(b St Petersburg, 8 Jan. 1910; d Moscow, 21 Mar. 1998)
Soviet dancer and teacher. One of the definitive Russian ballerinas of the 20th century. She was the daughter of the regisseur Serge Ulanov and the dancer Maria Romanova and trained with her mother (from 1919) before entering the St Petersburg Ballet School (Petrograd Choreographic Institute) where she studied with Vaganova. In 1928 she graduated into the Mariinsky Ballet (then called the GATOB, later the Kirov) where she was rapidly promoted to ballerina, her exceptional gifts—especially her poetic sensitivity to music and character—showcased in her early interpretations of Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Giselle. It was in the new Soviet ballets however that she made her greatest impact. She created the role of Maria in Zakharov's The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1934) and Coralie in his Lost Illusions (1936), Masha in Vainonen's The Nutcracker (1934) and—most significantly—Juliet in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet (1940). During the Second World War she was evacuated to Perm with the Kirov Ballet (1941–2) and to Alma-Ata (1942–3) then in 1944 she joined the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow where she remained until the end of her career. She created Tao-Hoa in Lavrovsky's new version of The Red Poppy (1949) and Katerina in his The Stone Flower (1954). It is said that Prokofiev was inspired by her when he wrote the scores for Romeo and Juliet and The Stone Flower.
Ulanova made her first appearance in the West in 1945, with a trip to Vienna, and was the Bolshoi's leading ballerina when the company visited London in 1956 and New York in 1959. The response from Western critics was rapturous; the intensity of her performances, even as she approached 50, confirmed her reputation as one of the world's leading ballerinas. She gave her farewell performance in 1962 but continued to work with the Bolshoi as ballet mistress and coach. Her pupils included Nina Timofeyeva, Ekaterina Maximova, Ludmila Semenyaka, and Nina Semizorova. Regarded as the embodiment of Soviet ballet in the middle of the 20th century, her unique stage presence was successfully captured in several films, among them Stars of the Ballet (1946), Ballerina (1947), Trio Ballet (1953), Romeo and Juliet (1954), and The Bolshoi Ballet (British film, 1957). She was chairman of the jury at the Varna international ballet competitions from 1964 to 1972. People's Artist of the USSR (1951). Lenin Prize (1957).