5 Memoirs of Russian Ballerinas

5 Memoirs of Russian Ballerinas

There are hundreds of books written about the stars of Russian ballet, but only a few are from the first person. Let's talk about the most iconic memoirs of ballerinas.

Tamara Karsavina, Theatre Street. The Reminiscences

In her memoirs, the prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater Tamara Karsavina lively and warmly tells the story of her transformation from a diligent student of the Imperial Ballet School into a world star. In this book, there are neither dirty details nor intrigues that are often attributed to the world of ballet. The ballerina remembers with gratitude her teachers and the dance industry colleagues: Pavel Gerdt, Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky and many others. In great detail, Karsavina describes her childhood in a ballet family, her years in school - a passion for continuous self-improvement was manifested in the aspiring dancer even back then. The period of the ballerina's tours with Diaghilev's company allows the reader to see the famous enterprise from within and experience the moments of professional triumph together with the heroine.  

Shulamith Messerer, Shulamith. Fragments of Memories

The Bolshoi Theater soloist and ballet teacher Shulamith Messerer finished her memoirs at the age of 92, 80 of which she dedicated to ballet. The book tells the reader about childhood in a Jewish family, about becoming a professional, about work with the Bolshoi and with the best theaters abroad, about meetings with George Balanchine, Mathilde Kschessinska and the famous ballet teacher Ninette de Valois. The ballerina talks frankly about the difficult lot of ballet dancers under the Soviet regime, about raising her niece - Maya Plisetskaya, the daughter of her purged sister and the future prima ballerina. It is not without sadness that Messerer mentions the lost ballet traditions. There were many turning points in the life of Shulamith Mikhailovna, because of or thanks to which she found herself first in Japan, where she taught the Tokyo Ballet company, then in Great Britain, where she became a teacher-repetiteur at the Covent Garden Theater. 

Tatiana Vecheslova, I am a Ballerina

A prima ballerina of the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theater named after Kirov (now the Mariinsky Theater), Tatiana Vecheslova wrote a memoir full of love and gratitude for the profession. After 25 happy years on the St. Petersburg stage, the ballerina devoted herself to teaching ballet in her native theater. An appeal to young dancers is clearly read in her book — Vecheslova shares her experience, as if instructing and inspiring novice artists between the lines. In her book, the ballerina said many words of gratitude to the teachers, including Agrippina Vaganova. But most of the pages are devoted to the legendary prima ballerina Galina Ulanova, with whom Vecheslova was connected not only by work but also by great friendship. 

Maya Plisetskaya, I, Maya Plisetskaya, Thirteen Years Later

The great prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater Maya Plisetskaya wrote two books of memoirs during her lifetime: I, Maya Plisetskaya and Thirteen Years Later. Subsequently, they were united under the title Reading My Life... The talented ballerina turned out to be no less talented with words - her memoirs were a great commercial success immediately. Plisetskaya was shining on stage almost all her life, which allowed her to describe an entire ballet era, albeit in a rather accusatory manner. The prima ballerina appears to the reader as absolutely intolerant of the weaknesses of others and lashing back at spiteful critics all her life - the seamy side of ballet in its purest form. The ballerina also denounces the Soviet regime, which made her practically an orphan. However, in her narration, there is a place for words of love for her husband and composer — Rodion Shchedrin, as well as for expressing recognition to some of the industry colleagues. 

Ekaterina Maximova, Madame ‘No’

A prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater, Ekaterina Maximova was a favorite of the audience. Charming but reserved and silent, she was expressing all her deep feelings with dancing rather than words, so the ballerina's book became a real gift for her many fans. Already a recognized dancer, Maximova continued second-guessing herself and often refused job offers - hence the name of the memoir. The ballerina talks a lot about her colleagues, reasons about the fate of a creative person in Soviet times. Her personality also manifests itself through warm attitude towards people. Maximova writes a lot and enthusiastically about the talent of Maya Plisetskaya, who, as we know, reciprocated her feelings. Delicately and reverently, Ekaterina Sergeevna shares her personal stuff - the book contains many photographs from the family archive and warm words addressed to her husband and partner Vladimir Vasiliev.