25 unique PHOTOS of Soviet ballet

Alexander Steshanov/MAMM/MDF
Performances, rehearsals, tours — we plunge into the incredible world of ballet, the calling card of the USSR.

In Soviet times, the elite art of ballet went mainstream. It was often shown on TV, even when ballet was the last thing on people’s minds. The most famous case is the screening of Swan Lake during the August 1991 coup, when communist hardliners attempted to seize power.

And yet, the Soviet public simply adored ballet, shedding countless tears over that same Swan Lake. Audiences were dazzled by the spectacular scenery, the flamboyant costumes and, of course, the inimitable artistry. Ballet was also one of the country’s main exports, a kind of calling card of the 'Land of the Soviets'. It was mostly ballet companies that toured on the other side of the Iron Curtain — partly for language reasons, but mainly for their sheer brilliance. At the same time, opera and ballet theaters sprang up all across the USSR.

It was many a young girl’s dream to enter ballet school and become a famous prima donna; the requirements and conditions, however, were punishing in the extreme. It was due to this ruthless, Darwinian selection process that Soviet ballerinas became so proficient and legendary. Meanwhile, the choreography created by Soviet ballet masters is still used in the main theaters of Russia.

1. The 'Art of Movement' avant-garde group attempted to reform ballet

2. Ballerina Galina Ulanova dressed as a Komsomol member in Dmitry Shostakovich’s ballet The Golden Age, 1930

3. Experimental composition by artists of the Taras Shevchenko Kiev Opera and Ballet Theater, 1931

4. Even during the war, ballet continued. The evacuated Bolshoi Theater performs, 1941

5. Galina Ulanova in Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, staged by the Bolshoi Theater, 1946

6. Rehearsal of the first children’s ballet Aistenok [The Stork], 1948

7. Elena Vanke in Léo Delibes’ ballet Coppélia at the Bolshoi Theater, 1949

8. Ballerinas posing backstage in costumes from Coppélia, 1949

9. Maya Plisetskaya as Odile, 1949

10. Scene from Reingold Glière’s ballet The Bronze Horseman at the Bolshoi Theater, 1949

11. The China-themed ballet The Red Poppy. (The words on the ship read “Russian trade unions for Chinese workers”), 1940s

12. A scene from Swan Lake. Bolshoi Theater, 1950s

13. Bolshoi Theater Ballet School, 1950s

14. Swan Lake performed by the Novosibirsk State Opera and Ballet Theater, 1955

15. Friendship of peoples in ballet: Gayane by Aram Khachaturian on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater, 1950s

16. Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian, staged by Igor Moiseev, 1958

17. Pioneers perform 'The Dance of the Cygnets' at a ceremony to see off workers to the virgin lands, 1958

18. The famous ballerina Maya Plisetskaya in Swan Lake, 1960s

19. Maya Plisetskaya as Kitri in the Bolshoi Theater’s ballet Don Quixote, 1964

20. In rehearsal class, 1971

21. Complex holds need to be rehearsed in a tutu, 1971

22. Maris Liepa and Marina Kondratyeva in a scene from Spartacus, 1976

23. A scene from Swan Lake, 1980s

24. Behind the scenes at the Bolshoi, 1983

25. In the dressing room of the Voronezh Opera and Ballet Theater: a ballerina repairs her costume and reads the newspaper Izvestia, 1984

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