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A Tribute to Leonid Zhdanov

by Saul Marziali

Published August 2010

Last 14th of May, Leonid Zhdanov, one of the greatest and most creative teachers of classical ballet and pas de deux of the Bolshoi Theater Ballet Academy, suddenly left us for ever. He was almost 83 years old and he was still active as a pedagogic and artistic adviser in this famous School.

Born in Moscow the 23rd of June 1927 and a pupil of the great teacher Tarasov, Zhadanov had made his career at the Bolshoi as a principal dancer, and he was the favourite partner of Galina Ulanova, Marina Semionova, Raissa Strutchkova, Maya Plisezkaya, Sofia Golovkina as well as Alicia Alonso.

Zhadanov taught at the Bolshoi Theater Ballet Academy until June, 2009 – for 50 years. Among his pupils: Andrei Fedotov (soloist of the Bolshoi, principal dancer of "Ballet de Nancy"); Alexandr Voltchkov (principal dancer of the Bolshoi); Dmitri Goudanov (principal dancer of the Bolshoi); Vladislav Boubnov (soloist of the Bolshoi, principal of "Scottish Ballet" and "English National Ballet"); and Tadeusz Matacz (principal dancer of the "Opera House of Warsaw" and today director of the "John Cranko Schule" of Stuttgart).

Zhadanov’s second passion was photography and painting. Zhadanov, who was a great admirer of the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, published about twenty albums dedicated to the dance, and his photographic archives contain more than 400,000 negatives. These images are unique evidence of several ballet generations and personalities of the Bolshoi Ballet, and can be considered as his personal tribute to this cultural heritage.

Leonid Zhdanov always had his camera with him while he was on tour or invited to teach. This allowed him to fulfill his objective, which was to capture " the instant ". Once he remind me of the words of Goethe in "Faust": "“Verweile doch, du bist so schön” – “Stay a while, you are so beautiful”. With his pictures, often taken during rehearsals, Leonid Zhdanov wanted to show to the public what they usually can't see, as Degas displayed in his painting. Leonid Zhdanov told me: " I have understood why my favourite painter, Degas, invited us in the kitchen of the ballet, namely in the ballet studio. His marvelous paintings tell us about the preparation to the great and happy party of the ballet performance; the dancers getting ready rehearsing or simply resting after the show. I find all this extraordinary. Degas saw and stopped the moment. Only Degas was able to see it, the audience couldn't".

Zhdanov also was a very successful author of many exhibitions of photography about ballet, pedagogy and art, which he personally organized periodically in Moscow, St. Petersbourg and abroad.

Leonid Zhdanov was my teacher of classical ballet and pas de deux during 3 years in Moscow (1984/87) and it was marvelous to see our pupil-teacher relationship transform into a deep friendship. I could count on him at any time! I also trained with him as a teacher, and as soon as I began to teach, he advised me regularly and helped me analyze my way of teaching.

Leonid Zhdanov distinguished himself by his cultural wealth, not only with his ballet concerns, but by his elegance and quality of life, creativity, wide mentality and human approach towards his pupils, colleagues and profession.

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