The Stone Flower
    Alla Shelest

    Fountain of Bakhchisarai
    Alla Shelest

    Alla Shelest

    Alla Shelest

    Alla Shelest

    La Bayadère
    Alla Shelest

    The Bronze Horseman
    Alla Shelest

    Swan Lake
    Alla Shelest

    Alla Shelest


Alla Shelest

Born in Smolensk in 1919 Alla Yakovlevna Shelest was a leading dancer of the Kirov Ballet from 1937-1963. Initially she was a pupil of Elisaveta Gerdt and later of Agrippina Vaganova. She bridges the gap between the old "Imperial" style of training as exemplified by Gerdt and the forward looking Vaganova, which is the basis of today's Petersburg style.

Shelest's was a rare talent, naturally fusing both the dramatic and dance elements of a role together as a single unity. She was given the unusual honour of dancing with the Kirov company in principal roles in The Sleeping Beauty and Esmeralda in the season before her graduation. In the 1937 graduation performance she took the highly dramatic title role in Lavrovsky's ballet Katerina with great success and was immediately engaged as a leading soloist.

Shelest is unique in having performed both leading and the major secondary roles in most classical ballets with great distinction. Prior to the war she performed Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, Jacinta in Laurentia, Myrtha in Giselle. Later she was to perform the lead roles in these ballets with equal success, the first of which was Laurentia. This dual affiliation was to remain an eternal theme throughout her professional life. She also danced the two major leads in The Stone Flower and The Bronze Horseman.

The outbreak of World War II found Shelest in the besieged Leningrad where she remained dancing in appalling conditions before finally leaving for Perm in 1942, where she was to dance many of her leading roles for the first time. Here came her first Aurora, Street Dancer in Don Quixote, one of her most amazing creations, and arguably her greatest role, Zarema in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.

Her dramatic identification with the role was something which amazed not just the audiences, but also her colleagues. As Maya Plisetskaya, the great Bolshoi ballerina, states: "she was absolutely complete; a unity of style, intellect, technique and dramatic abilities".

After the war Shelest was also at the forefront of the developments in Russian dance. She performed in the new works by Zakharov, Bourmeister, Sergeyev, Jakobson, having an incredible success in 1956 as Aegina in Spartacus due her innate sense of drama and character development. Her first Giselle in the same year broke new ground in offering a more realistic approach to the drama and was considered a revelation at the time, confirmed later by the more realistic approach adopted by the French ballerinas who guested in Leningrad a little later.

Her final stage creations were three by Grigorovich. She danced both Katerina and Mistress of the Copper Mountain in The Stone Flower, and also Mekhmene Banu in Legend of Love which was to be her farewell performance, 26 years to the day after her graduation.

In 1953 she was the first Soviet dancer to come to Great Britain with a small group and she made an immense impact on the public, dancing some of her own choreographic creations alongside classical pas de deux from Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. The five week tour was a sensation. But she was not chosen for the later 1961 tour. As a result her talents are little known outside her native Russia, where she is talked of on a par with the very greatest dancers. The only extant professional film of her is a short number by Jakobson Eternal Idol, apart from a few classical movements in an abridged version of Gayaneh.

Shelest's great dramatic gifts showed themselves to great advantage in ballets with a large emotional and dramatic canvass. La Bayadère, Stone Flower, Bakhchisarai, Giselle, Laurentia all offered this possibility. Her less memorable assignments were in those ballets where the dramatic elements were lacking in substance. Her Parasha in The Bronze Horseman was deemed less than a success because of the lack of depth to the emotional side of the character. She needed a fully charged emotional drama to show the full gamut of her capabilities. However her classical technique was flawless and her elevation exceptional. As Elena Chernisheva remarking on Shelest's aerial skills stated: "Only Alla Sizova was able to spring through the entrance of Aurora with such lightness".

Since retiring from the stage Shelest held balletmistress positions in Kuibishev, and Reggio Emilia, and also produced ballets in numerous cities across the former Soviet Union. She also worked intermittently as a repetiteur with the Kirov Ballet and at the Vaganova school, in addition to coaching younger ballerinas like Tatiana Terekhova, Olga Chenchikova, and Uliana Lopatkina.

Alla Shelest died peacefully at home in 1998.

Geoff Whitlock

Her repertory includes:
  • Odette/Odile in Swan Lake
  • Street Dancer in Don Quixote
  • Aurora and Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty
  • Jacinta and title role in Laurentia (Chabukiani)
  • Zarema in The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (Zakharov)
  • Nikiya in La Bayadère
  • Myrtha and title role in Giselle
  • title role in Raymonda
  • title role in Tatiana (Bourmeister)
  • Parasha and Queen of the Ball in The Bronze Horseman (Zakharov)
  • Katerina and Mistress of the Copper Mountain in The Stone Flower (Grigorovich)
  • Mekhmene Banu in Legend of Love (Grigorovich)
  • Aegina in Spartacus (Jakobson)
  • Siumbike in Shuraleh (Jakobson)
  • Tsar-Maiden in Little Humpbacked Horse (Gorsky after Saint-Léon)
  • Cleopatra in Egyptian Nights (Lopukhov after Fokine)
  • Eternal Idol, Kiss, Blind Girl in Choreographic Miniatures (Jakobson)
  • Lead, Prelude in Chopiniana
  • Grand pas in Paquita
  • Pas d'esclave in Le Corsaire
  • Pas de Deux in Don Quixote

To her own choreography:
  • Spring Waters
  • Shostakovich Waltz
  • Tales from the Vienna Woods
  • Petrarch Sonnet

Copyright © 2001
Text of  Alla Shelest Copyright © 2001 Geoff Whitlock. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2000-2009. All rights reserved.