Common Goddess

Life and fate of the great Russian ballerina

January 8, 2020 marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Galina Ulanova, the legendary Russian ballerina. She embodied the best traditions of Russian classical ballet in the dance, becoming its soul and symbol, and, like no one else, with all her creative personality she was able to show the beauty of simple human feelings.

I Didn’t Want To Dance

If you are born in a family with choreographic traditions does not always determine the desire of the child to follow in the footsteps of parents. From early childhood, little Galya Ulanova knew how much ovation was worth: her mother had been a classical dancer, and later a well-known teacher. Her father was a ballet actor and director. Galina’s sicknesses, isolation and incredible shyness cast doubt on the possibility of success on stage. Nevertheless, in 1919, the Ulanovs decided to send their only daughter to Leningrad Choreographic School, relying on musical receptivity, good ear for music and flexibility of the child. Despite the fact that her mother, Maria Romanova, became the first teacher of Ulanova, several months of study passed in tears, “No, I did not want to dance. It’s not easy to fall in love with something that is so difficult. And it has always been difficult, it’s the same for everyone in our profession … “

In her last four years in school Ulanova was taught by the legendary Agrippina Vaganova, who selected the most talented students to her class. But talent is not always enough to become one of the best, “I must … This formula had settled in my mind much earlier than the desire for creativity and the desire to play and dance on the ballet stage.”

In 1928, young Ulanova finished the school, dancing Sylphide in “Chopeniana” at her final graduation performance, thereafter she was accepted into the ballet troupe of the Leningrad State Opera and Ballet Theater (now the Mariinsky Theater).

Big Stage

Galina Ulanova made her debut on a theater stage on October 21, 1928 as Florina in “Sleeping Beauty” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Critics warmly received the young ballerina in the production beautifully choreographed by Marius Petipa. According to Galina, the first performances did not bring any delight but fear, anxiety and fear of the audience. However, Fyodor Lopukhov, the head of the ballet troupe of the theater, was not afraid to let inexperienced performers onto the stage. In early 1929 Ulanova was entrusted with one of the most difficult parties in the ballet repertoire — Odette-Odile from “Swan Lake” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Lopukhov was not mistaken — her Odette-Odile improved from performance to performance, revealing the nature of Galina Ulanova’s talent.

The ballet “Giselle” by Adolphe Adam has a special place in the art of Galina Ulanova. This role was intended for another ballerina, but Ulanova, who had never seen Giselle in the performance of famous Anna Pavlova and Tamara Krasavina, had to trust her intuition and work independently on creating the character. By the time Giselle was released (in 1932), Konstantin Sergeyev became an invariable dance partner of Ulanova. The peak of their mutual work was “Romeo and Juliet” ballet to the music of Sergei Prokofiev. The production was difficult, the theater had doubts and disputes: is it possible to convey Shakespeare in the language of choreography? The premiere took place in 1940 and, according to critics, since then, Juliette danced by Ulanova was unsurpassed by anyone not even on regular theater stage: Galina Ulanova danced love and fought for it in her unique dance.

Since 1944, Ulanova began performing on the Bolshoi Theater stage. By that time, she had become the darling of the whole country, and yet there was nobody more hardworking, modest and responsible in the Bolshoi.

“Soul Is A Flight …”

Galina Ulanova always went on stage quietly, as if she was being already in the world she had created. In her dance there was neither self-­affirmation nor exaggeration in facial expressions and pantomime. Ulanova succeeded in what all dancers have been striving for for centuries: to bring ballet art closer to life, to convey to the viewer the whole palette of human feelings. Looking at Ulanova’s dance, one could always distinguish when she “speaks” and when she is “silent.” According to critics, this feature of her dance style was related to the fact that the actress perceived the ballet part not as a combination of separate compositions, but as a single role, with the development of plastic monologues, cues and dialogues. In Ulanova’s dance, even the simplest gesture took on a special meaning. The ballerina tried not to allow a single blurred movement, striving for absolute completeness of each minor stroke in the choreographic drawing. Her gestures were not just perfect in their beauty, they reflected the inner world that Ulanova lived on stage at the present moment. Nature awarded Galina a unique individuality and femininity. It was from the nature that the Russian ballerina was drawing an inspiration, trying to express the beauty of life by the beauty of the dance.

World Recognition

The world got to know Galina Ulanova when she was already over forty years old. The first major foreign tour took place in 1956 to London. The Bolshoi Theater brought its most famous productions to Covent Garden. They worried mostly about “Romeo and Juliet”: how will the play be accepted in Shakespeare’s homeland when the role of Juliet is played by a forty-six-year-old ballerina, even though the most titled in her country? After the first act, silence had reigned for a while, and then a burst of applause followed and the audience stood up. After the performance, the audience did not let Ulanova go for over half an hour. People crowded around the stage, cried, threw flowers. It was a real triumph — Russian classical ballet and ballerina, personifying it. The triumph of the human spirit: Galina Ulanova had only four years to dance.

Paris saw Ulanova in 1958, she danced Giselle on the stage of the Paris Opera, where this ballet had been created. The ballerina then returned to the French capital several times. In 1981, as part of a gala evening organized by UNESCO, the ballet “In Honor of Ulanova”, choreographed by her student Vladimir Vasiliev, was premiered. In the fifties and sixties, Ulanova traveled all over the world, and in 1984, there was a sculpture set up in her honor in front of the Museum of Dance in Stockholm — a gift from the USSR Ministry of Culture to the Swedish capital.


On December 29, 1960 Galina Ulanova said goodbye to the audience, dancing her last ballet. Curiously it was “Chopeniana” — the great ballerina began and ended her career with the same ballet.

Ulanova retired from the stage, but did not leave the Bolshoi Theater. She devoted herself to the students, raising a whole galaxy of famous ballet dancers. There is a bit of work, soul and talent of Galina Ulanova in the success of each of them. She also worked with principal dancers of the Paris Grand Opera, the Hamburg Ballett, the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Australian Ballet, and ballet dancers in Japan.

In 2004, the Apartment-Museum of Galina Ulanova was opened in Moscow (a branch of the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum).

According to Oksana Karnovich, the head of the museum, the work of Galina Ulanova is still of great interest to ballet fans: “Unfortunately, as a result of flooding, the museum was closed for one year. Thanks to the assistance of the Roman Abramovich Foundation, repair work have been carried out and visitors can again touch on the legacy of the great ballerina, find those moral guidelines that Ulanova personified in life and on stage. ”

“An ordinary goddess,” would later say Alexey Tolstoy, Russian writer, about Ulanova. “I’m not great at all, it just happened — life and destiny. I am an ordinary person and I want to remain myself. ”

D.Serzhenko. Photo by Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum