Kirov's Alla Sizova in Le Corsaire Variation
In March 1958, although still a student at the Vaganova Academy in Leningrad (now St Petersburg), 18-year-old Alla Sizova made her debut with the Kirov Ballet, dancing the role of Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote. The clip was filmed a few months later at a competition when she danced the Le Corsaire pas de deux with a fellow student, Rudolf Nureyev. Soviet dancers often swapped variations (solos) around between ballets, and here Sizova replaces the usual Le Corsaire choreography (here's a performance recorded in 2010) with her Dryads variation in order to show off her prodigious jump, an attribute that would earn her the nickname "Flying" Sizova.
Even apart from those amazing opening leaps, this is fabulous dancing. Watch the beautifully sustained balances on pointe, the airily relaxed arms, the lyrical carriage of head and neck. Note her phrasing: the luxurious way that she fills out the music for the opening jumps and then, from 0:45, starts to anticipate it to buy herself "air-time" for those coolly precise entrechats six volés (0:48, 0:50 and 0:57). Entrechats, as this Royal Ballet dancer demonstrates, are steps where the feet are beaten together in the air. Here, Sizova is performing them in full flight (hence the addition of the French "volés").
The very difficult final section was substituted at Nureyev's suggestion, almost as a dare, to make the performance more exciting. He put it together for Sizova, and in fact this clip represents his first recorded choreography. Sizova almost carries it off perfectly, but you can see her falter as she pulls out of the Italian fouettés – here's how to do these; easy, no? – into the pirouettes at 1:09. Even in today's much more technical era, few ballerinas could carry off this particular combination.
What shines through, half a century later, is the unbounded joy in performance of a supremely talented teenager. Sizova would go on to have an illustrious career with the Kirov, and after Nureyev defected to the west in 1961, and was denounced as a traitor in the USSR, continued to perform this variation with his choreography. She was the only one who knew that the steps were his, and so was able to perform the piece as a secret tribute to her former partner. ...
How the Kirov's Alla Sizova followed Nureyev to a flying start