Yakobson, Leonid (1904–1975) By Ross, Janice
A Russian dancer and choreographer, Leonid Veniaminovich Yakobson choreographed for the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets from 1930 to the early 1970s, during which time he emerged as a powerful voice of Soviet ballet modernism. Based in St. Petersburg, his creative roots stretched back to the 1920s, a period of artistic experimentation when classical ballet developed exciting new movement vocabularies. He continued to explore and extend these influences until the 1970s, creating numerous short-format works—called ballet miniatures—that often used grotesque, athletic, or pantomimic movements to address social, dramatic, or erotic subjects with narrative clarity and concision. He favored original music, often in a contemporary style, believing that distinctive forms of music elicited an individual choreographic response. Among his most notable works were his full-length Spartacus (1956/1962)—which discarded the lifts and pointe work of traditional ballet language and featured characters who were fully developed psychologically—and Exercise XX (1972), a dance that verged on abstraction. In 1969, he founded Choreographic Miniatures, the first Soviet ballet company since the 1920s with a repertoire of original choreographic works by a single choreographer. Jewish by birth, Yakobson held onto his Jewish identity culturally as religious observance was effectively prohibited. During years of aggressive anti-Semitism, he created six ballets on Jewish themes; the first, Jewish Dance (1949), he created at a time when Jews were being actively persecuted.