Dancing for Stalin: the poignant story of a ballerina who survived the gulag

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In 1938, at the height of Stalin’s Great Terror, Russian ballet dancer Nina Anisimova was arrested by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. His alleged crime was to work as a Nazi spy. Although she could not be found guilty of espionage, she was nonetheless labeled “socially dangerous” and sent to a cattle car in Karlag Gulag in Kazakhstan, one of the largest labor camps in Kazakhstan. the Stalinist period. She was released in 1939 and resumed her successful career – first as a dancer, then as a choreographer – but the horrors she experienced in the labor camp remained a dark episode that overshadowed her life. , although they are rarely mentioned in other biographies.

Posted in August 2021 by Elliott & Thompson, Dancing for Stalin, a book on Soviet cultural policy and Russian ballet historian Christina Ezrahi, now sheds light on this neglected facet of Anisimova’s life. It traces the dancer’s life from her brilliant debut at the age of 17 with the prestigious Leningrad Kirov Ballet ensemble, to her sudden disgrace and exile. It also chronicles the horrors that Anisimova witnessed in Karlag, and how the dancer could only survive thanks to the performances she organized for the prison guards. It also tells how the ballerina’s husband fought for her release from Leningrad, mobilizing former colleagues to testify on her behalf.

Unlike many other prisoners in the gulag, Anisimova was eventually released and even managed to resume her ballet career. Despite the stifling of the Stalinist era and the subsequent ravages of World War II, Anisimova became an icon of the Kirov ballet. In 1949, after her retirement, she received the Stalin Prize, one of the highest civilian honors in the Soviet Union.

Anisimova’s life was heroic and eventful, and Dancing for Stalin captures it vividly, with captivating cinematic-quality prose. The product of many years of archival research, Ezrahi’s book reveals hitherto unknown details of the ballerina’s life: from the original statements made during her arrest to Karlag’s testimony and reflections on her subsequent determination to restore its reputation.

Dancing for Stalin is an extraordinary, unfiltered portrayal of Anisimova’s fierce and restless character, and a tale of the power of art under the most miserable circumstances. Ultimately, the book asks difficult questions about human nature under oppression, especially whether it is worth enduring hardship and injustice in order to simply survive.


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