In 1956, people queued in Covent Garden for three days and nights to buy the 55,000 tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet’s first visit to the West.  Of the thousands that queued for tickets for a further three performances at the Davis Theatre Croydon (capacity 3,500), only about one in four was successful.  Ballet, which had been the elite entertainment of imperial Russia’s privileged classes, had suddenly become the Soviet Union’s most distinctive cultural export.

The survival of ballet in post revolutionary Russia is remarkable in itself.  Challenged by practical problems (lack of food or heat), new proletarian audiences, and intellectual disagreements about the rôle of ballet in the Soviet cultural project, its death seemed inevitable to some.  In spite of its title, this is not a book about the dancers;  it is a book about the environment in which they worked, and the ways in which neither the Kirov or the Bolshoi buckled under the drive for “socialist realism”, which, of course, had little to do with realism. (more…)