Obituary: Kaleria Fedicheva

Kaleria Ivanovna Fedicheva, ballerina: born Ust-Ijori, near Leningrad 20 July 1936; died Maribor, Slovenia 13 September 1994.

Kaleria Fedicheva was a leading ballerina with the Kirov Ballet, and held that position for almost two decades during the Fifties and Sixties. A contemporary of such dancers as Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, she won acclaim when she toured with the Kirov in the United States.

A physical beauty, she nevertheless lacked the lyrical finesse one expects from a classical ballerina, but possessed a bravura technique which rendered her more suitable for demie-caractere roles than classical. Probably because of her sultry image, and her outgoing, larger-than-life personality she was much liked by Soviet party officials.

Fedicheva was born in 1936 at Ust-Ijori, near Leningrad. Her father was a party official. At a young age she joined the Leningrad Choreographic Academy, but left when she felt she was not receiving the attention she deserved. Through her father's influence she was allowed to return and study with leading teachers. She graduated in 1955, immediately joined the Kirov Ballet and unexpectedly leapt to fame.

Her appearance in star roles coincided with the appointment of Pyotr Rachinsky as Director of the Kirov. It was said her father was a friend of Rachinsky, but in fact Rachinsky was more partial to his comrade's daughter and very soon developed a passion for her.

At 26 she made her debut in Swan Lake. It was instant stardom: her Black Swan in the third act was electrifying, and she side-stepped the up-and-coming Kolpakova, Sizova, Komleva and Makarova. Within two seasons she was dominating the scene, rather to the consternation of artistic director Konstantin Sergeyev, but to no avail as in such matters he bowed to Rachinsky.

Fedicheva's political power was such that she was able to have the brilliant Valery Panov transferred from the Maly Theatre to partner her; an unheard-of breach of protocol at that time. Panov proved a splendid support with his flying lifts, and his flamboyant style of acting married well with her sensuality. They danced together with a physical esprit that won them considerable popularity with audiences.

Together they danced Don Quixote, Laurencia, Raymonda, La Bayadere, Swan Lake and some heroic ballets which were staged for state occasions. She created a number of roles in Belsky's Leningrad Symphony (1961), Sergeyev's Distant Planet (1963), Boyarsky's The Pearl (1965), Jacobson's Shuralie, Alekzidze's Orestes (1968) and Vinogradov's Prince of Pagodas (1972).

She rehearsed Gertrude in Sergeyev's remarkable Hamlet (never seen in the West), but withdrew before it was produced although the part would have fitted her like a glove. During these years she toured the Soviet Union, Austria, Sweden, Japan, Finland, Norway, Germany and the United States.

Fedicheva's charisma won for her many admirers, and she, being human, sometimes reciprocated. She became fond of Panov and saw to it that Rachinsky, now her lover, arranged better living conditions and privileges for him - favours which Panov had not previously enjoyed, despite his prestige as a dancer of the first rank.

Panov eventually fell from grace and not just with Rachinsky, with whom relations perhaps because of the suspicion that the virile dancer was usurping his territory were strained. Panov grew tired of portering the rather heavy-boned Fedicheva and was heard to say so. And when he accidentally mistimed a lift and suffered the shame of Fedicheva sitting on his chest instead of being airborne at arm's length, it incited her wrath.

This was the beginning of a persecution that developed into a vendetta (aggravated by growing Soviet hostility to Jews) that wrecked Panov's career in the Soviet Union.

I saw her during a Kirov season at Covent Garden in the early Sixties and seeing her in so many classical roles was a little perturbing when there was many choice young ballerinas at hand. By this time Panov was out of the picture and she danced with Serge Vikulov with whom she was not well matched. Her nubile fulness was at variance with the aristocratic style of the company. Nevertheless, she went on to New York and enjoyed the distinction of dancing Nikiya to Vikulov's Solor in the first presentation of La Bayadere at the Metropolitan.

Fedicheva's life was turbulent; she married several times (the first to the ballet dancer and teacher Igor Uksusnikov), but while Rachinsky was in control she could not be displaced. Her career was carved out by him. As well a director of the Kirov, he was director of the Leningrad Television network and many other art institutions. However, through underground dealings, he was convicted of fraud and served a prison sentence.

Ever resourceful, Fedicheva married Martin Freedman, an American teacher of dance, and emigrated to the US in 1975.

With Freedman she ran a successful ballet school - the New Russian School in Sea Cliff, Long Island, and directed her students and professional guests in the Fedicheva Ballet Company of Long Island. They divorced in 1979, but she continued to stage works from the Russian classic repertory and choreograph new ballets both in the United States and abroad. Last year, she staged a production of Giselle for the Colorado Ballet.

As recently as six months ago she visited her old friend and colleague Valery Panov in Bonn, by now chief choreographer and artistic director of the Bonn Opera Ballet with a request to coach his company.

Kaleria Fedicheva was made a People's Artist of the Soviet Union in 1967.

(Photograph omitted)

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