Dragonfly. Olga Lepeshinskaia


Leonid Zhdanov (1927–2010) took this picture of Olga Lepeshinskaia (1916–2008) in 1959. Lepeshinskaia, a star of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, from the 1930s through the 1950s, graduated from the Moscow Ballet School at the Bolshoi Theater (now known as Moscow State Academy of Choreography) in 1933 and immediately became a soloist, dancing lyrical roles in The Nutcracker, Coppelia, Sleeping Beauty, and Red Poppy. In 1940 she successfully danced the part of Kitri in Don Quixote, which became her signature role. Lepeshinskaia was not ideally built for classical ballet, being small and stocky. However, her jubilant nature, full of optimism and internal energy, delighted audiences. Lepeshinskaia was a born dancer. Her upper-body strength and superb technique enabled her to make the most challenging movements. She was able to complete 64 fouette turns on one spot. Lepeshinskaia and her art personified the era. She was a favorite of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, who frequently came to her performances and called her "Dragonfly" for her vivaciousness. He even gave her advice, for example, by suggesting that in Don Quixote she replace the tutu with a dress. During World War II, Lepeshinskaia was a member of teams of artists who performed for soldiers of the Red Army at the front and in hospitals. After retiring from the stage in 1963, she worked for many years as a teacher in Italy, Germany, France, Sweden, and Japan. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was also 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