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SAB 90 - Anatole Oboukhoff

Who was Anatole Oboukhoff?


Anatole Oboukhoff was born in St. Petersburg in 1896. He studied at the Imperial Ballet School and went on to join the company in 1913, 8 years before Balanchine. He was promoted to premier danseur in 1917. His performance credits were extensive:

  • He partnered Anna Pavlova on her last Russian tour in 1914

  • He danced with the Romanian Ballet

  • the Russian Romantic Ballet

  • the Ballet Riga in Latvia

  • the Ballet de l’Opéra Russes in Paris

  • the Lithuanian Opera Ballet in Kaunas

  • De Basil’s Ballet Russes

  • René Blum’s Ballet de Monte Carlo

  • The Markova Dolin Ballet

  • De Basil’s original Ballet Russes 1940


He joined the School of American Ballet faculty in 1941.



(top left & center) Anatole

(top right) Anatole and his wife, Vera Nemichinova in Swan Lake, 1949.

(bottom) Photos of Olga Preobrajenskaya as Columbine and Anatole Oboukhoff as Harlequin in their costumes for the Grand pas des alouettes of Act II. St. Petersburg, 1913.


 

What was Anatole Oboukhoff like?


The following comes from George Balanchine Foundation, written by Barbara Walczak:


“Everything that Oboukhoff did was bigger than life, from his booming voice and expansive gestures, to all that he demanded from his students. New students were terrified of him until they realized that beneath the façade was a man who loved ballet. It took time to see it but it was obvious that teaching was his life and he was a truly kind and caring man, even though he didn’t show it openly.”


“Oboukhoff was of medium height with a wiry agile body. His hair was pomaded back against his head; he had hazelnut eyes, and a small lined face. He reminded me of a very energetic monkey or a fox terrier whose bark was much worse than his bite. He always wore a meticulously pressed white shirt with long sleeves open at the neck and dark trousers with soft character shoes. His trademarks were his white handkerchief and his lifesaver candies. The white handkerchief often hung from his fingers or waved about to further express the movement he was demonstrating. The lifesavers were a necessity to save his throat.”




(left). Oboukhoff. Photo by Frederick Melton, 1953. NYPL

(right) Balanchine (bottom L) Oboukhoff (bottom R). Marie-Jeanne (second from left)


 

How did Anatole Oboukhoff teach?


The following comes from George Balanchine Foundation, written by Barbara Walczak:


“Anatole Oboukhoff was undoubtedly one of our favorite teachers. His classes were the hardest, most demanding, and most exhausting of all. Those of us who went on to dance in various ballet companies, doing eight performances a week, felt that we owed our careers to him.”


“Oboukhoff’s classes were about total commitment. Each class was a marathon and at the end of each one you were drenched in perspiration. […] His classes were about precision, not showing strain, and making lush movements with grand épaulement, power, and superb technique. One of his favorite words was cambré (to arch or bend more using the head and making movement even more expressive). His classes were like giving a performance, dancing full out, and holding nothing back.”


Amazingly, Barbara Walczak annotated 12 full classes of Oboukohoff’s and they can be read on the Balanchine Foundation website! There are 13 Valdimiroff classes annotated, 7 Doubrovska classes, and 13 Stanley Williams classes. It’s an incredible resource.


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