(b St Petersburg, 26 Jun. 1879; d St Petersburg, 5 Nov. 1951)
Soviet dancer, teacher, and director. She trained at the Imperial Theatre School in St Petersburg, a student of Ivanov, Vazem, Pavel Gerdt, and Nikolai Legat, and later studied with Preobrajenska. She graduated in 1897 into the Mariinsky Theatre, but despite her powerful technical skills was not promoted to ballerina until 1915, a year before she retired. Her career had not been helped by the fact that she was dancing at the same time as Pavlova, Karsavina, Preobrajenska, and Kschessinska, and lacked their political influence—the critic Valerian Svetlov once described her as ‘the queen of variations’. Disillusioned with her stage career, Vaganova none the less achieved lasting fame as one of the most important teachers in the history of ballet. She began teaching at a private ballet school in St Petersburg, the School of Russian Ballet run by Akim Volynsky, in 1917. In 1920 she transferred to the Imperial Theatre School (by now renamed the Leningrad Ballet School) where she remained until her death in 1951. Her students included Semonova, Ulanova, Dudinskaya, Moiseyeva, Kolpakova, and Volkova. One of her early choreographic works, The Visions of a Poet (1927), was made for the school's theatre. A woman of great analytical power, she developed her own system of teaching which still carries her name. It gave birth to the new Soviet style and today is used as the basis of ballet training both in Russia and in the West. She published the details of her system in Fundamentals of the Classic Dance in Leningrad in 1934 (English translation by Anatole Chujoy, New York, 1937). From 1917 to 1951 she taught and coached at the Kirov; from 1931 to 1937 she was artistic director of the Kirov Ballet. She encouraged the first productions of Vainonen's Flames of Paris (1932) and Zakharov's Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1934), and herself staged new productions of Swan Lake (1933) and La Esmeralda (1935). In 1957 the St Petersburg ballet school was renamed the Vaganova Institute in her honour.