Giselle. Natalia Bessmertnova


This photograph was taken by Leonid Zhdanov (1927−2010) in 1975 during the filming of the ballet Giselle, directed by Vladimir Grave. The title role was performed by Natalia Bessmertnova (1941−2008). Bessmertnova graduated from the Moscow Academic Choreography School at the Bolshoi Theater (now known as Moscow State Academy of Choreography) in 1961 and was admitted to the Bolshoi Theater. She made her debut in the ballet Les Sylphides choreographed by Fokine. A year later, her Giselle came as an artistic revelation to her contemporaries. Bessmertnova introduced a whole new image into Soviet ballet: an “ethereal" style of dance reminiscent of the first half of the 19th century. Her weightless, nymph-like dancing with extended lines of arms, expressive wrists, and noiseless, high jumps immersed viewers in a world of illusion, full of tragedy, sorrow, and beauty. No one had been dancing in such a style at the Bolshoi, where a type of earthy dancer-actress ruled the stage at that time. Bessmertnova reemphasized the dance, particularly in the second “white” act of Giselle. Her Giselle, slender and fragile, flew in the air and melted away with the first rays of dawn. Bessmertnova was the leading ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater until 1988. She performed in a variety of ballets, but Giselle remained the best of her roles. Zhdanov, a Bolshoi dancer and then a professor of choreography for 50 years, was a professional photographer throughout 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