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Agrippina Vaganova, "Queen of variations"

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Agrippina Vaganova

Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) was a distinguished Russian ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher. She created her own method of teaching ballet, that later became known to the world as the Vaganova system (or Vaganova method) Her book, "Fundamentals of the Classical Dance" (1934), is still regarded as standard of ballet instruction and remains a standard textbook for the instruction of ballet technique. Her technique is one of the most popular techniques today.

Born on June 26, 1879, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova was the daughter of an usher at the Mariinsky Theatre and was exposed to ballet at a very early age. She attended the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg, the great institution of classical dance founded by Anna of Russia. Graduated in 1897, and was then taken into the Mariinsky corps de ballet in 1897.

As a dancer with the Imperial Ballet she was known as the Queen of variations", renowned for her jumps and batteries; although her lack of beauty meant that she did not receive the title of ballerina until 1915, the year before her retirement. Her many roles included, Odette-Odile (Swan Lake), the Mazurka (Chopiniana), Tsar-Maiden (The Little Humpbacked Horse); she created the role of the Chinese Doll in Fairy Doll (1903).

She is most remembered as a great teacher, of generations of dancers, taking the best of the old imperial style - a Romantic plasticity allied with Italian bravura - and blending it with a more athletic movement, to form what became known as the Vaganova system; a method that did not isolate one particular part of the body, but trained it into one harmonious whole. Instead of the hitherto vague corrections given to a pupil, and using an analysis of musculature, Vaganova gave precise corrections for proper placement.

Her first great pupil was Marina Semenova, Olga Jordan, Galina Ulanova, Natalia Dudinskaya and Irina Kolpakova. From 1931 to 1937 Vaganova held the position of Artistic Director of the Kirov Ballet. During this period she staged her versions of Swan Lake and Esmeralda, These ballets of Vaganova Period are still considered to be the living classics.

She was director of the GATOB (renamed the Kirov in 1935) from 1931 - 37, and later of Leningrad Choreographic School, now the Vaganova Ballet Academy, using her position in both to fight tooth and nail for the survival of classical ballet, in the face of opposition from doctrinaire ideologues.


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