Sofia Golovkina: "There Is No Such Thing as a Ballerina Without Character"

Sofia Golovkina: "There Is No Such Thing as a Ballerina Without Character"

Her way was long and eventful - from a brilliant debutante ballerina to a rector and teacher with many great achievements.  

A ballerina of original genius

Sofia Golovkina was born in Moscow on October 13, 1915. Her parents had nothing to do with ballet and theater: her mother was a weaver and her father worked at the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute. The girl wanted to study classical dance, so her mom took her to the Bolshoi Ballet School. Sofia proved to be the strongest student on her course. Golovkina graduated with honors from the class of Alexander Ivanovich Chekrygin, a representative of the St. Petersburg Ballet School. 

After graduating from the Moscow Choreographic School in 1933, Golovkina found herself on stage of the Bolshoi Theater, where a soloist career awaited her. Two years later, the ballerina performed the roles of Lise in the classic production of La Fille mal gardée (The Wayward Daughter) and the Classical Dancer in The Bright Stream to the music by Shostakovich. Sofia Golovkina’s first husband was the famous Soviet choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov: it was he who brought the ballet The Bright Stream to the Bolshoi stage. 

In a couple of years, the first roles were followed by the star ones: Raymonda, Princess Aurora and Odette-Odile. The ballerina was called the “fouetté queen”: she could do 100 rounds on one spot. There was a joke circulating among journalists - Golovkins’s contemporaries that she performed fouettés on a postage stamp. 

Her perfect technique and bright originality made the ballerina unforgettable in heroic roles; comedy parts were her another favorite specialty.  

An educator and leader

In 1959, Sofia Nikolaevna began a new stage in her career - teaching. As a teacher of the Moscow Academic Choreographic School, Golovkina raised several generations of ballerinas. Among her students were Natalia Bessmertnova, Nina Sorokina, Marina Leonova, Alla Mikhalchenko and others. 

She successfully combined her pedagogical activities with administrative work: for over 40 years, from 1960 to 2001, Sofia Golovkina was the director of the Moscow Choreographic School. During these decades, the school became an institute (1987) and then an academy (1995). 

Sofia Nikolaevna insisted that the capital's choreographic educational institution needed a new building. And in 1967, they moved to a new home with twenty rehearsal rooms and their own stage for training performances. Since then, 600 students got a chance to study here at the same time, and novice artists from all over the country tried to enter the Moscow choreographic school. 

A ballet dancer Nikolai Tsiskaridze wrote about Sofia Nikolaevna as follows: 

“She was greatly respected and feared. Discipline, order, schedule - everything in the school under Golovkina was first class. The cleanliness around the building - and I’ve lived all my life with my windows facing the school - was exemplary.”

A ballet theorist and practitioner

Sofia Golovkina's contribution to the development of world ballet is impressive. With her support, in 1989, the Institute of Russian Ballet was opened in Tokyo, a year later - it was followed by the Summer Ballet School in Vail (Colorado, USA), and in 1997 - by the Ballet School in Istanbul. In all these institutions, Moscow choreographers taught dance art and staged concert programs. 

The educational institution, headed by Golovkina, was also open to world ballet stars. Leonide Massine, Jerome Robbins, Maurice Béjart conducted master classes here; artists from the New York City Ballet and the Grand Opera performed. 

Golovkina captured important aspects of her teaching method in the educational films "Fundamentals of Classical Dance" and "Stage Practice".

Golovkina's granddaughter, choreographer Sofya Gaydukova, once shared:

“She looked like an English queen, and there were a lot of rituals in her relationships. I was often embarrassed when communicating with her and I didn’t ask about many things.”  

Sofia Golovkina died on February 17, 2004, in Moscow at the age of 89. In her life full of events and achievements, there were many triumphs but there were hardships too. Golovkina lived through the war together with the theater and only years later told her students how, after the performances, she and other artists used to climb up to the roof of the Bolshoi to catch incendiary bombs and throw them into boxes of sand.  

But the main thing, according to the ballerina Maria Alexandrova, is that Sofia Nikolaevna Golovkina knew how to create a “ballerina” character, and “there is no such thing as a ballerina without character.”