Hello! - Galina Ulanova
Posted: Jun 05 2015
Galina Sergeyevna Ulánova is commonly known as one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th Century. Born in 1909 in St Petersburg in Russia her extraordinary career followed that of her mother who was also a ballerina.
Inspired by her ballerina mother, Maria Romanova, Galina as a young dancer practiced her craft for many hours before at the age of nine being admitted to the Petrograd Ballet School. In later interviews Galina admitted that she did not love ballet at a young age and went to classes at the insistence of, and sense of duty towards, her parents. While much of Galina’s family were dancers after the October Revolution they had to earn their living not in the grand theatres of Russia but as a pre-entertainment dance before the screening of the latest movie. The insistence of her parents that Galina should learn to dance was so that she could always earn a living rather than a dream for their daughter to be a legendary ballerina that she was to become.
Despite her indifference to the art of ballet while at school her teachers did start to notice that the young Galina had something a little special. At the time Galina was at school the famous dancer and renowned teacher Agrippina Vaganova was teaching at the school and she took Galina under her wing. Vaganova herself was to become famous for developing the Vaganova method of teaching ballet. This technique derived from the old Russian Imperial Ballet school eventually led to her to creating a workable syllabus for teaching ballet and then to writing the book ‘Fundamentals of the Classical Dance’ which is referenced to this day.
As she developed as a dancer at the school she also developed a great work ethic and led by Vaganova she performed well at her graduation performance and immediately afterwards joined a ballet company now known as Mariinsky Theatre. She had her début on the professional stage in 1928 as the Princess Florina in Sleeping Beauty to great success and the next year she played Odette-Odile in Swan Lake.
The work ethic that she had learned and expressed at school started to show early in her ballet career as she was noted to be very scrupulous about her roles. She would study the roel, read, meditated and improvised to great effect and used her own system to get the best out of herself. Ulanova was also known to be very self-critical and would often be unhappy with performances that others heralded as triumphs. One of her most remembered performance was that of Giselle. As Ulanova had never seen Pavlova or Karsavina dance the part so she had to create her own interpretation. Eventually Ulanova’s Giselle with its masterful technique and subtle lyricism became the ideal for which other ballerinas strived.
Galina Ulanova had a varied ballet career and her repertoire included Tao Hoa in the Red Poppy, Coralie in Lost Illusion, Cinderella and she was also the first Juliet on the Kirov Theatre Stage and it was for this performance that Ulanova was noted for her lyric grace and the excellent portrayal of emotion and delicate acting that she became very famous for. Her self-criticism never left and this was evident in her portrayal of Maria in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai which she danced for several years and never stopped trying to improve and perfect.
After leaving the Kirov Theatre company in 1944 to become the Prima Ballerina for Moscows’ Bolshoi Ballet Company Ulanova performed abroad for the first time and her fame travelled with her as she was hailed as one of the greatest ballerinas since Pavlova. Galina Ulanova retired in 1962 but continued to teach at the Bolshoi passing on her technique, experience and extraordinary ballet skill to future stars.