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SAB 90 -Alexandra Danilova

Who was Alexandra Danilova?

Known to friends as “Choura” and known to students as simply “Madame”, Alexandra Danilova was born in 1904, attended the Imperial Ballet School, and entered into the Maryinsky Ballet in 1920. She danced in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, De Basil’s Ballets Russes, and the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. Of one of her New York performances in 1946, Walter Terry wrote:

“In addition to technical skills, knowledge of dance styles, intelligence in characterization and an instinctive command of the dynamics of dance, Alexandra Danilova possesses that personal radiance which is probably the deciding factor in transforming a soloist into a ballerina, or a principal player into a star. Call it personality, “it,” or an effective arrangement of body chemistries, this radiance not only lights up the stage but it also lights up the audience and the result is applause, appreciation and across-the-footlights affection.” —New York Herald Tribune, 3/24/1946.

(left) Danilova in a revival of Balanchine’s first Mozartiana, 1945.

(center) Danilova in Swan Lake Photo by Hulton Archive, 1926.

(right) Danilova and Frederic Franklin. Photo by Irving Penn, 1948.


How did Danilova teach? Below are excerpts from her memoir “Choura”.

“It is ironic, I suppose, that for most of my career I appeared in new ballets, by choreographers who were avant-garde, and now, in my teaching, I have become a guardian of the classical style. Well, I have simply done what was needed for the advancement of my art. When I was young, the classics were safely enshrined in the Maryinsky repertoire, it was fresh air, innovation, a new language of movement that we needed. But now, I think, it is a solid understanding of the classics that is lacking, especially here in American, and I direct my energies toward that.”

“I give my pupils the pure classical technique as I learned it, according to Petipa, for their foundation, but I also try to keep up-to-date with the way the technique is changing. They emphasis shifts, the rhythm alters. When I teach classical variations, I try to adapt them to the way we dance today, because that was what Balanchine wanted, and I am preparing my pupils to dance his repertoire.”

(top left) Danilova teaching. Photo by Carolyn George, n.d.

(top right) Danilova with the Harkness Ballet. Photo by Jack Mitchell, 1964.

(bottom left & right) Screenshots from the documentary by Anne Belle, “Reflections of a Dancer”, 1980.


Danilova’s advice to students:

“I think an artist should go to see everything. I tell my pupils to go to museums, to concerts, to the opera, to the theatre—drama is very important if they are going to dance dramatic ballets. Dancers, I believe, should have a working knowledge of the other arts; they should be exposed to everything. […] I think there is nothing to take the place of this sort of knowledge: the more you know, the more cultured you are, the more it shows in everything—in your walk, in your talk, in you art. I see young dancers today go to class and then go home. They are so tired, they say. They are not living. Sometimes they go to the ballet, but I don’t see them at the opera, at the symphony, at a film.”

“The school is, I think, partly at fault. We should have courses in the history of art and the history of dance, the history of costume, music, and theatre. These were subjects that were part of our curriculum I Russia."

Photos by Jack Mitchell, 1957. (Danilova is 54 years old)


How Danilova ended each class:

The excerpts from today’s posts have come from Chapter 15 of her memoir “Choura.” There was so much more I couldn’t include, but if you’re interested, I have a vintage copy of her book available in my shop. Follow the link in my bio.

“I try to teach my students by example. To explain to them how to sparkle is impossible; you must sparkle yourself, and then they can copy you.”

“I finished every class with a réverénce, which I consider important practice, but practice of a kind that has nothing to do with technique. […] A dancer must charm her audience—by holding the post at the end of a variation, which is difficult; by bowing to them when the comes on the stage. Réverénce is an expression of humility, a dancer’s way of thanking her audience for their applause. I teach my pupils that we dancers have much to be grateful for.”

(left & center) Photos by Jack Mitchell, 1961.

(right) Screenshot from “”Reflections of a Dancer” documentary by Anne Belle. On YouTube.

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