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The Most Famous

DANCERS from Russia

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This page contains a list of the greatest Russian Dancers. The pantheon dataset contains 76 Dancers, 18 of which were born in Russia. This makes Russia the birth place of the most number of Dancers.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Russian Dancers of all time. This list of famous Russian Dancers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Russian Dancers.

Photo of Rudolf Nureyev

1. Rudolf Nureyev (1938 - 1993)

With an HPI of 73.06, Rudolf Nureyev is the most famous Russian Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 61 different languages on wikipedia.

Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (17 March 1938 – 6 January 1993) was a Soviet-born ballet dancer and choreographer. Nureyev is regarded by some as the greatest male ballet dancer of his generation.Nureyev was born on a Trans-Siberian train near Irkutsk, Siberia, Soviet Union, to a Tatar family. He began his early career with the company that in the Soviet era was called the Kirov Ballet (now called by its original name, the Mariinsky Ballet) in Leningrad. He defected from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961, despite KGB efforts to stop him. This was the first defection of a Soviet artist during the Cold War, and it created an international sensation. He went on to dance with The Royal Ballet in London and from 1983 to 1989 served as director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Nureyev was also a choreographer serving as the chief choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet. He produced his own interpretations of numerous classical works, including Swan Lake, Giselle and La Bayadère.

Photo of Anna Pavlova

2. Anna Pavlova (1881 - 1931)

With an HPI of 72.06, Anna Pavlova is the 2nd most famous Russian Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 70 different languages.

Anna Pavlovna Pavlova (born Anna Matveyevna Pavlova; 12 February [O.S. 31 January] 1881 – 23 January 1931) was a Russian prima ballerina of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. She was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. Pavlova is most recognized for her creation of the role of The Dying Swan and, with her own company, became the first ballerina to tour around the world, including performances in South America, India, Mexico and Australia.

Photo of Maya Plisetskaya

3. Maya Plisetskaya (1925 - 2015)

With an HPI of 65.71, Maya Plisetskaya is the 3rd most famous Russian Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 54 different languages.

Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya (Russian: Майя Михайловна Плисецкая; 20 November 1925 – 2 May 2015) was a Soviet and Russian ballet dancer, choreographer, ballet director, and actress. In post-Soviet times, she held both Lithuanian and Spanish citizenship. She danced during the Soviet era at the Bolshoi Theatre under the directorships of Leonid Lavrovsky, then of Yury Grigorovich; later she moved into direct confrontation with him. In 1960, when famed Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova retired, Plisetskaya became prima ballerina assoluta of the company. Her early years were marked by political repression and loss. Her father, Mikhail Plisetski, a Soviet official, was arrested in 1937 and executed in 1938, during the Great Purge. Her mother, actress Rachel Messerer, was arrested in 1938 and imprisoned for a few years, then held in a concentration camp together with her infant son, Azari. The older children were faced with the threat of being put in an orphanage but were cared for by maternal relatives. Maya was adopted by their aunt Sulamith Messerer, and Alexander was taken into the family of their uncle Asaf Messerer; both Alexander and Azary eventually became solo dancers of the Bolshoi. Plisetskaya studied ballet at The Bolshoi Ballet School from age nine, and she first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre when she was eleven. She studied ballet under the direction of Elizaveta Gerdt and also her aunt, Sulamith Messerer. Graduating in 1943 at the age of eighteen, she joined the Bolshoi Ballet company, quickly rising to become their leading soloist. In 1959, during the Thaw Time, she started to tour outside the country with the Bolshoi, then on her own. Her fame as a national ballerina was used to project the Soviet Union's achievements during the Cold War. Premier Nikita Khrushchev considered her to be "not only the best ballerina in the Soviet Union, but the best in the world".As an artist, Plisetskaya had an inexhaustible interest in new roles and dance styles, and she liked to experiment on stage. As a member of the Bolshoi until 1990, she had international exposure and her skills as a dancer changed the world of ballet. She set a higher standard for ballerinas, both in terms of technical brilliance and dramatic presence. As a soloist, Plisetskaya created a number of leading roles, including Juliet in Lavrovsky's Romeo and Juliet; Phrygia in Yakobson's Spartacus (1958); in Grigorovich's ballets : Mistress of the Copper Mountain in The Stone Flower (1959); Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty (1963); Mahmene Banu in The Legend of Love (1965); Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite (1967), choreographed especially for her; and Maurice Béjart's Isadora (1976). Among her most acclaimed roles were Kitri in Don Quixote, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, and The Dying Swan, first danced as a pre-graduate student under the guidance of Sulamith Messerer. A fellow dancer said that her dramatic portrayal of Carmen, reportedly her favorite role, "helped confirm her as a legend, and the ballet soon took its place as a landmark in the Bolshoi repertoire". Her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, wrote the scores to a number of her ballets. Having become "an international superstar" and a continuous "box office hit throughout the world", Plisetskaya was treated by the Soviet Union as a favored cultural emissary. Although she toured extensively during the same years that other prominent dancers defected, including Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Alexander Godunov and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Plisetskaya always refused to defect. In 1991, she published her autobiography, I, Maya Plisetskaya.

Photo of Michel Fokine

4. Michel Fokine (1880 - 1942)

With an HPI of 63.29, Michel Fokine is the 4th most famous Russian Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.

Michael Fokine (23 April [O.S. 11 April] 1880 – 22 August 1942) was a Russian choreographer and dancer.

Photo of George Balanchine

5. George Balanchine (1904 - 1983)

With an HPI of 61.88, George Balanchine is the 5th most famous Russian Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 42 different languages.

George Balanchine (; born Georgiy Melitonovich Balanchivadze; Russian: Георгий Мелитонович Баланчивадзе; Georgian: გიორგი მელიტონის ძე ბალანჩივაძე; January 22, 1904 (O. S. January 9) – April 30, 1983) was an American ballet choreographer of Georgian origin, recognized as one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th-century. Styled as the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its artistic director for more than 35 years. His choreography is characterized by plotless ballets with minimal costume and décor, performed to classical and neoclassical music.Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Balanchine took the standards and technique from his time at the Imperial Ballet School and fused it with other schools of movement that he had adopted during his tenure on Broadway and in Hollywood, creating his signature "neoclassical style".He was a choreographer known for his musicality; he expressed music with dance and worked extensively with leading composers of his time like Igor Stravinsky. Balanchine was invited to America in 1933 by a young arts patron named Lincoln Kirstein, and together they founded the School of American Ballet in 1934 as well as the New York City Ballet in 1948.

Photo of Galina Ulanova

6. Galina Ulanova (1910 - 1998)

With an HPI of 61.17, Galina Ulanova is the 6th most famous Russian Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 37 different languages.

Galina Sergeyevna Ulanova (Russian: Галина Сергеевна Уланова, pronounced [ɡɐˈlʲinə ʊˈlanəvə]; 8 January 1910 [O.S. 26 December 1909] – 21 March 1998) was a Russian ballet dancer. She is frequently cited as being one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century.

Photo of Tamara Karsavina

7. Tamara Karsavina (1885 - 1978)

With an HPI of 60.47, Tamara Karsavina is the 7th most famous Russian Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 46 different languages.

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (Russian: Тамара Платоновна Карсавина; 9 March 1885 – 26 May 1978) was a Russian prima ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was a principal artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later of the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev. After settling in Britain at Hampstead in London, she began teaching ballet professionally and became recognised as one of the founders of modern British ballet. She assisted in the establishment of The Royal Ballet and was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Dance, which is now the world's largest dance-teaching organisation.

Photo of Agrippina Vaganova

8. Agrippina Vaganova (1879 - 1951)

With an HPI of 56.86, Agrippina Vaganova is the 8th most famous Russian Dancer.  Her biography has been translated into 24 different languages.

Agrippina Yakovlevna Vaganova (Russian: Агриппина Яковлевна Ваганова; 26 June 1879 – 5 November 1951) was a Soviet and Russian ballet teacher who developed the Vaganova method – the technique which derived from the teaching methods of the old Imperial Ballet School (today the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet) under the Premier Maître de Ballet Marius Petipa throughout the mid to late 19th century, though mostly throughout the 1880s and 1890s. It was Vaganova who perfected and cultivated this form of teaching the art of classical ballet into a workable syllabus. Her Fundamentals of the Classical Dance (1934) remains a standard textbook for the instruction of ballet technique. Her technique is one of the most popular techniques today.

Photo of Lev Ivanov

9. Lev Ivanov (1834 - 1901)

With an HPI of 55.65, Lev Ivanov is the 9th most famous Russian Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 20 different languages.

Lev Ivanovich Ivanov (Russian: Лев Ива́нович Ива́нов; 2 March 1834, Moscow – 24 December 1901, Saint Petersburg) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer and later, Second Balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet. As a performer with the Imperial Ballet, he achieved prominence after performing as an understudy in a benefit performance of La Fille Mal Gardée. He is most famous as the choreographer of Acts II and IV of Swan Lake, which include the Dance of the Little Swans, Act II of Cinderella, and The Nutcracker, which he choreographed alongside Marius Petipa.

Photo of Alexander Godunov

10. Alexander Godunov (1949 - 1995)

With an HPI of 54.62, Alexander Godunov is the 10th most famous Russian Dancer.  His biography has been translated into 26 different languages.

Alexander Borisovich Godunov (Russian: Александр Борисович Годунов; November 28, 1949 – c. May 1995) was a Russian-American ballet dancer and film actor. A member of the Bolshoi Ballet, he became the troupe's Premier danseur. In 1979, he defected to the United States. While continuing to dance, he also began working as a supporting actor in Hollywood films. He had prominent roles in films such as Witness and Die Hard.

Pantheon has 18 people classified as dancers born between 1799 and 1984. Of these 18, 3 (16.67%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living dancers include Vladimir Vasiliev, Yury Grigorovich, and Polina Semionova. The most famous deceased dancers include Rudolf Nureyev, Anna Pavlova, and Maya Plisetskaya. As of April 2022, 3 new dancers have been added to Pantheon including Vera Karalli, Olga Spessivtseva, and Polina Semionova.

Living Dancers

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Deceased Dancers

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Newly Added Dancers (2022)

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Which Dancers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 15 most globally memorable Dancers since 1700.