At age eighty-three, ex-prima ballerina Alla Osipenko is more renowned than ever. Blunt, courageous, uncompromising: Osipenko’s brushes with Communist and artistic authorities kept her largely quarantined in the Soviet Union during the height of her extraordinary career. But today we can see evidence of her skill and grace — as well as the tremendous personal risk she and her family took — in photographs and on film. A selection of photographs from Alla Osipenko: Beauty and Resistance in Soviet Ballet, in which Joel Lobenthal examines the life of this sharp-tongued and independent dancer, can be found below.
A snapshot of her life in pictures:
On tour in Holland, February 1968
Born in Leningrad in 1932, Osipenko embodied classical traditions as preserved by the Kirov Ballet in then-Leningrad. But she was also perfect for modern choreography. Osipenko’s body spoke: her lines and proportions were innately expressive. Here she is in class in 1968. (Anefo photo collection, National Archive of the Netherlands. Jac. De Nijs / Anefo.)
Maria Borovikorskaya with Nina and Valentin
Osipenko’s grandmother, Maria Borovikovskaya with Osipenko’s mother Nina and uncle Valentin. Before the 1917 Revolution, the family lived a life of Imperial privilege in a large apartment on Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg’s grandest avenue. (Photo courtesy Alla Ospienko.)
By 1934, when two-year-old Osipenko sat for this photograph, her family’s background was something that could not be openly discussed without risk of often-fatal reprisal from the Soviets. (Photo courtesy Alla Ospienko.)
Osipenko with Ivan onstage at the Kirov
Osipenko with her son, Ivan Voropayev, onstage at the Kirov in 1965. His father, theater star Gennady Voropayev, was the third of Osipenko’s four husbands. (Photo courtesy Alla Ospienko.)
The Kirov on tour in Italy, 1966
In 1966, Osipenko was allowed to tour with the Kirov to Italy. Sitting left to right: Natalia Makarova, Irina Kolpakova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Kaleria Fedicheva, Osipenko, and Natalia Dudinskaya. Standing l-r Yuri Soloviev, Kirov director Pyotor Rachinsky, ballet director Konstatin Sergeyev, and Sergei Vikulov. (Photo courtesy Igor Soloviev.)
Osipenko dancing the dream scene from Raymonda, a three-act ballet choreographed by Marius Petipa for the Imperial Mariinsky in 1898. It remained a mainstay of the renamed Kirov under Communism. “I was friendly with Raymonda,” Osipenko said. She liked dancing characters with internal conflict, and the heroine Raymonda is torn between a Crusader and a Saracen, between dreams and waking desire. (Photo by Nina Alovert.)
With Ivan, greeting Makarova at the airport, 1989
When Makarova defected in 1970, no one could have predicted that she would ever be allowed to visit Russia again, but perestroika made it possible in 1989, Osipenko was there with her son at Pulkovo Airport in then-Leningrad to greet her former colleague and good friend. (Photo courtesy Alla Ospienko.)
A performance of The Ice Maiden:
Joel Lobenthal is Associate Editor of Ballet Review. He is the author of Alla Osipenko: Beauty and Resistance in Soviet Ballet, Tallulah! The Life and Times of a Leading Lady, and co-author with Elena Tchernichova of Dancing on Water: A Life in Ballet from the Kirov to the ABT.
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