Ballet School Founder Yelena Vinogradova

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Yelena Vinogradova, 69, a teacher of classical ballet and the retired deputy artistic director of the Kirov Academy of Ballet in the District, died June 26 of complications of lung cancer at her home in Lake Anne.

Ms. Vinogradova came to Washington in 1990, with her then-husband, Oleg Vinogradov, to create what was then called the Universal Ballet Academy, funded by Unification Church founder the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. An academy spokesperson at the time said that the academy was the next step in Moon's ambition "to connect to heaven through beauty and art."

Shortly after the school's founding, its name was changed to the Kirov Academy of Ballet to reflect its connection to the fabled academy that produced Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky. It was the first dance school outside Russia to officially be given the name Kirov.

The Unification Church still provides funding, and the Rev. Moon's daughter, Julia Moon, serves on its board, but there is no other connection with the church, said Ralph Hoffman, the academy's artistic administrator.

The "evangelistic fervor" of Ms. Vinogradova and her fellow Russian teachers was reserved for the rudiments of classical Russian ballet, as expressed in the school's signature Vaganova technique, The Washington Post reported in 1994. "To American dancers whose general outlook is as upright as a Methodist pew, the Vaganova technique -- with its arched wrists and canted head -- is as ornate as a Russian Orthodox church. The students have absorbed the style with ardent commitment."

Vinogradov, former director of St. Petersburg's fabled Kirov Ballet, was the director of the Washington academy, still located in a former seminary near Catholic University; Ms. Vinogradova was one of the academy's original teachers.

"We are here to teach our style," Vinogradov told the Washington Times in 1990. "We have come to teach American students Russian ballet -- and not only Russian ballet, but Kirov!"

Hoffman, who described Ms. Vinogradova as "a very energetic and empathetic teacher," also commented that "she was very hard but got wonderful results. She was very strict about the Kirov style."

Over the years, Ms. Vinogradova's pupils have danced in ballet companies around the world. They include Michele Wiles, Sascha Radetsky and Maria Bystrova of the American Ballet Theatre, Vanessa Zahorian of the San Francisco Ballet and Dragos Mihalcea of the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Ms. Vinogradova was born in St. Petersburg to a family of artists and intellectuals. She was named for an aunt, Yelena Stratova, a Russian actress married to the grandson of Marius Petipa, the 19th century French-Russian choreographer who has been called the father of classical ballet.

She was 8 when her famous aunt helped her apply to a celebrated school run by Agrippina Vaganova, the Russian teacher who codified the fundamentals of classical ballet. She was one of 1,000 to apply, one of 27 accepted and one of 11 who graduated.

After graduation, she married Vinogradov, whom she knew from the Vaganova Academy, and the newlyweds left St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad) for Novosibirsk, a Siberian city 4,800 miles west of Moscow. Ms. Vinogradova began her performing career as a soloist with the Novosibirsk Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and her husband made his professional debut as a choreographer. She also began teaching ballet at the Novosibirsk Choreographic Institute.

The couple returned to St. Petersburg six years later and then joined the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Two years later, they returned to St. Petersburg, where they remained until moving to the United States in 1990. Ms. Vinogradova concluded her dancing career in 1982.

Her marriage to Vinogradov ended in divorce.

Survivors include her husband of five months, Vasili Zakarov of Lake Anne.

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