Oleg Vinogradov: Legendary Choreographer and Ballet Classicist Talks 50 Years in Russian Ballet, 150th Anniversary of St. Petersburg Conservatory

The Golden Age of Russian dance, music and art was dramatically impacted by the seminal figure Oleg Vinogradov. Vinogradov modernized Russian ballet, brought the Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet Theatre back to world renown, and tore down artificial East-West walls by bringing the choreography of artists such as Balanchine, Bournonville, and Béjart to Russia. During Glasnost, as communism gave way to capitalism, Vinogradov plunged into the resulting artistic freedom. Now Artistic Director of the Ballet Theater and Dean of the Department of Musical Theater at St. Petersburg’s Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory, Vinogradov speaks about the celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the prestigious conservatory and Russia’s modern dance history.

Moscow Ballet Associate Producer Dan Talmi (left) with Nataliya Yablakova and Oleg Vinogradov at the St. Petersburg (Russia) Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory.

Vinogradov’s longstanding artistic vision is a significant contributing factor in the worldwide revitalization that ballet has seen in the last half century. He has defined, re-defined and revitalized Russian ballet more than any other single person of the 20th Century, impacting the ballet world as a dancer, choreographer, painter, and international impresario.

Meet the man, hear the story at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Tuesday, July 17 at 4 pm. RSVP to sally@nutcracker.com or 800-320-1733 x21.

Born in Leningrad 1937, Oleg Vinogradov studied at the prestigious Leningrad Ballet School (Vaganova Academy) as a student of Aleksandr Pushkin, graduating in 1958. From there, he joined the Siberian Novosibirsk Ballet as a dancer and became assistant Ballet Master to Pytor Andreievich Gusev, with whom he created his first ballets.

In 1961 Vinogradov became Ballet Master at the Novosibirsk Theatre, and created his first important, and decidedly new, ballet stagings of Prokofiev’s Cinderella (1964) and Romeo and Juliet (1965). Critics from Moscow and Leningrad issued the verdict of a “professional birth of daring and original choreographic talents.” Vinogradov developed a symbolic movement vocabulary which portrayed a depth of meaning beyond the classic physical lines of beauty. Drawing from earlier training as a visual artist, he first created sketches as the basis for his choreography and later developed actual movements in the rehearsal studio. At the time Vinogradov declared, “The spectator that comes to the ballet only to admire the beauty of the dancing is robbing himself. Modern Ballet can and should excite not only feelings but thoughts as well.”

Oleg Vinogradov (left) talks with Jerome Robbins and others.

His fresh and even radical productions brought Vinogradov much attention from throughout Russia. In 1967 the preeminent Bolshoi Ballet invited him to stage Asel, music by V. Vlasov, and in 1968 the Kirov Ballet asked him to stage Goryanka (A Mountain Maiden) with music by M. Kashlaiev. From 1968 to 1972 he choreographed for the Kirov Ballet and from 1973 to 1977 he was appointed Artistic Director and Chief Choreographer of the Maly (now Mikhalovsky) Ballet Theatre. His experimentation here did much to restore the Maly Theatre’s reputation for innovation and daring.

In 1977 he accepted the position of Artistic Director and Chief Ballet Master of the Kirov Ballet. Here he made drastic and sometimes controversial changes with a mind to revive the once grand company. He imposed a strict aesthetic on the look and style of his dancers. The company, which had not been approached for a tour in many years, started touring abroad to great success.During 20 years at the helm of the Kirov, Vinogradov successfully revived the company by bringing in younger dancers, dramatically broadening and modernizing the repertoire and bringing Western choreographers and/or their repertory to the company for the first time, including Roland Petit, Jerome Robbins and Maurice Béjart. Vinogradov explains his inspiration to bring outside choreographers to St Petersburg, “The works of great western choreographers were out of reach for us, behind the iron curtain. Most of my conscious artistic life went without knowing what was happening on the global ballet stage. And that is why my first aspiration, after I became an Artistic Director of Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet, was to change this situation.”

Works by George Balanchine, who graduated with honors from the Kirov (at that time the Imperial Ballet School) and defecting to the West in 1924, were produced at the Kirov for the first time due to Vinogradov’s vision. Vinogradov also engineered the premiere of works by the Danish August Bournonville and French Maurice Béjart, choreographer and founder the Béjart Ballet Lausanne. In the late 1980s, when the effects of Glasnost reached the ballet world, open communication, experimentation and cultural exchange became options to embrace and Vinogradov took full advantage of the situation. With over 20 years (1977-2003) at the Kirov, Vinogradov is known as the director who shaped the power of classic dance in innumerable ballets and for returning the historic Kirov-Mariinsky Theatre to world-wide prominence. Currently Mr. Vinogradov is Dean of Theater Direction and Choreography Department Director at the Saint Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory and Artistic Director Saint Petersburg Conservatory Ballet.

Prizes and Awards

  • 1968 — The Distinguished (also translated as Merited or Honored) Artist of Dagestan Republic
  • 1970 — Official State Prize of Russian Federation
  • 1979 — Marius Petipa Prize (for preserving and advancement of art of classical ballet)
  • 1981 — The Paris Academy of Dance Prize for the best modern choreography
  • 1983 — The People’s Artist of Russian Federation
  • 1985 — American Express Canada Prize
  • 1985 — Parliament of Greece Award
  • 1986 — Pablo Picasso Prize, for the choreography of the ballet The Knight in the Tiger Skin
  • 1986 — Order of Chivalry and the title of Chevalier from The French Republic for special merit in the arts and culture and for furtherance of international relations
  • 1987 — The People’s Artist of USSR
  • 1988 — Laurence Olivier Prize
  • 1989 — Prix Lumière (Lumiere Award)