Celebrating the Women of Russian Ballet
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8 in many countries around the world. In Russia, this day was first observed in 1913 and became an official public holiday in 1917 after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia. The activists at the forefront of the earliest Women’s Day movements were predominately fighting for women’s suffrage, the right to hold public office and eliminating employment sex discrimination. In current day Russia, the holiday has largely lost its political context and is viewed as a day to honor women.
In honor of International Women’s Day, Moscow Ballet looks back on the strides women have made within the world of Russian ballet history and some of the Moscow Ballet greats:
Avdotia Istomina (1799-1848)
Avdotia Istomina danced for the Imperial Russian Ballet and was the most famous ballerina of the 19th century. She was taught by Charles Dildot – dancer, choreographer and inventor of the ballet shoe – helping to propel her career and legendary status. She is considered the first Russian ballerina to master dancing “en pointe.”
Anna Pavlova (1881-1931)
Anna Pavlova was a principal ballerina of the Imperial Russian Ballet and Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. She is best known for creating the role of the Dying Swan, as seen in Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals. Despite her popularity in the ballet world, she experienced extreme difficulty learning classical ballet due to her arched feet, weak ankles and long limbs. However, she continued to work day after day and learned from some of the most talented teachers of her time: Christian Johansson, Pavel Gerdt and Enrico Cecchetti to name a few. She was a favored ballerina of Marius Petipa and eventually she went independent forming her own company which performed across the world. Her dedication to the ballet and her persistence in the face of adversity is motivation to ballerinas everywhere.
Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951)
Agrippina Vaganova developed the Vaganova Ballet method which is now considered the epitome of ballet training. During her dancing career, she recognized the need for a consistent and teachable method to describe and teach ballet. The Vaganova method combined the elegant style of the French school, the beauty of the arms movements of the Russian School and the strong foot technique of the Italian School. According to Britannica, “Her teaching system emphasized harmony and coordination of all parts of the body but particularly developed the spine and neck, enabling her students to maintain a seemingly effortless core of stability while dancing.” This new method of ballet instruction became the basis for all Soviet ballet training and is known as the greatest contribution to the history of dance.
Jana Kurova is a six-time International Ballet Competition gold medalist and distinguished artist of the Czech Ballet. She performed as the Prima Ballerina with the Prague National Theatre from 1977-1991. She was one of the original dancers in Moscow Ballet’s history of touring the United States, participating in the “International Glasnost Festivals” alongside other world renowned ballerinas in the eighties. The festivals, created by Akiva Talmi founder and producer of Talmi Entertainment, brought top notch Russian ballet artists to North American for the first time in decades. Kurova is currently a teacher, choreographer and founder of the International Ballet Gala, International Ballet Summer Program and JK Ballet Master Program.
Olga Kifyak premiered on Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker tour in 2012 as a Principal Ballerina. She started dancing at age 12, a late start considering that most ballerinas who rise to stardom start dancing closer to age 5. She studied at the Ukrainian Academy of Dance in Kiev and graduated with honors from the International Slavic University. Her teachers and tutors were some of the most highly regarded Ballet Masters of the time and include: Filipeva, Pryadchenko, Kalchenko, and Beletskaya. Upon graduating, she was invited to join the prestigious Ukrainian National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in 2001. On her first tour with Moscow Ballet Kifyak, along with partner Viktor Scherbakov, was invited to perform and speak to press at the National Press Club building in Washington DC.
Acro-ballet star Elena Petrichenko is part of the beloved duo alongside husband and dance partner, Sergey Chumakov, in performances of the Great Russian Nutcracker. Elena is a graduate of the State Academic Choreography Institute in Perm, regarded as the 3rd best ballet school in the world only after the Bolshoi and Mariinsky. Before she was performing seemingly gravity-defying acrobatics, she danced the Principal role of Masha(Clara) during the inaugural 1994 North American tour of the Great Russian Nutcracker. She, in partnership with Chumakov, created the stunning choreography for Moscow Ballet’s Dove of Peace role, exclusive to Moscow Ballet and performed at the opening of Act II.