Sofia Golovkina

Bolshoi ballerina and iron-willed director of the Moscow State Academy of Choreography

Sofia Golovkina, ballerina and teacher: born Moscow 13 October 1915; died Moscow 17 February 2004.

Sofia Golovkina was a ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet for 26 years. On retiring from the stage, she was appointed director of the company's school, the Moscow State Academy of Choreography.

There, she ruled with an iron control that did not win her friends and the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei wrote that her tenure "wasn't just a directorship, it was a dictatorship". She stayed on far too long - 41 years - leaving in 2001 after a bitter struggle, when she was succeeded by Boris Akimov, an internationally respected teacher who comes regularly to teach at the Royal Ballet and was also briefly the Bolshoi Ballet's artistic director.

As a dancer, Golovkina's flamboyant, assured virtuosity made her an audience favourite and the epitome of the Soviet ballerina. She joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1933, on graduating at 17 from the Bolshoi school. She danced the lead roles of the classical repertoire - Swan Lake, Raymonda, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote - as well as dancing some of the great roles of Soviet ballet. She was the Tsar-Maiden in Gorsky's version of The Little Hump-Backed Horse, Zarema in Zahkarov's The Fountain of Bakhshiserai, Tao-Hor in The Red Poppy, the titular heroine of Svetlana.

She also created Nikiya in the 1943 Gorsky version of La Bayadère and Mireille de Poitiers in Vainonen's seminal 1947 Flames of Paris, a part which won her the Soviet State Prize. Her plumpness and grandly heroic manner lead one to question her suitability for a pure classical role such as Nikiya; but she was apparently also admired for a wonderful purity of line.

During the Second World War, she distinguished herself in her tireless volunteer work. She stayed in Moscow, where she continued performing and gave fund-raising concerts, she donated blood, she helped in military hospitals and in the defence of the city's boundaries.

Despite her unpopularity at the Bolshoi Ballet school, there is no doubt that she oversaw many important developments at this important, exacting institution. Appointed director in 1960 (then Professor in 1987 and Rector in 1988), she staged many productions for her pupils, including Coppélia in 1977 and La Fille mal gardée in 1979.

As a teacher she followed the theatrical approach of Alexander Gorsky, the choreographer whose naturalistic, Stanislavsky-inspired precepts exercised a defining influence on the Bolshoi Ballet's repertoire. She also adhered to the method evolved by Agrippina Vaganova, which by then had become the standard technical base in Soviet ballet. Her pupils included Natalia Bessmertnova, muse and wife of the former Bolshoi director Yuri Grigorovich, whose ballets - Spartacus, Ivan the Terrible - have come to represent the Bolshoi style with Western audiences.

She wrote books on ballet technique. She took groups of her pupils to perform abroad (including twice to the UK). She made a film about the precepts of classical technique and stagecraft in 1967 and was the subject of a short documentary, Sofia Golovkina, in 1982. In 1967, she succeeding in gaining a specially built home for the school, even if the new premises were no longer near the Bolshoi Theatre.

She had to cope with many difficulties in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet regime in 1991. Finances were a particular headache and she worked hard to lure students. It was unfortunate that the criterion became the ability to pay cash rather than talent. She had to contend with the opening of new, rival schools - so that now the Bolshoi school faces the problem of too few pupils.

In 1985, as part of the new era of perestroika, she set up a branch of the Bolshoi school in Tokyo, capitalising on the Japanese obsession with classical dance, and she ran a summer course in the US resort town of Vail.

Nadine Meisner

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower