they have one child, a daughter Anna, who was born on February 17, 2011. Svetlana returned to dancing, and performed in London on May 15, 2011, in a gala performance celebrating Galina Ulanova

Through her time at the Mariinsky Ballet she danced many rolls, here are a few:
Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; an eight minute piece of music that Tchaikovsky belatedly created for Act III of Swan Lake

The Dying Swan;
Maria (The Fountain of Bakhchisarai. Music by Boris Astafiev. Choreography by Rostislav Zakharov);
Masha (Clara, The Nutcracker. Choreography by Vassili Vainonen);
Medora (Le Corsaire. Choreography by Pyotr Gusev after Marius Petipa);
Giselle;
Bride (Les Noces. Music by Igor Stravinsky. Alexei Miroshnichenko production);
Queen of the Dryads (Don Quixote);
7th Waltz and Mazur (Chopiniana);
Princess Aurora (The Sleeping Beauty. Choreography by Marius Petipa, revised version by Konstantin Sergeyev. Revival of Mariu§гe Petipa’s production by Sergei Vikharev);
Terpsichore (Apollo);
Serenade (Choreography by Georges Balanchine);
Odette-Odile (Konstantin Sergeyev version);
Soloist (Poem of Ecstasy to music by Alexander Scriabin. Alexei Ratmansky production);
Soloist Part 1 (Symphony in C);
Nikia (La Bayadere. Choreography by Marius Petipa, revised version by Vladimir Ponomarev, Vakhtang Chabukiani. Revival of Petipa’s production by Sergei Vikharev);
Soloist in Diamonds (Jewels);
Manon (Manon);
Soloist (Now and Then to music to Mariusгe Ravel. John Neumeier production);
Young Lady (The Young Lady and The Hooligan to music by Dmitry Shostakovich. Choreography by Konstantin Boyarsky);
Zobeide (Scheherazade), Juliet (Romeo and Juliet. Choreography by Ltonid Lavrovsky);
Grand Pas (Paquita);
Middle Duet (to music by Yuri Khanon. Alexei Ratmansky production);
Etudes (Lander).

In 2001-2003 Svetlana was a permanent participant to the International Ballet Festival “Mariinsky”, which rewarded her with the partnership of such international stars as Jose Manoel Carreno, Ethan Stiefel and Vladimir Malakhov. She took part in the most prominent tours with the Mariinsky Theatre. On numerous occasions, she danced on the stages of The Bolshoi Theatre, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera , the Kennedy Center in Washington, Theatre du Chatelet in Paris and the opera theatre in Graz, Austria.

Svetlana’s international career began in 1999-2000. She performed the role of Medora in Le Corsaire in 1999 at Teatro Colon, staged by Makhar Vaziev. In 2000, she danced in The Nutcracker staged by Balanchine with the New-York City Ballet. In 2001, she performed in L’Histoire de Manon with the Bayerisches Staatsballett Ballet Company, partnered by Igor Zelensky. In 2002, Zakharova, partnered by Carreno, she performed in a gala concert of international ballet stars that took place at Palace des Arts in Montreal. She also participated in a gala dedicated to Rudolf Nureyev at Teatro alla Scala partnered by Nikolai Tsiskaridze.

 As a guest star, Svetlana Zakharova successfully mastered new variations of well known classical ballets. She danced four versions of Swan Lake, the title role in Sleeping Beauty and as Nikia in La Bayadere staged by Nureyev at Opera de Paris. In 2003.

During the 2003-2004 season, Svetlana joined the company of the Bolshoi Theatre, where she was trained by distinguished ballerina Lyudmila Semenyaka, who represents the Petersburg ballet school.

The rest of this contemporary ballerina’s accomplishments are to numerous to mention. At her young age of currently 33. She is the most accomplished ballerina of this era. View her video on the links page.

Ballerina Biographies – Dame Margot Fonteyn

 

 

Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias, was born on May 19, 1919. She was regarded as one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of all time. She spent her entire career as a dancer with the Royal Ballet, and was appointed Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the company by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Margot was born Peggy Hookham was always destined to be a ballet dancer. Her mother, who was Brazilian -Irish, groomed her for stardom from almost as soon as she could walk. When Peggy was aged 8 her father’s work took the family to Shanghai. Peggy and her Mother returned to the United Kingdom when she was 14. Her father stayed in Shanghai and was interned by the Japanese for the duration of the war.

Peggy, at this time was enrolled with the Royal Ballet School just when they were looking for a young British dancer to groom as the new Prima Ballerina. Until then all of the leading dancers in Britain had been Russian or French. Part of the grooming process was to change her name to Margot Fonteyn. She obtained that name from her coach in London, Tamara Karasavina. Her father was a Portuguese man who’s surname was Fontes, the Portuguese for Fountains, which gave her the name Fonteyn

Margot Fonteyn worked with George Balanchine as he staged and choreographed ballet for Sadler’s Wells. She soon showed the natural talents and dedication required of a Prima Ballerina and after many wonderful performances at Sadler’s Wells she went with the Royal Ballet on their 1949 American tour. Her performance as Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty on their opening night in NYC wowed the critics and fans alike. Her performance set a new standard for the role. Success followed success and she was soon to become the most famous and most successful ballerina in the world.

Margot married Roberto “Tito” Arias. He was a Panamanian delegate to the U.N. and the son of a powerful Panamanian family. The couple were married at the Panamanian Consulate in Paris in February 1955.

Margot continued her successful career, she was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. In 1962 Margot was thinking of retirement, from ballet when she was 42, until she met Rudolf Nureyev,who had recently fled from the Soviet Union. Margot began her greatest artistic partnership at a time when many believed she was about to retire. Rudolf and Margot first performed together in Giselle. She was 42 and he was 24. Their performance was a great success. During the curtain calls, Rudolf dropped to his knees and kissed Margot’s hand. They created an on-and-offstage partnership that lasted until her 1979 retirement, and were lifelong friends. Young Rudolf revitalized Margot and led to some of her most wonderful performances.

As a dancer she made her last appearance in Nureyev’s 1979 summer season, and in February 1986, when she was 66 years old, she appeared on stage for the last time, as ‘The Queen’ in “The Sleeping Beauty”, for the Birmingham Royal Ballet in Miami. She subsequently retired to Panama where she and her husband Tito ran a cattle ranch. When Tito died in 1989 Margot discovered that she had cancer. Dame Margot died on February 21st 1991. She was buried in the Arias family plot in Panama. A documentary about Margot Fonteyn, entitled simply “Margot” was made in 2005. It includes interviews with Nureyev and many other dancers as well as Margo’s mother and other relatives of the Arias family.

Ballerina Biographies – Natalia Makarova

Nataliya Romanovna Makarova was born on October 21, 1940 in Leningrad Russia. She began her ballet career in Leningrad at the Vaganova School, formerly known as the Imperial Ballet School, at the age of 13. Natalia was placed in a special experimental class condensing the nine-year program into six years. After she graduated in 1959, she joined the Kirov Ballet, rapidly rising to the rank of Ballerina. Natalia came to be known internationally when she danced Giselle with the Kirov Ballet in London in 1961, which became one of her signature roles.

While on tour on September 4, l970, in London with the Kirov Ballet, Natalia requested political asylum in Great Britain. Her defection shocked the ballet world. She began her new career by joining the American Ballet Theater, making her debut with the company in Giselle on Dec 22, 1970. She danced American Ballet Theatre’s vast repertory including all the classical ballets and their contemporary repertoire.

Natalia began dancing with the Royal Ballet in 1972. She also has appeared as Guest Artist with ballet companies around the world including the Paris Opera Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Neumeier’s Hamburg Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Berlin Ballet, London Festival Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Munich Ballet, Bejart’s Ballet of the 20th Century; Roland Petit’s Ballet de Marseille; Royal Swedish Ballet & Teatro Municipal Rio de Janeiro, Ballet de Santiago, Pact Ballet Johannesburg; Scottish National Ballet & Australia’s Victoria Ballet.

There were many ballets and pas de deux created just for Natalia . Several she danced with the famed Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev She also received the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical On Your Toes and in 1984, she starred in the West End, London production of On Your Toes, for which she won the Lawrence Oliver Award.

On February 1, 1989, after 19 years’ absence from Russia, Natalia was the first artistic exile to be invited back to perform in the Soviet Union. She returned to her native city of Leningrad, where she was reunited with her family, friends, former colleagues and teachers and danced with the Kirov Ballet on the stage where she began her amazing career. Natalia donated her costume from Onegin and her pointe shoes to the Ballet Museum in Leningrad commemorating her last performance in classical ballet. A documentary of her historic visit, Makarova Returns, was shown on BBC television.

In 1991, she made her debut as a dramatic actress in London. Natalia returned to Russia in 1992 to take part in the play Two for the Seasaw, giving performances in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There were many other dramatic pieces after these.

Natalia continues to stage classical ballets throughout the world passing on her knowledge to a new generation of dancers. In 2010 American Ballet Theatre celebrated the 30th Anniversary of her production of La Bayadere at the Metropolitan Opera House, and in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Mariinsky Theater paid tribute to her in a Gala performance in her honor.

 

In Natalia’s personal life she was romantically linked to Baryshnikov during their time in Russia before their defection. Afterwards, Natalia ended their relationship, but they remained friends afterwards. They were friends and dance partners throughout their lives and careers. In 1976 Natalia married industrialist Edward Karkar. Together they have a son, Andrei Mikhail, born February 1978.

Ballerina Biography – Anna Pavlova

Anna was born on February 12, 1881, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The place and time of her birth could hardly have been better for a child with an in born talent for dance. Under the rule of the Czar, Russia maintained magnificent Imperial schools for the performing arts. Entry into the Imperial schools was by examination only. She was accepted at the Imperial School of Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1891.

Anna’s love for the ballet was sparked when her mother took her to a performance of Marius Petipa’s original production of The Sleeping Beauty at the Imperial Maryinsky Theater. The ballet made an impression on Anna, and at the age of nine she was taken by her mother to audition for the Imperial Ballet School. Because of her young age, and what was considered to be a “sickly” looking appearance, she was not chosen, but in 1891 she was finally accepted, at the age of 10. She appeared for the first time on stage in Marius Petipa’s Un Conte de Fees, which translated means A Fairy Tale. Marius Petipa staged this ballet for the students of the school.

The young Anna’s years of training were difficult, as classical ballet did not come easily to her. Her severely arched feet, thin ankles, and long arms and legs, clashed with the small and compact body in favor for the ballerina at the time. The other dancers teased her with names like The Broomstick and The Little Savage. Anna, regardless, continued to train and improved her technique. She took extra lessons from the noted teachers of the time such as Christian Johansson, Pavel Gerdt, Nickolai Legat and more especially from Enrico Cecchetti, who is considered the greatest ballet virtuoso of the time and founder of the Cecchetti method. In 1898 she entered the Classe de Perfection taught by Ekaterina Vazem, Prima ballerina of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

She graduated the Imperial Ballet School in 1899 at the age of 18, and was allowed to enter the Imperial Ballet Company a rank ahead of corps de ballet called coryphée, a dancer above the rank of corps de ballet but beneath the rank of soloist. When the prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Theaters, Mathilde Kschessinska was pregnant in 1901, she coached Anna in the role of Nikya in the ballet La Bayadere Kschessinska, not wanting to be upstaged, was certain that Anna would fail in the role, as she was considered technically inferior because of her small ankles and thin legs. Instead audiences became enchanted with Anna who had fit the role perfectly.

Her feet were extremely rigid, so she strengthened her pointe shoes by adding a piece of hard wood on the soles for support and curving the box of the shoe. At the time, many considered this “cheating”, for a ballerina of the era was taught that she, not her shoes, must hold her weight on pointe. In Anna’s case this was extremely difficult, as the shape of her feet required her to balance her weight on her little toes. Her solution became, over time, the precursor of the modern pointe shoe, as pointe work became less painful and easier for curved feet. Anna did not like the way her invention looked in photographs, so she would remove it so that it appeared she was using normal pointe shoes.

Anna is most known for creating the role of The Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Michel Fokine, in the ballet, The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens., created in 1905. By the mid-20th century she founded her own company and performed throughout the world. Cyril Johnson, a ballet writer of the time described that “her bourrees were like a string of pearls.Anna was introduced to audiences in the United States at the Boston Grand Opera Company from 1914 to 1917 and was featured there with her Russian Ballet Company during that period.

In 1927, while touring in Netherlands, Anna was ill with pneumonia and was told that she had required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying “If I can’t dance then I’d rather be dead.” She died of pleurisy, inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lung, three weeks short of her 50th birthday. She was holding her Dying Swan costume when she spoke her last words, “Play the last measure very softly.” In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been.