(b Leningrad, 2 Jan. 1927)
Soviet dancer, choreographer, and ballet director. The most important Russian choreographer of the latter half of the 20th century, he ran the Bolshoi Ballet for 30 years. He studied at the Leningrad Ballet School (later the Vaganova) with Vladimir Ponomarev and Alexander Pushkin, and graduated in 1946. From 1946 to 1964 he was a soloist with the Kirov, mostly cast in demi-caractère roles, and among the ballets in which he created roles were Zakharov's The Bronze Horseman (1949), Vainonen's Nutcracker (1954), Fenster's Taras Bulba (1955), and Sergeyev's The Path of Thunder (1957). His choreographic career was launched in 1957 when he choreographed Prokofiev's The Stone Flower for the Kirov, a revolutionary ballet which proved so successful he was invited to stage it for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow in 1959. His next important work was Melikov's Legend of Love, which he made for the Kirov in 1961 (and later restaged for the Bolshoi in 1965). In 1961 he was appointed ballet master in Leningrad. In 1964, however, he moved to Moscow as chief choreographer and artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, and during the next 30 years his repertory came to dominate the company's style and image. His stagings of the classics (Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Raymonda, and Giselle) were often criticized for their simplistic editing but his own ballets were a triumph of theatrical energy and emotional thrust. He proved to be a master of larger-than-life dramatic statement and intense lyrical expression; he was particularly adept at choreography en masse, often filling the stage with a thrilling display for the ensemble. His production of Khachaturian's Spartacus in 1968 became his most popular ballet, featuring some of the most explosive choreography ever written for the male dancer. However Ivan the Terrible (mus. Prokofiev, 1975), Romeo and Juliet (mus. Prokofiev, 1979), and The Golden Age (mus. Shostakovich, 1982) were also extremely successful. He formed his own company in 1990 and after leaving the Bolshoi continued to stage his productions around the world. In 2008 he was invited back to the Bolshoi, as ballet master in charge of his own repertory. People's Artist of the RSFSR 1966, Lenin Prize 1970. He married the ballerina Natalia Bessmertnova.