#TBT: Galina Ulanova in "Les Sylphides" (1952)

November 28, 2001

A great ballerina holds an immense amount of power: She can adopt any role and become another being, using movement as the ultimate means of expression. Some of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century have honed this skill, but few have become as powerful an icon as the Mariinsky Ballet’s Galina Ulanova. Named by Joseph Stalin as prima ballerina assoluta, Ulanova became the masthead for Russian ballet in the former Soviet Union. Her power extended beyond performance to her country’s artistic identity, setting a standard for generations of ballerinas to come. 


In this clip from 1952, Ulanova dances the waltz from Michel Fokine’s Les Sylphides alongside Vladimir Preobrazhenskii. She transforms the stage into an oil painting as her limbs reach across the space in expansive brushstrokes. Chopin’s score touches any dancer’s heart (his familiar tunes enter almost every technique class), but Ulanova’s movement caters to each intricate moment within the music. She has created the definition of a beautiful sylph. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!