Galina Ulanova was the main star of the Bolshoi Ballet during the first historical tours abroad in London.   In 1956, within the framework of cultural cooperation between Great Britain and the USSR, the Royal Ballet toured in Moscow and Leningrad, and the Bolshoi Theater in London.  It was after this trip to London that Galina Ulanova gained worldwide popularity.

According to the English ballet critic Peter Brinson, the 1956 Soviet ballet tour was such an exciting theatrical event for London, which it has not experienced since the arrival of Diaghilev's ballet in 1910. The audience awaited the arrival of the Bolshoi with great interest. Among the British there was a tradition of an enthusiastic attitude to Russian ballet dating back to Diaghilev's Russian Seasons.  The Diaghilev Ballet performed in London several times, and everyone remembered how magnificent this spectacle was. In addition, there was a bookstore in London where one could buy books and brochures published in the USSR in English about the Soviet classical musical theater, about opera and ballet, and about some outstanding artists.

The Bolshoi Theatre on tour in London. 1956

The poster of the Bolshoi Theater tour in London. 1956

Covent Garden Theatre. London

The Bolshoi Theater brought four performances: "Swan Lake", "Giselle", "Romeo and Juliet", and the "Fountain of Bakhchisarai”". Three days before the due date, people started queuing around the Theater in Covent Garden. According to the recollections of Soviet artists, people spent the night on the streets to "get" a ticket to the performance.

The tour began with Sergei Prokofiev's ballet "Romeo and Juliet" directed by Leonid Lavrovsky. The idea of "returning Shakespeare to his homeland" belonged to the Bolshoi and aroused the enthusiasm of British producers. As Galina Ulanova recalled, the first performance was for an eminent audience. Only 150 tickets went on free sale, and the Covent Garden Theater had 2,500 seats. There were also entrance counters on sale. Spectators stood on the stairs, in the aisles, sat in front of the orchestra pit, literally hung from the balconies.

Galina Ulanova and Prince Philip,

Duke of Edinburgh. London, 1956

G. Ulanova on tour

in London 1956

Galina Ulanova and Yuri Zhdanov in the film-ballet "Romeo and Juliet"

Members of the British royal family, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden and his wife, French Ambassador to London Jean Chauvel were present at the performance in the hall, and leading dancers of the Covent Garden ballet, led by prima ballerina Margot Fontaine and her husband Robert Arias.  There were also other famous ballet dancers - Tamara Karsavina, Beryl Gray, Svetlana Berezova, Alisa Markova, one of the best English choreographers Frederic Ashton, founder of the first English ballet company Ninette de Valois.  Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Peter Brook сame to the first performance. Serge Lifar came from France with his artists, American violinist Yehudi Menuhin with his wife, ballerina Diana Gould.

After the first act, there was a deathly silence in the hall. Then the audience stood up. Ballet critics calculated that the standing ovation lasted 90 minutes: London thanked the Bolshoi Theater. After the performances, enthusiastic fans drove the bus with Ulanova to the hotel at idle speed. The newspapers the next day were choking with delight: an extraordinary sight, brilliant, extraordinary, divine!

Galina Ulanova in the ballet "Giselle"

The poster of the Bolshoi Theater tour in London. 1956

Bolshoi Theatre performers

on a tour of Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon

At the age of 47, Ulanova danced her most brilliant part - Juliet, and most importantly, she had to show herself at the level of the legend that had come before her - the legend that was created and spread in London for almost 20 years. Later in Europe something like the "Romeo and Juliet fever" spread: all the leading choreographers considered it their duty to stage Prokofiev's ballet.

Victor Dandre, Anna Pavlova’s husband, presented Galina Sergeevna with a gold medallion depicting a solar disk, which once belonged to a ballet legend. Before her death, she asked to give it to the "next great ballerina". For Ulanova, this gift was priceless; she often wore it even at rehearsals. 

"We saw 'this miracle', which is called Ulanova, and this masterpiece of the Soviet ballet. Genius is not a very strong definition for Ulanova's dance. The audience for the London premiere was ecstatic.
"Ulanova's dance is the focus of extraordinary spirituality and mastery, it contains the balance and harmony of all elements, as in an ancient temple," admired the Grand Opera star Yvette Chauvire. "I cannot express in words what Ulanova’s dance is, it’s such magic that I remain in silent admiration" - this is how the famous British prima ballerina Margot Fontaine spoke about Galina Ulanova. "Ulanova experienced such a triumph in London like no other ballerina since Anna Pavlova" (Mary Clarke. "Six Great Dancers of the World”). “The first thing that I noticed in Ulanova's performance was absolute freedom of movement. Its performance is so clean that I have not seen anything like this” (Alicia Markova).
Leonid Lavrovsky also recalled her stunning success in London: "There was "Giselle" on with starring Ulanova. The Queen was present at this performance. Usually her arrival is accompanied by a very solemn ritual.  As soon as the queen appeared, the entire auditorium stood up and stretched out, like in a parade, almost without breathing. And in this silent room, she paraded and sank into her chair. The exact same ceremony is observed after the end of the performance, when the queen leaves. Everyone stands up, turns in her direction, and no one disperses and does not applaud until she leaves. 
So, after the play "Giselle" with participation of Galina Sergeevna, when the curtain fell, all the spectators rushed to the stage. Stormy and incessant applause was heard. And no one noticed how the queen left".