The Incomparable Marina Semenova


Leonid Zhdanov (1927–2010) took this photograph in 1958 during a lesson given by Marina Semenova (1908−2010) at the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow. Semenova was born in Saint Petersburg and graduated from the Leningrad Choreographic School, from the class of Agrippina Vaganova (1879−1951). Her talent manifested itself early. She became well known at the age of 13 after performing in the school production of The Magic Flute. In 1925 she was accepted into the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theater (before 1919 and after 1991 the Mariinsky Theater). Despite the seniority system, she began as a soloist, rather than entering in the corps de ballet. In 1926 Semenova danced the role of Nikia in La Bayadère. The playbill credited the choreography of Marius Petipa, but Vaganova recreated the dances for Nikia, intensifying its tragic accents and emphasizing the virtuosity of her student. Semenova’s name is connected to a new style in 20th century ballet. She injected a sense of life and energy into classical dance. With time she developed a particularly regal air, noted for the beauty and harmony of her poses and the elegant cantilena of movement. Semenova joined the Bolshoi Theater in 1930. In 1935−36 she performed in Paris at the invitation of Russian dancer and choreographer Serge Lifar, who directed the Paris Opera Ballet. After retiring from the stage in 1952, she became a leading teacher at the Bolshoi Theater. Her pupils included Maya Plisetskaya, Natalia Bessmertnova, Nina Sorokina, Ludmila Semenyaka, Nadezhda Pavlova, Galina Stepanenko, and Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was a professional ballet photographer for most of his career. His pictures are spontaneous and capture on film the movements, moods, and emotions of the unposed dancers. The Reborn Art Foundation in Moscow holds this image and the rest of the Zhdanov archive.

Last updated: February 3, 2015