In 1948 public Britain produced a feature color film The Red Shoes about a ballet dancer. It is a “story within a story” movie. The outer story tells us about a talented young ballerina who joins a famous ballet company. She becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called The Red Shoes. The inner story shows us an amazing ballet loosely based on the fairy tale The Red Shoes by H.C. Andersen. As in a fairy tale, a young woman desires to have a pair of red shoes in a store window. The demonic shoemaker offers them to a woman and she accepts unknowingly. But there is a terrible price to pay for this possession.
Why do you need to see it? Many reasons. The Red Shoes led to other films that treated ballet seriously. Even today The Red Shoes is considered a classic ballet movie of British cinema. It has original ballet music, brilliant cinematography, particularly its use of color.
The film stars famous Scottish ballerina Moira Shearer, actors Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring. It also features renowned dancers from the ballet world Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine and Ludmilla Tchérina.
With the help of director Martin Scorsese The Red Shoes underwent a complete restoration. It took almost seven years but in the end the restoration work was completed. This restored version made its debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, followed soon after by a DVD and Blu-ray release as well as screenings at festivals around the world.
Anna Pavlova – one of the finest classical ballet dancers in history – liked to watch for hours the gracious swans in public parks. It so happened that one of her favorite poems was Alfred Tennyson’s The Dying Swan. Her friend Mikhail Fokine – the groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer was also a fan of this Tennyson’s masterpiece. So it turned out to be very easy for Allan to convince Mikhail to create a solo ballet for her based on her inspiration. Pavlova ambitiously wanted to perform for a 1905 concert being given by artists from the chorus of the Imperial Mariinsky Opera.
At his parties Fokine often played on a mandolin to a friend’s piano accompaniment Saint-Saëns’s cello solo, Le Cygne (The Swan). He offered this musical work as the basis for the short ballet and Pavlova agreed. During their collaboration they agreed that the short ballet would follow the last moments in the life of a swan. Only one rehearsal was arranged and the short dance completed very quickly.
The Dying Swan ballet was performed for the first time in 1905 in St.Petersburg and became a national and worldwide sensation overnight. Anna Pavlova loved it so much that she performed it over 4000 times throughout her life. It became her signature ballet. Anna was that good that the Dying Swan ballet heavily influenced modern interpretations of Odette in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake which was created much earlier in 1875. No wonder, that sometimes general audience mistakenly thinks that the Dying Swan is a part of the Swan Lake.
Lucky for us, there is an old tape made in 1925 where Anna Pavlova gracefully performs The Dying Swan. Famous ballerina was already 44 years and the video is not perfect, but the ballet dancing is still beautiful. I saw many interpretations and still think that this one is the best. By the way, the dot on Pavlova’s chest in the video symbolizes a fatal wound.
If you ever ask French people about Yvette Chauviré, they will tell you that she is France’s greatest ballerina ever lived. It is hard not to agree with them as Yvette’s brilliant ballet career spanned from 1937 to 1972. She was born in Paris in 1917 and celebrated her 90th birthday in 2007. For many years she was a true ballet start and prima ballerina at the Paris Opera Ballet. When she retired from dancing Yvette became its artistic director. Through her teaching new talented ballerinas are dancing in Paris Opera Ballet. Among them prima ballerina Sylvie Gulliem – one of the most prominent figures in the history of ballet.
French ballerina Yvette Chauviré performs the Dying Swan.
One of the greatest 20th Century ballerinas Galina Ulanova was born January 7, 1910 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Her mother, a ballerina of the Imperial Russian Ballet trained her in ballet dancing which Galina continued under tutelage of the legendary ballet teacher Agrippina Vaganova.
Ulanova joined the Mariinsky Theatre in 1928 and was immediately noticed by choreographers and audience that were enchanted by her acting style, grace and exceptional plasticity. In 1944 she became a principal dancer in the Bolshoi Theatre and worked there for the next 16 years reaching the highest status of the prima ballerina assoluta.
Bolsheviks lavishly showered her with prestigious titles and prizes. She was the only ballet dancer awarded as a Hero of Socialist Labor and the highest artistic national title of People’s Artist of the USSR. However, living behind the Iron Curtain, Ulanova was not allowed to travel abroad for many years. Only in the end of her dancing career they let her perform abroad when she was 46 years old.
But even at that age, she tremendously impressed Western ballet audience that named her the best individual dancer since Anna Pavlova. Four years later Galina Ulanova retired from the stage but she trained generations of new brilliant Russian dancers. She died in 1998 and her apartment was turned into a national museum. There are several monuments to Galina Ulanova erected in Saint Petersburg and Stockholm.
41 year old Galina Ulanova performs as Juliet at the ballet Romeo and Juliet.
Legendary ballerina Pearl Argyle was born in Johannesburg in 1910. she played an important part in the early years of British ballet. She made her debut in 1926 with Ballet Rambert. Then became ballerina with the Camargo Society. From 1935 to 1938 she was a principal dancer with Vic-Wells Ballet.
Pearl Argyle was an early muse to Frederick Ashton, leading international dancer and choreographer who created roles for her. In the thirties Pearl was so popular that she appeared not only on stage but also in films. She was noted for her outstanding beauty, her exquisite hands and arms.
In 1938 Pearl retired from ballet, married a film director and moved to America, where performed in several Broadway musicals. She had two children but died very young when she was only 36 years old.
Famous Bulgarian ballerina Sonia Arova was born in 1927. She started early ballet training at the Opera Ballet in Sofia and then continued the it in Paris under guidance of brilliant ballet teachers and dancers Olga Preobrajenska and Serge Lifar. At the beginning of the World War 2 she managed to escape Nazis and arrived in England where she joined the International Ballet in 1942.
As her amazing dancing skills got noticed her international fame rose. Sonia traveled all over the world performing as a principal dancer in the the Original Ballets Russes, the London Festival Ballet, the Royal Ballet, and the American Ballet Theatre. Ballet genius Rudolph Nureyev danced with Sonia at their American ballet debut.
In 1961 she headed the National Ballet of Norway as the artistic director and was so successful that later, in a ceremony at the United Nations, she was made a Lady by the Norwegian king Olaf V. Sonia co-directed the San Diego ballet and before retirement was an artistic director of the Alabama ballet while teaching at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. She died in 2001 of pancreatic cancer.
Born in Connecticut American prima ballerina Bridget Breiner started her ballet training at the BalletMet Dance Academy in Columbus, Ohio, and continued it at the Heinz Bosl Foundation in Munich. She became a corps de ballet dancer at the Bavarian State Ballet and worked there up to 1996 getting a promotion as a demi soloist ballerina.
Bridget excels at dramatic acting roles so when she joined the Stuttgart Ballet in the 1996 she was promoted to soloist and then to principal dancer in 2001. Since that time Bridget has been a muse to many choreographers including David Dawson, Douglas Lee, Mauro Bigonzetti and Christian Spuck. Recently Breiner successfully started working as a free-lance ballet choreographer.
Alina Cojocaru was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1981. When Alina was a kid she was studying gymnastics and never saw a live ballet. This all changed when she was sent to Bucharest Ballet School and several months later sent with eight other students to Kiev to participate in student exchange program.
At the age 16 Alina won a gold medal at a prestigious international ballet competition Prix de Lausanne. The medal came with another benefit – a six month scholarship at the Royal Ballet School in London.
After intense ballet training in London Alina Cojocaru made a decision to join the Kiev Ballet as a principal dancer. After one season she returned back to the Royal Ballet in London in 1999, and soon she got promoted there to the principal dancer in 2001.
Since that time she performed in many dramatic roles on stage including her Her famous ballet dancing as Giselle, alongside her partner in life and on stage Johan Kobborg. Her famous performance was recorded in 2006 and aired in England on Boxing Day.
Gudrun Bojesen became a principal dancer of the Royal Danish ballet in Copenhagen in 2001. Her career as a ballerina started in 1992 when she became an apprentice there after intense training at the Ballet School of the Royal Theatre in Denmark.
She was born in Denmark in 1976. Throughout her amazing career Gudrun danced in many leading roles and was been awarded a number of prestigious grants and prizes.
Gudrun Bojesen in Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano.
Anneli Elisabeth Alhanko Skoglund is one of a few chosen ballerinas in the world with the title Prima Ballerina Assoluta. She was in Bogota Columbia in 1953. For many years she was the leading ballerina in the Opera Ballet in Stockholm. After retirement from the stage Anneli taught and then became a founder of the elite dance school Base 23 in Stockholm which opened its doors to young ballerinas on January 2010. An interesting fact: she is an aunt to the actress Josephine Alhanko, the Miss Sweden 2006 titleholder.
Alhanko was a dance student at Operabaletten, The Opera Ballet in Stockholm, Sweden. She is one of the very few in the world with the title prima ballerina assoluta.
Anneli Alhanko is aunt to the actress Josephine Alhanko, the Miss Sweden 2006 titleholder.
Alhanko is also the founder of the dance school Base 23  which opened in Stockholm January 2010.
The highest rank that ever existed in ballet is Prima Ballerina Assoluta. It is rarely bestowed on the best of the best ballerinas for their exceptional talents and mastership. The rank itself was invented by famous French balletmaster Marius Petipa who headed for many years Russian Imperial Ballet. The idea came to Petipa when he studied the history of the early Romantic Ballet. So, he became the official father of this title when he awarded it to the famous Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani whom he considered a supreme danseuse of all Europe.
Legnani went through extensive training at famous La Scala where she developed her technical expertise. At the time when Petita awarded her with the title, Pierina was also performing on the stage of St Petersburg Imperial Ballet. She was the first Ballerina in the world to perform outstanding 32 fouettés en tournant during the performance of the ballet Cinderella.
Although Legnani danced only for 8 years at the Imperial Ballet, she left deep impression on the contemporaries who witnessed her strength, stamina, and technique. Even today 32 fouettes en tournant is still considered a very difficult step to do.
Famous prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenska was one of the most popular dancers in Russian Imperial Ballet. She earned her title in 1900, right in the beginning of the 20th century. Her performance was famous for its improvisation and creativity, thus Olga was praized and loved by the audience and the critics.
Preobrajenska was lucky to have great teachers right when she was just started her dancing career. She was trained by world class ballet dancers like Maurice Petipa, Nicholas Legat, Christian Johansson and others whose names had already been engraved in the history of the 19th century classical ballet.
Olga was also lucky that she managed to emigrate from Bolshevik Russia in 1921 and bring her talents of a ballet dancer and teacher to the West. For the next two years she taught in Milan, London, Buenos Aires and Berlin and, finally moved to France. In Paris Preobrajenska opened her famous ballet school that was thought to be one of the best in the world. It existed practically till the death of its owner and closed its doors in 1960.
During the life of the ballet school practically any major ballet dancer of the times visited Preobrajenska to learn her legendary ballet moves. Among her students were Fonteyn, Baranova, Toumanova and others. Olga did not live long after her retirement in 1960. She passed away in 1960 when she was 91years old.
If you could ask any Russian ballet fan of the 19th who is his favorite male ballet dancer, there would come up only one name – Paul Gerdt. He spent fifty six years on the ballet stage and performed in the roles of nearly every lead male character of famous Russian ballets. For his extraordinary ballet technique and dancing Paul Gerdt received the mot prestigious title of the Premier Danseur of all three significant theaters in the tsarist Russia: the Imperial Ballet, The Bolshoy Kammeny Theater and Mariinsky Theater.
Gerdt had the unusual longevity for any male ballet dancer: he was born in 1844, started performing very young and retired one year before his death in 1917. Public loved and worshiped him. In addition, to his brilliant career and titles, audience nicknamed him Blue Cavalier. Admiring public also awarded him with another title: the Prince of Saint Petersburg stage. This was true enough because Paul Gerdt was the first to dance Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Prince Desire in Sleeping Beauty, and Prince Coqueluche in The Nutcracker.
His mentors and teachers that helped him start his amazing career of a dancer were also the best that Russian ballet could offer. Gerdt’s first teacher was Alexander Pimenov who himself was a student of the Father of Russian ballet – Charles Didelot. His next teacher was Jean Petipa, famous ballet dancer, father of probably the second person of importance after Didelot for Russian ballet – Marius Petipa. Old Jean in his youth underwent extensive training by the giant of the French ballet Auguste Vestris.
Paul Gerdt was quite an eccentric, nobody at the theater knew how old he was. When asked, he would give one and the same response, claiming that he was 23 years old. He excelled not only in dancing but in teaching as well. He left after himself the whole brilliant team of students among which there were Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, Michel Fokin, Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. It is interesting to note that Michel Fokin trained Gerdt’s daughter – great ballerina Elizaveta Gerdt. And Vaslav Nijinsky was Elizaveta’s partner in ballet dancing.
International Dance Day has been celebrated on April 29 for over a quarter of the century. But not many people know that the origin of this holiday. It is the birthday of the famous ballet dancer and Ballet Master Jean-Georges Noverre. He revolutionized classical dance by creating ballet d’action, which became the predecessor of the narrative ballets of the 19th century. His ideas had lasting impact on ballet ideology, and his theories have been implemented in dance classes today and remain a part today’s ideology of dance.
Born in 1727, Noverre debuted on stage in Fontainebleau when he was only sixteen years old. He composed his first ballet when he was twenty. Noverre became so famous that practically all influential European monarchs tried to get him performing at their courts. Famous Garrick invited him to London where Jean-Georges spent almost two years. He was so wildly popular there that Garrick called him the “Shakespeare of the dance”.
In 1775, in the peak of his fame at the request of the French queen Marie Antoinette Noverre was appointed First Ballet Master of Paris Opera. Jean-Georges kept this post till the days of the French Revolution that ended his career. And not only that. Revolution reduced this famous genius to misery and poverty. The man of Enlightenment who had so many close friends like Mozart, Voltaire and Frederick the Great, died like a pauper in Paris in 1810.
Yet, his name entered the history and was saved to posterity not because he was a great dancer and Ballet Master. And it was not because of the numerous ballets that he staged and composed – they have not been reproduced for at least two centuries. It was due to his publishing of the famous treatise Les Lettres sur La Danse et sur Les Ballets.
This treatise has been printed in almost every European language. Due to this work, Noverre’s name is one of the most quoted in the literature of dance. He criticized professional ballet dancers of his time, cumbersome costumes, and old-fashioned musical styles and choreography. He was against the use of the mask in the ballet because it hides facial expression of the ballet dancers. He encouraged young ballet dancers to profit from their own talents rather than imitate their teachers or the style of a popular dance.
Noverre was the first to state in his treatise that ballet should stir up the audience’s emotions by the use of expressive movement. He called this type of dance, ballet d’action. His brilliant conclusion was that ballet should unfold through dramatic movement and the movement should express the relationship between the characters.
Ballet is a highly technical form of dance with its origins in the Italian Renaissance court, where it emerged in the late 15th century as a dance interpretation of fencing. Later ballet was developed into a very complicated dance works with mime, acting and other components that are set to music. Ballet has graceful, flowing and very precise movements with almost ethereal qualities.