Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Additional Photos...........

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Lena, Leon, and Sonia-The "Ballets Russes Family"

Helena Antonova (1898 – 1974)                                                                             Helena, known as Lena, was a dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes begining in 1915. Antonova studied privately with Lydia Nelidova, a graduate of the Bolshoi Ballet School and a member of the Bolshoi Company. Diaghilev recruited many of his dancers from Nelidova's school.  After the 1916 tour, Nijinsky formed his own company taking away many of Diaghilev’s dancers with him.  Diaghilev retained a small base of his best company dancers including Antonova, to create new works for the next season.  Lena was there during the legendary choreography of Fokine, Balanchine and Massine. 

Lena was good friends with Bronislava Nijinska.  In the photo on the right she is there helping to brush Bronislava's hair.  In the collection on our Photos page you can see a hand written letter Nijinska wrote to Lena.


Madame Antonova co-founded The Academy Of The Dance in Wilmington, Delaware in 1956. (The shawl in the photo above is part of the collection and is available for viewing on the Photos page.)


Leon Wojcikowski (1899 – 1975)

Leon was born in Poland.  He trained with Warsaw Imperial Ballet School and then studied with Enrico Cecchetti.  Leon joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1916 and was an outstanding character dancer.

After Diaghilev’s death Leon joined Anna Pavlova’s company from 1929 – 1931.  Betweeen 1932 and 1933 he danced with Rene Blum’s Original Ballet Russe Company creating roles in Balanchines “Cotillon” and “Le Concurrence”.  In 1935 he formed Leon Woizikowski’s Ballet Russe.  Leon also dance with Festival Ballet of London during his career.  His daughter, Sonia, Lydia Sokolova and Igor Youskevitch danced for his company.  

 (These autographed photos are part of the collection and available for viewing on the Photos page)  Leon danced with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, both in the Paris and London performances during its historic and tragic final season in 1929.  Mr Diaghilev died an untimely death in August of 1929Leon was a handsome and popular dancer who often did ads for commercial products like a protein enhanced milk drink.  He was ahead of his time with celebrity endorsements! 

Sonia Wojcikowska (1919 – present)

Born December 17, 1919 Sonia was educated at the Lycee Jules Ferrier school in Paris under Lubov Egorova.  Sonia started her career as a little girl in a walk-on part in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of “Petrouchka” holding the hand of Enrico CecchettiSonia’s parents, Helena Antonova and Leon Wojcikowski, were both stars of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company.  Sonia’s godfather was Pablo Picasso.  At 9, Sonia sang the part of Chaliapin’s grand-daughter in Opera La Sirene, (The Mermaid) at Paris Opera.  Later she sang two Spanish songs off-stage for Leonide Massine’s “Three Cornered Hat”.   When Sonia was thirteen she danced with her mother at the Paris Opera with Les Ballets Ida Rubinstein. Sonia danced many of her mother's roles. (Her father told her once that he could not tell them apart.) By replacing Nathalie Krassovska in Rubinstein's company Sonia danced her first solo in Mikhail Fokine's "Diane de Poitiers".

Sonia joined Mme. Egorova’s “Ballet de la Jeunesse” at 14 years of age.  She later became a soloist with the Original Ballet Russse in 1938.  Sonia first came to the United States on the Normandie to dance in the World’s Fair in 1939.  In 1940 she became a soloist with Ballet Theatre, now American Ballet Theatre in New York City.  Sonia also had a part in the original “Oklahoma” and was the “Foxhole Ballerina” for the troups in WWII.  Sonia became a US citizen in 1949.  She married violinist Joska de Barbary and still resides in New York City.  She is 90 years old this year, or more appropriately 90 years young!

Sonia - Dance Magazine 1963

There is a fabulous 3-page article on Sonia in the July 1963 Dance magazine issue.  If you go to the Feedback page and send me a request, I will email you an electronic file copy of the article.

Madame Helena Antonova's Friend Vera

Vera Nemtchinova (1899-1984)

Vera Nemtchinova was born in 1899 in Moscow. She began her dance training at the age of 10.  In 1915, Vera auditioned for Serge Grigoriev, of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and she was hired as a member of the Corps de Ballet.  This was the same year that Lena Antonova started with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.  The two would come to be lifelong friends.  Vera’s first solos were the Mazurka and Pas de deux in Les Sylphides in 1916.  Diaghilev gave Vera the nickname of "Little Vera", as she was younger than Vera Karalli another of Diaghilev’s ballerinas.  It was not until 1924 that she would be promoted to Prima Ballerina. It was in that same year, Vera’s danced one of her most famous roles in Bronislava Nijinska's Les Biches.


In 1927 Vera and fellow Diaghilev dancer, Anton Dolin, left the company to form their own company along with Anatole Oboukhoff, who Vera would marry years later. They toured Europe until Dolin left the company to return to the Ballets Russes.  Vera went on to be the Prima Ballerina of the State Opera in Kaunas, Lithuania from 1930 to 1935.  She also danced with René Blum's Ballet Russe in 1936, Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1939, and was a guest artist with Ballet Theatre, now ABT, in 1943 and the San Francisco Ballet in 1946.


Helena, Leon and Vera Together In The November 2, 1921 London revival of "The Sleeping Princess"

In Scene I, The Christening, Leon was a Page to the Cherry Blossom Fairy, Lena was a Lady-in-Waiting and Vera was the Carnation Fairy.  Scenen II, The Spell, Leon was the Indian Prince, Lena the Village Maiden and Vera one of Princess Aurora's Friends.  In Scene III, The Vision, Lena was a Nymph and Vera was a Baroness.  To see images of the program go to our Photos page.

The Delaware Connection

Please visit The Collection's Beginings page to learn about where these items came from and their tie to the Wilmington, Delaware Arts community.


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