Olga Fedorchenko about Leonid Yacobson

Olga Anatolievna Fedorchenko is a ballet critic and staff writer at Kommersant. Saint Petersburg. She has a PhD in art history and works as a senior researcher at the Russian Institute of Art History. Especially for the ballet aficionados that honour the memory of Leonid Yacobson, she has written an article on the achievements of this outstanding 20th century choreographer. We are extremely grateful to Olga Anatolievna for her keen interest and active contribution!

I believe that Leonid Yacobson is the kind of choreographer that people mostly know of by name, without having a clear concept of his work. While Marius Petipa's productions are something that any ballet company with a classical repertoire has a solid grasp of, it turns out that Yacobson's choreography is something highly advanced, simple on the surface but not at all easy to master. Yacobson was a genius; he crafted his works effortlessly, without the "labour pains" that the general public assumes to be part of the creative process. He had a wealth of ideas, and he always knew what he wanted to stage and how. Yacobson found joy and happiness in choreographing ballets, and that was his main pitfall: in the Soviet Union, you had to go through back-breaking work to be found worthy of happiness. So his whole life, he swam against the current. Each of his new productions faced almost insurmountable resistance before it could make it to the stage. Everything about his ballets was too unorthodox, from the ideas and use of body language to the subtext, which the government-appointed art critics would sniff out in an instant and then ferociously attempt to stamp out, if not ban altogether. Through dance, Yacobson clearly spoke of the things most people only dared to discuss in whispers. He was far from subtle. He did not make soft, kindly jokes: he wielded satire like an acid-coated weapon. When a ballet was needed to mark an anniversary, he did not produce yet another saccharine ode to the friendship between the nations of the Soviet Union; instead, he created The Wedding Cortège, a poignant production ending in a funeral march... In the world of the 20th century Russian ballet, Yacobson was like an alien from the far future.

It was as if he were composing his choreographic pieces right here, right now, instead of decades ago. His Boot-Lickers are still flooding ministries and government institutions; his Gossips are spinning tall tales on TV, his flirtatious  dancers look fresh out of a night club even if they are supposed to perform a Viennese Waltz. Yacobson was a choreographic prophet. It is very unlikely that his art, so inconvenient, uncompromising, and undiplomatic, will ever settle for solemn official fame, or ever be at home in glossy magazines...'

A lecture by Olga Anatolievna Fedorchenko, ballet critic and historian, will open the Choreographic Masterpieces by Leonid Yacobson recital on 20 March, and will provide an overview of the choreographer's creative journey.