The Ballet Master.

The Ballet Master.

A look into the Tour de Force Life of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev.

Pyotr Gusev as “Asak” and Olga Mungalova as “Solveig” as the original performers in the ballet “Ice Maiden” choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov to music by Edvard Grieg (c. 1927)

It seems an overwhelming task to write about the unique individual whom I have studied for almost a month, a personage who is revered as a supreme authority in the high art of classical dance.

So maybe I should start out by writing about how his students and colleagues felt about him.

Pyotr Gusev as “Boris”and Tatiana Vecheslova as “Olga” in Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Bolt (1931) with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov

Contact with him would leave a mark in the soul, in the brain.

— Celebrated Mariinsky Theatre Principal Nonna Yastrebova

Ninel Aleksandrovna Petrova (born 1924)

Our generation was very lucky, because in the very beginning of our creative journey we met such a person.  It is to him we owe our accomplishment… we worked with spirit, if only to earn his approval.

— Distinguished Mariinsky Theatre Principal Ninel Petrova

Askold Anatolievich Makarov (1925–2000)

His critique was always targeted, precise. No extensive lectures.  He had the ability to draw out of a person that, which was inherent within…

Nona Borisovna Yastrebova (1923-2012)

… This entire group (of famous dancers):  Ninel Petrova, Askold Makarov, Inna Zubkovskaya, Olga Moiseeva, Alla Osipenko – Pyotr Andreyevich made us all…

— Nonna Yastrebova

Yes, my research project into this exceptionally accomplished dancer, teacher, choreographer, artistic director and writer has taken me awhile… not only because of my translation process from Russian to English… but just to wrap my head around the sheer number of accolades garnered by this individual… to metabolize that this person has literally molded the greats of the greats, among his students the famous choreographer Leonid Yakobson and outstanding dancer Aleksey Yermolayev… and that his school buddy and close friend was none other than George Balanchine.

George Balanchine born Georgiy Melitonovich Balanchivadze (1904 –1983)
Ninel Petrova

But unless you really seep into the depth of this person’s being, unless you really look into “the man behind the mask”, so to speak, he’s just a great, faraway star, someone you can never reach.

In fact, you find out it’s quite the contrary when you begin to explore the life of Pyotr Andreyevich.

Ballet great Ninel Petrova recounts a tender experience with her beloved mentor:

“Not long before the departure (of Gusev) we were at his apartment on Rossi Street. There were blini (Russian style crepes), a wonderful meal, and it was very simple and easy for us.  He possessed an incredible talent – he was able to be as an equal.”

So let’s take a closer look at the portrait of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev, a surprisingly approachable man who lived an extraordinary life and left us an extraordinary legacy.

Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev really does have a remarkable fate in terms of his education and life trajectory from early on — it’s as if he was made for his great role.

It is a rare bird who gets to study from the get-go at a private school with a famous ballerina of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, who then brings him into the St. Petersburg ballet school, where he clearly emerges as not only a talented dancer, but a gifted teacher, conducting practice classes with the younger students during his senior years at the school.

Gusev’s famous teacher, Mariinsky Theatre ballerina Olga Preobrajenska (1871–1962)


As an older student at the St. Petersburg ballet school, Gusev coached his junior peers including future choreographers Leonid Yakobson and Rostislav Zakharov as well as the future outstanding dancer Aleksey Yermolayev, who even upon becoming the premiere of the Bolshoi Theatre, continued to study with Gusev.

Galina Ulanova

He goes on to become the principal dancer with two of the world’s top-ranking theatres, dancing with partners Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya, legends in their own right, and later becomes a teacher, choreographer and artistic director of the biggest world-known ballet institutions in his country.  If that isn’t enough, he travels to China to organize a ballet company in Peking and choreographic schools in Shanghai and Canton, pioneering the integration of classical ballet with Chinese classical dance.

Maya Plisetskaya

Here I must interject, because it is impossible to go on talking about Gusev without the inclusion of the historical figure Fyodor Vasilievich Lopukhov.

Spanning the majority of his career, Pyotr Gusev sustains a rare collaborative partnership with the famous Soviet-era choreographer Lopukhov, initially dancing break-out roles in his concept-themed experimental productions, and eventually joining forces with his visionary friend to head up the Mikhailovsky (Maly Theatre) where the two continue to up their game by staging societally risqué productions, taking their creative alliance to the next level.

Fyodor Vasilievich Lopukhov
Pyotr Gusev as head ballet master at Novosibirsk Theater (circa late 1960's)

Down the road, Gusev is invited to stage productions as chief ballet-master at the premiere ballet companies of Stanislavski and Novosibirsk Theatres as well as the aforementioned Mikhailovsky. He also becomes head of the unique Leonid Yakobson Ballet Theater.

Next in his repertoire, Gusev is appointed head of the ballet-master department at the Leningrad Conservatory eventually becoming a professor there.

Along the way he pens a number of poignant scholarly articles dedicated to questions about ballet and preserving the legacy of classical dance.

Believe it or not, this is the short version of the man’s resume.

But in all his achievements, three things
really stand out revealing the secret behind his ultimate value and contribution, making this article worthy of writing… and reading 🙂

An astonishing level of organization.

“He had everything remarkably organized.  Everyone always came prepared to the rehearsals – he was a great authority for us…”

— Ninel Petrova

Perhaps Gusev’s organizational talent had its first visible debut in 1923 via the Young Ballet project which he created with his school friend Georgi Balanchivadze, better known as Balanchine, and several other academy peers who would become future notables. The Young Ballet project was a series of evenings mostly showcasing performances staged by Balanchine, and attracted enthusiasts and young dancers including the acrobatically inclined Olga Mungalova, who would become Pyotr’s irreplaceable partner for many years to come.

Olga Mungalova with Pyotr Gusev in George Balanchine’s choreographic samples at Petrograd Training Ballet Theatre Academy (Petrograd, 1923)

To organize such a project is no ordinary endeavor. It takes a sharp, focused mind with an unobstructed vision of what you want and the ability to harness it.

It equally demands the kind of broad-mindedness that is driven to create beauty on a grander than personal scale.  Because it is about bringing talents together and seeing them shine as a group.

But that’s not all.  This skill-set must be accompanied by the ability to draw out the best in people, which means to see the best in people.

And this brings us to the next discernible trait of Pyotr Gusev.

A gift to see and draw out talent.

To see the best in people means to see the often less noticeable traits and latent potentials tucked beneath our outermost layers.  And in this respect, Gusev went above and beyond.

“He was able to see talents, with an exceptional ability to grow them,”  as prominent writer D. Truskinovskaya puts it.

Former head of Novosibirsk Ballet and Philharmonic, Alexander Savin recalls:

“Gusev had a god-given talent, to see the potentials of a ballet master in a dancer.”

Savin goes on to say that this is in fact, how world famous ballet figures Oleg Vinogradov and Nikita Dolgushin got their start:

“… he [Gusev] initiated Oleg Vinogradov into producing “Swan Lake” and practically convinced Nikita Dolgushin to start staging his first big works: “Cinderella” and “Romeo and Juliet”.

Oleg Vinogradov
Nikita Dolgushin

From the composite of sources describing his life and career – the two being literally fused – it becomes apparent that Pyotr Gusev’s creative drive was fueled through his work with young dance professionals.

“He always helped young people…” an article quotes ballerina Ninel Petrova’s recollection of Gusev.

“Gusev’s style of work was in his work with the dancers… He encouraged artists to try out for different roles, secured a ballet coach… [and] send them out onto the stage,” contributes Alexander Savin.

“Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev had a principle, from which he even suffered – he promoted the young…” remembers his student and colleague, ballerina Nonna Yastrebova.

Yastrebova further reveals:

His life was not at all easy… Pyotr Andreyevich had very big problems.  He was in fact removed… he left Petersburg. And because of what? Because, he put us, the youth, into productions.  We suffered for him very much. But it was impossible to shove us back.

A part of an earlier quote by ballet principal Ninel Petrova bears repeating in appreciation of his gift:

Our generation was very lucky, because, in the very beginning of our creative journey we met such a person.  It is to him we owe our accomplishment. Pyotr Andreyevich – an incredible leader, dance coach, teacher…

Nonna Yastrebova as the Autumn Fairy in Cinderella (Kirov Ballet, 1940′s)

If Pyotr Gusev was the sculptor of human talent, then these young dancers were the perfect medium for the molding and shaping of its expression.

“King of Partnering”.

Pyotr Gusev with Olga Mungalova in George Balanchine’s choreographic samples at Petrograd Training Ballet Theatre Academy (Petrograd, 1923).

Gusev had a remarkable quality that garnered him the famous title “king of partnering.”

“This artist… contributed a huge amount to the development of partner dance,” writes D. Truskinovskaya, “…and even today not many artists can repeat his almost acrobatic stunts.”

Nonna Yastrebova contributes excitedly:

The way Pyotr Andreyevich lifted you, no one could lift a partner.  No one!

What Lepeshinskaya (renowned Bolshoi ballerina) did in the famous “Moszkowski Waltz”?  She ran to him for the ‘fish dive lift’, holding her arms in back of her and… jumped!  And he caught her. He could catch from any position…

Freeze frame from the famous Moszkowski Waltz performed by Pyotr Gusev and Olga Lepeshinskaya for Bolshoi Ballet (circa 1940)
Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt was the Premier Danseur Noble of the Imperial Ballet, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, and the Mariinsky Theatre with a 56-year tenure (debuting in 1860, and retiring in 1916)

Yastrebova goes on to gives an almost humorous, historical context to the significance of Pyotr Gusev’s partnering know-how:

Earlier, such a thing didn’t exist. Pavel Andreyevich Gerdt (the best dance partner of the imperial theatre era – “News” source) walked next to, some held by the hand, and if he circled around – this was already very good. But to push one up (high), double ‘fish’ lift down – this only Gusev could do.

Frankly, the real value lies not in his “stunts”, but what enabled Pyotr Gusev to impeccably perform the never-before seen feats. We can certainly get a clue as to what it is from exalted Mariinsky Theatre prima Tatyana M. Vecheslova’s quote:

Gusev was glorified as an outstanding partner, “king of partnering”… the  real virtuosity was that Gusev never clung to his partner. Performing the most difficult combinations, he barely touched her.  This created a feeling of lightness, ease. His technique, developed to the level of excellence, giving the dance an [exceptional] mood.


Pyotr Gusev and Olga Mungalova in Alexander Serov’s Opera “Judith” Dance of the Egyptian acrobats with choreography by Fyodor Lopukhov (1925)

What does this clue to Gusev’s rare aptitude imply?

Apart from the caliber of preparation required from a professional on this level – a given – this picture clearly denotes Gusev’s ability to genuinely CONNECT with his partner, to feel and gauge the mood, energy and character with whom he was dancing.

In fact, you can see the element of CONNECTION running through all the facets of Pyotr Andreyevich:

Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev with influential ballet educator Alisa Vasilevna Nikiforov at Novosibirsk Theatre (circa late 1960's)

… through the impressive synergy in the wiring of his brain allowing for genius in organization

… through his uncanny insight into the ability of others

… through his flair to bring talents together into a collaborative unit

… through his power to sear knowledge into the mind and heart of those he worked with

… through his piecing together of prior works with meticulous attention and methodical re-staging technique

… through his versatility in staging numerous and multifaceted ballets ranging from classic revivals to avant-garde abstractions

… through his capacity to bring the elite world of ballet to a greater audience, giving us insider access to privileged information through his earnest, concise and encompassing writing on the subject.

All these things – the ability to envision, construct, order, relay, transform – are based on CONNECTION…  a connection of qualities that Pyotr Gusev possessed within himself.

Ultimately, Pyotr Gusev was able to inspire the formation of personality in others.  He had the gift to grow Identity. Really, he was just passing onto others what he himself already had.

And in all likelihood the framework of classical ballet is what fostered this phenomenon.

“Seven Beauties” to music of Gara Garayev, staged by Pyotr Gusev at the Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1952, and in Leningrad’s Kirov Theatre in 1953
Gusev teaching in Peking (circa 1960)

Ballet is a uniquely powerful instrument proven to develop the integrity of the mind-body unit as one, promoting the functions of focus, orderliness and adaptability, bolstering mental acuity, confidence and very importantly the ability to connect with others.

Connection with others comes through connection with yourself… which in turns comes through connection with your own innate qualities.

This is what it means to have Identity… to “Know Thyself” as the famous aphorism goes.

And this is what ballet can help to bring out in us… the innate capacities already living within.

To know thyself is to have everything and Pyotr Gusev’s life is an exemplary portrait of this.  Through this point of view, he’s not just a dusty old figure in the annals of ballet history, but he comes to life as the ignitor of the great potential in all of us.

The creative offspring of Pyotr Andreyevich Gusev.

Perhaps one of Gusev’s most devoted students, Aleksey Yermolayev went on to pass the torch of his knowledge to the next generation of greats including the supreme Bolshoi principal and ballet master Mikhail Lavrovsky and famed Bolshoi dancer Vladimir Vasiliev, named “God of the dance” by Fyodor Lopukhov.

But don’t take my word for it!  Here’s an excerpt describing the rehearsal image from its contributor, The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow:

In the 1960s, stars of world ballet and the best dancers of the Bolshoi, such as Mikhail Lavrovsky, Yuri Vladimirov, Maris Liepa, Boris Akimov, Alexander Godunov, and Vyacheslav Gordeev, all worked with Yermolaev. 

Vladimir Vasiliev was Yermolaev’s first student and his successor as a dancer.

Alexei Yermolaev rehearsing with his student Vladimir Vasiliev; photo by Leonid Zhdanov (1971)
Vladimir Vasiliev
Mikhail Lavrovsky
Mikhail Lavrovsky and Natalia Bessmertnova in “The Legend of Love” at the Bolshoi Theatre
Lali Kandelaki rehearsing “Romeo and Juliet” with Mikhail Lavrovsky at State Ballet of Georgia (2011)

Pyotr Gusev’s mentee Leonid Yacobson was instrumental in influencing and helping to shape the creative force of Boris Eifman, a pioneer of ballet exploration in his own right.

Boris Eifman, photo by Sasha Onyshchenko
Tableau of the “Gates of Hell” from Boris Eifman ballet “Rodin”; photo by Gene Schiavone

A good note to end on….  is that all this circles back to ‘lil ole me’ through my dear ballet friend Anna Korotysheva, a student of Inna Zubkovskaya, one of the members of Pyotr Gusev’s famous group of proteges.

til next time... be inspired to explore, expand and share your find!

Jewels of Mariinsky: Ludmila Komissarova

Jewels of Mariinsky: Ludmila Komissarova

Ludmila Nikolajevna Komissarova

The well-known photo shows the legendary ballet master doing a demo with the protégé-like student whose arms are raised in 3rd position (Russian school), all eyes on her in a group of soon to be greats like Irina Kolpakova (far right), who along with the others, stares enamored and with fascination.

When I asked our friend Anna Korotysheva about one of her main teachers at Vaganova Academy, Ludmila Nikolajevna Komissarova, my original intention was to fill a missing gap in Anna’s profile on our site The First Guild. After all, I had given due to her other notable teacher Inna Borisovna Zubkovskaya, whose biographical info was readily available on the web.

Actually, I knew nothing about Komissarova, I wasn’t even familiar with her name.

The first aha! moment came to me after repeatedly seeing the famous photo of Vaganova teaching her final graduation class in the spring of 1951, with all focus on a tall, graceful young woman in the center, and learning that her name was the very same as the one I had inserted into Anna’s profile.

famous photo of Agrippina Vaganova's final graduating class with Ludmila Komissarova in forefront with Vaganova

Now I wanted to know more about this mystery dancer. The catch was that apart from learning her name and seeing her image as a student of the great Agrippina Vaganova, there was no more, at least not that I could find.

When I finally pressed Anna for some info on her teacher, I was surprised to learn that Anna also came up close to empty, at first anyway.  Anna knew that her instructor danced with the Kirov (Mariinsky) corps de ballet being granted the occasional solo work, such as her role in Swan Lake’s “Dance of the Little Swans”, which is technically a pas de quatre (“step of four” in French).

As far as the archival reference material was concerned, there was next to nothing on this quiet member of the Kirov family.

Dance of the Cygnets, or “young swans” in Mariinsky Ballet’s 2012 staging of Swan Lake at University of California, Berkeley; photo by Gene Schiavone

I immediately realized I wanted to know what really mattered about this mystery figure in Mariinsky’s history.  So I asked Anna about the qualities and character of this individual, who after all, passed on to Anna the very foundation of the Vaganova method of classical dance.

It is said that asking the right question is everything, and bingo! — it certainly was the case here.  Now Anna could dig into the archives that really mattered – those of experience.

Anna says that… 

Ludmila Nikolajevna’s teaching style was so “pure & simple”

… and how this is of utmost importance for beginners who are learning “the exact classical basis of Vaganova methodology,” in Anna’s words.

Ludmila Nikolajevna teaching class with Anna in front
Ludmila Nikolajevna rehearsing students for what looks like the “Dance of the Little Swans” with Anna 3rd one in from front

“For sure, there was a strict discipline in the classroom,” Anna conveyed with a signature smiley face, in this case clearly denoting a smirk of regard for the strictness and orderliness of their educational system.  “All students respected, loved and listened to her.”

“Ludmila Nikolajevna was always objective and honest in the assessments, and she treated all students with the same care and love…” Anna recounted.

“… she was a really ‘teacher from God’.”

In traditional high-society, especially that of Europe, a great value is placed on modesty and containment in one’s character.  Anna proudly pointed out these qualities in her teacher, emphasizing that in all the photos of her…

“Ludmila Komissarova looks so elegant and in good manner.”

As the revered Kirov prima Irina Kolpakova once said in an interview:  “For the most part, it’s not innately characteristic for people to contain themselves, but this depends on one’s upbringing.”

Distinguished principal dancer of the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theatre, Irina Alexandrovna Kolpakova, who also served as a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 1974 to 1979

After providing the initial info on Komissarova, true to form, Anna was quick to gather up all the available and pertinent material she could find on her teacher’s career. And I learned a few things about ballet history I never would have without a probe into this hidden, yet vital figure within the world of elite classical dance.

It turns out that Ludmila Komissarova played a integral role in molding a generation, or two, of ballet dancers in the tradition of the extraordinary education she herself received from the very teacher who is the namesake of the highly distinguished Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.

The famous Rossi Street where Vaganova Academy is located.
Entrance to Vaganova Academy; photo by Jack Devant
close-up of plaque at Vaganova Academy entrance; original photo by Jack Devant

Now, in large part thanks to Anna, you get to share in the goods that I picked up in my research for this blog, so by all means … READ ON!!

Here is a 1956 photo of Ludmilla Nikolajevna (far right) in the “Dance of the Little Swans” also known as “Danse des Petits Cygnes” in its original French. The famous dance from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is performed in the ballet’s second act.

The opposite side of the photo (in Russian) reads:

1956, May. Pokrishkina, Koroteeva (second from left), Smirnova Ella, Komissarova.

notes on opposite side of "Dance of the Little Swans" photo
Ludmila Nikolajevna (far right) in “Dance of the Little Swans”

The Red Poppy

Anna told me this photo of Ludmilla Komissarova in Asian garb looks like the costume from “Dance of the Chinese Women, No. 21”  in the ballet production The Red Poppy, staged at the Kirov in 1958.

A not-so prominent production in today’s ballet repertoire, The Red Poppy is a rich piece of classical dance literature that I would likely not have stumbled upon without this blog project.

drawing of a scene from “The Red Poppy” on a Soviet postage stamp
Ludmilla Komissarova in costume for “The Red Poppy” (1958)

The Red Poppy, or The Red Flower as it has also been called to avoid the association with opium, is a Russian ballet in three acts and eight tableaus.  In case you were wondering, tableaus are large and striking stage pictures created by the formation of the artists to etch an important image of the ballet story into the mind of the audience.

This ballet was created in 1927 as the first Soviet ballet with a modern revolutionary theme, which you’ll see more on below.

The music arrangement was written by Reinhold Glière, a Russian-Ukrainian composer who is perhaps best known for the music to the most famous dance of this ballet called the “Russian Sailors Dance”.

The Red Poppy has known four main versions, with the original choreographed by Lev Lashchiline (1st and 3rd Acts) and the 2nd Act by Vasily Tikhomirov, a Bolshoi Ballet dancer turned choreographer, for whom this was the most distinguished production.

scene from the 1927 production of The Red Poppy
scene from Bolshoi Theatre staging of “The Red Poppy” in 1927

The first performance of the ballet took place on June 14, 1927 at the Bolshoi Theatre, which at the time being under Soviet rule was renamed “1st People’s State Theatre for Opera and Ballet”.

The Leningrad Theatre of Opera and Ballet staged an adapted version of The Red Poppy in 1929 in its home city of Leningrad, or today’s St. Petersburg, adding several dances to the production.  Better known as Kirov Ballet, the company performed the original version in 1949, and later in 1958.

Here’s the rundown of this revolutionary-themed Soviet ballet.

The story takes place in a 1920’s Chinese seaport, docking ships with sailors from many countries including the Soviet Union.  The Captain of the Soviet ship spots a group of starving, overworked labourers viciously driven to work even harder by the cruel dockyard master.

One night while performing for the sailors aboard the ship, the beautiful dancer Tao-Choa sees the Soviet Captain trying to rescue the poor laborers from the dockmaster.  Touched by the Captain’s act of kindness she gives him a red poppy as a symbol of her love.

Galina Ulanova as Tao-Choa and Sergei Koren as Lee Shan-Fu in The Red Poppy (1950); photo by Georgi Petrusov
the legendary Galina Ulanova as Tao-Choa, c.1949

When Tao-Choa’s jealous fiance, the adventurer Li-Chan-Fou finds out about this, he orders her to kill the Captain. Tao-Choa  refuses, and is ultimately killed during a violent brawl that breaks out on the dock, thus sacrificing her life for the Captain. As she dies, she gives another red poppy flower to a young Chinese girl as a sign of love and freedom.


Ludmila Komissarova in Spartacus c. 1956

Spartacus was written by the notable Russian-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian in 1954, a work for which he received a Lenin Prize in the same year.

Anna id’s this photo of Ludmila Komissarova from a dance in the 1st Act of Leonid Yakobson’s production of Spartacus staged at the Kirov Theatre in 1956 Leningrad (today St. Petersburg).

Since its debut over 60 years ago, the heroic story of Spartacus continues to challenge dancers in both artistry and athleticism, and impress audiences at ballet venues worldwide.

Aram Khachaturian

The first staging of Spartacus was presented in 1956 Leningrad, by the revolutionary choreographer Leonid Yakobson, whose signature unconventional style in this production involved the elimination of the classical dance en pointe.

The ballet later debuted at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow in 1958, but it was the the 1968 version choreographed by Yury Grigorovich for which the production received its greatest acclaim.

The renowned Bolshoi dancer Māris Liepa (1936-1989) named  “The Laurence Olivier of dance” by the ballet-critic Richard Buckle, is celebrated for his role as Crassus in Spartacus, a role to which he brought great acclaim through his fruitful collaboration with Yury Grigorovich.

Māris Liepa as Crassus in Yury Grigorovich's staging of Spartacus which Liepa performed from 1968 into 1970's

Taking considerable liberty with historical record, the storyline of this ballet takes us to the time of ancient Rome, where the Roman consul Crassus returns from his latest conquests with captives who include the Thracian* king Spartacus, along with his wife Phrygia.

*Thrace is a historical location in southeast Europe, an area which today is comprised of parts of Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Romania.

revival of Spartacus production at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre of Russia, c. 2011

Spartacus becomes part of the entertainment for Rome’s nobility forced to fight as a blindfolded gladiator.  When Spartacus unknowingly kills his friend in the arena, he is horrified by the act and prompted to instigate a rebellion with his fellow captives.

Spartacus and his men crash the orgy of Crassus, rescuing the women slaves and making their escape, but not for long.

Spartacus ballet at Cairo Opera House in 2016; photo by Bassam Al Zoghby
Spartacus ballet at Cairo Opera House in 2016; photo by Bassam Al Zoghby
final scene from Spartacus at Bolshoi Theater in 1968

Aegina, the courtesan of Crassus, soon discovers the camp of Spartacus and sends word to Crassus, who in turn sends his army to follow the runaway slaves.  Crassus’s forces discover Spartacus and spear him to death.  The Thracian king’s loyal followers retrieve his body and take it away while Phrygia is left to grieve her loss.

This is the formidable final scene from Yury Grigorovich’s staging of Spartacus where Phrygia inconsolably mourns her beloved raising her arms to the sky and appealing to the heavens that his memory live on forever.

The Stone Flower

Ludmila Nikolajevna (third one in from front) rehearsing The Stone Flower in 1956

This is a photo with Ludmilla Komissarova (third one in from front) rehearsing for The Stone Flower in 1956, staged by the famed choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, who received great acclaim for his work on this ballet production.

notes on back of rehearsal photo for The Stone Flower in 1956

The opposite side of the photo (in Russian) reads:

Rehearsal for “The Stone Flower” ~ 1956. Gemstones. At the rehearsal hall on Zodchego Rossi (street).

The line of dancers from lower to upper end: Milla Koroteeva, Regina Korobova, Lyuda Komissarova, Gorova Katya

This is another photo of Ludmilla Komissarova (first row on right) rehearsing for The Stone Flower … not sure what year this is.

The opposite side of the photo (in Russian) reads:

A look-through of “The Stone Flower”. Gemstones. At the rehearsal hall on street ЛГХУ  (the Russian acronym which stands for Leningrad State Choreographic Institute)

The source of this photo provides the names of the dancers as follows:

First row, left to right: Ludmila Koroteeva, unknown dancer, Ludmilla Komissarova

Second row, left to right: Regina Korobova, Ekaterina Gorova

Ludmila Nikolajevna (first row on right) rehearsing for The Stone Flower
notes on back of rehearsal photo for The Stone Flower
Russian writer Pavel Petrovich Bhazov (1879-1950)

The Stone Flower is a Russian ballet based on a tale from a book of folklore called The Malachite Box written by Russian writer Pavel Bazhov.  The ballet created on Bazhov’s book is the eighth and last work of the great composer Sergei Prokofiev, which premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1954, the year after Prokofiev’s passing.

More notably, the production premiered on April 22, 1957 at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad featuring a mix of classical dance with folk choreography staged by Yuri Grigorovich.

Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in New York, c. 1918
Bolshoi ballet dancer Vladimir Preobrazhensky in a scene from the The Stone Flower (1954)

The Tale of the Stone Flower as it is also called, takes place in the Ural Mountains of Russia where the region’s master stone cutter Danila, dreams of creating a malachite vase of unbeknownst beauty, embodying the essence of a living flower in stone. In order to do this, the craftsman must discover the mystery of stone.

In his quest, Danila is led to the realm ruled by the Queen of the Copper Mountain, who is the guardian of underground treasures and possesses the secret of the stone.

Talented Mariinsky Ballet principal Galina Mezentseva as Queen of the Copper Mountain in The Stone Flower (c. 1981)

The Queen draws Danila into her world showing him the magnificent wonders of stone, a dream come true before the craftsman’s very eyes.

1957 production of The Stone Flower staged by Yuri Grigorovich
modern staging of The Stone Flower at Mariinsky Theatre c. 2017

Though the Queen desires to keep the talented artisan for herself, she is won over by the courage and genuine love of Danila’s betrothed, Katerina, who comes searching for him after his vanishing.

The Queen releases Danila, who returns to the village with his beloved Katerina and the secret to creating beauty from stone.

Vladimir Vasiliev as Danila & Nina Timofeyeva as the Queen in Bolshoi Ballet’s staging of The Stone Flower c. 1959
modern-day staging of Mariinsky Theatre’s The Stone Flower with Anastasia Matvienko as the Queen and Maxim Zyuzin as Danila, c. 2016

Foundation of Identity

You may have guessed by now that this blog is not just about Ludmila Komissarova as a person, but as a representation of the strength of an educational system that teaches and guides in the formation of the most precious thing an individual can acquire: a sense of Identity.  Perhaps the ancient aphorism: Know Thyself should be inscribed into Vaganova’s emblem, but it is already there, inherently.

And so it is that Identity is the real prize of a Vaganova education, its graduates heralding their gift and constituting the living framework of an institution revered for producing artists of highest technical merit and unparalleled artistry.

Alongside this most important subject, I hope you’ve been at least slightly illuminated and inspired by a peek into the rich and timeless archetypal tapestry of the classical dance repertoire.

til next time!


Boys in 6th year at Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg practicing turns and jumps during a daily class on March 19, 2009; photo by James Hill for Contact Press Images /The New York Times
Girls in 8th year at Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, working on floor exercises and jumps during a daily class with teacher Irina Sitnikova on March 19, 2009; photo by James Hill for Contact Press Images /The New York Times