Soviet ballet: dancing the classical heritage of humanism

Dance historian Christina Kostoula explains how ballet was put into the service of the people in the socialist Soviet Union.

In this talk to the Stalin Society, Dr Christina Kostoula – dance educator and historian of class struggle – discusses examples of socialist-realist ballets like The Red Poppy and The Flames of Paris, and presents people’s artists like Olga Lepeshinskaya.

She demonstrates that Soviet ballet was synonymous with creative depth and accountability towards the society it served. Ballet, art and all forms of culture were truly meaningful to the Soviet people; the theatre was a place where the aspirations of workers could find their fullest expression in a way that can never happen under capitalism.

For the Soviet people, who endured hell during the second world war, theatres were not mere places of amusement – they represented the vibrant popular culture and humanism workers were fighting for and defending against fascism. They were for poetry, for beauty and for the glory of living; for the greater understanding of human history and society; of what it truly means to be human.

Ballet was part of this culture – a serious humanistic art with a rich legacy that today’s communists need to reclaim. Its poetry of movement still has the ability to illuminate new realms for the masses and enrich their imaginations.

Socialist realism showed the masses that art was not an abstract ‘thing-for-its-own-sake’, unknowable and remote. No. Art was for the people; art is ours, for the workers; to inspire and uplift our struggle to build a better, more decent and meaningful life for all humanity, without exploitation of man by man, and nation by nation, and without the degrading influences of rapacious, exploitative, individualistic and selfish capitalist culture.

This talk has also appeared as an article in Proletarian.