Prima Ballerinas of the Bolshoi Theater: the 20th Century, Chapter I

Prima Ballerinas of the Bolshoi Theater: the 20th Century, Chapter I

If, according to the viewers of that time, the Moscow prima ballerinas of the 19th century were behind those of St. Petersburg in their technique and artistry, then in the 20th century real stars of Russian ballet performed on stage of the Bolshoi Theater. 

Ekaterina Geltser

Ekaterina Geltser began her ballet career with the Bolshoi Theater in 1894. But from 1896 to 1898 she practiced and performed at the Mariinsky Theater, where she, a student of the Spanish choreographer Jose Mendez, managed to improve her skill level, that had already been high, thanks to her work with Johannson and Petipa. She returned to Moscow as the strongest ballerina. After the roles of Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and Raymonda in the ballet of the same name, Geltser became famous, which allowed the Moscow school to compete with the leading St. Petersburg school. Since 1910, the prima ballerina was taking part in Diaghilev's Russian Seasons, and after the revolution, when most of the ballet stars emigrated abroad, the 40-year-old Geltser practically took over the Bolshoi stage and performed until she was 60 that was inconceivable for a ballerina.

Marina Semyonova

Marina Semyonova, the first and favorite student of Vaganova, was admitted to the Bolshoi Theater company in 1930, after 4 years of successful work on the St. Petersburg stage. In the same year, the ballerina performed the main roles in La Bayadère, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and, for almost 20 years, remained one of the most famous and in demand ballet dancers. The audience called her "goddess", her dance was filigree - nothing extraneous, nothing accidental. She was the first performer of Masha in The Nutcracker directed by Vainonen and in many other Soviet versions of classical ballets. Semyonova received a personal invitation from the world ballet star Serge Lifar to be his partner in the Paris National Opera. In 1935-1936, the artists danced together Giselle and fragments from Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Chopiniana. 

Olga Lepeshinskaya

Olga Lepeshinskaya debuted on stage of the Bolshoi Theater when she was 10. At the age of 16, she danced the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker. In 1933, a gifted graduate of the ballet school, she was employed by the Theater as a soloist right away and performed the main role in A Vain Precaution. Success favored the young ballerina, she soon danced Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and a few years later received the part of Odette-Odile, but after performing it several times, she refused the role that was not close to her in spirit, which was unprecedented in the world of ballet. During the war, Olga Lepeshinskaya, who was already a renowned ballerina, became one of the first ballet dancers to perform at the front. After her selfless military tour, Zakharov staged the ballet Cinderella especially for the prima ballerina. She is considered the favorite ballerina of Stalin - for her cheerful, lively disposition and amplitude jumps, the leader called Lepeshinskaya "dragonfly". 

Galina Ulanova

The most titled ballerina of the USSR, the dancer with Mona Lisa smile - Galina Ulanova. She became the prima ballerina of the Bolshoi when she was already a star of the Mariinsky Theater. On the Moscow stage, Ulanova danced all the classics imaginable, she was the iconic Odette-Odile, and the culmination of her dramatic reincarnation was the scene of Giselle's madness in the ballet of the same name.

It was impossible to divide her dancing into technical and emotional components - every movement was flawless and soulful. There were legends about the perfectionism of the withdrawn ballerina, and they were not far from the truth - she spoke little and worked a lot, for which she was nicknamed "the great dumb". World fame came to 46-year-old Ulanova after her performance on the first tour of the Bolshoi Theater in London in 1956. 

Maya Plisetskaya

Maya Plisetskaya — an icon of Russian ballet, who raised the world ballet standards to a level unimaginable before her. In her youth, she idolized Ulanova and set the bar high for herself. Thanks to these qualities, she was not inferior to her idol in perfectionism and diligence. A graduate of the Moscow Choreographic School, she began to receive solo parts quickly, and after Ulanova had left the stage, it was Plisetskaya who became the first ballerina of the Bolshoi. After the role of Odette-Odile, her star status was finally established — they wrote about her, talked about her, imitated her both in ballet and in life. Her free arms and phenomenal pirouettes are considered exemplary throughout the world to this day. It was in the performance by Plisetskaya that the Dying Swan began to emerge from behind the curtains with its back to the audience, demonstrating the royal spread of its "wings".

In 1959, after touring the United States, the ballerina received worldwide recognition. Later, especially for Plisetskaya, Alberto Alonso staged Carmen Suite and Maurice Bejart created the ballet Isadora.