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Grell/Colefax Russian Ballet Archive

Identifier: 0315

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of planning documents; articles by Grell; approximately 7,000 photographs; correspondence; approximately 600 programs; exhibition materials, including text panels and titles; costumes; autographed ballet slippers; posters; fliers; brochures; noncommercial and commercial videotapes; original and noncommercial films; commercial DVDs; books; serials; newspaper and magazine clippings; original artwork, including sketches, drawings, paintings, and costume designs; sculptures; scores and librettos; scrapbooks; long-playing records; cassettes; commemorative medallions and buttons; portions of stages on which companies danced; jewelry boxes; postage stamps; ephemera including ticket stubs, backstage passes, calendars, and invoices and receipts; and handwritten notes. Materials are from all over the world where the Bolshoi, Kirov, and other ballet companies traveled and performed; countries and continents represented include the United States, Soviet Union and Russia, Europe, Japan, Latin America, Cuba, and Canada.

Included are materials that elucidate the Archive's history and purpose, including writings by Grell, a video and accompanying script (entitled For the Love of Art: The Story of Dwight Grell and His Ballet Archives), various statements issued by the Archive; and letters reflecting the appreciation civic and cultural organizations had for Grell and the Archive's work. The photographs provide extensive coverage of Soviet and Russian ballet and its leading figures from the perspectives of performance, portrait and candid shots, and rehearsal and instruction; in particular, the photographs provide a great opportunity to study the work, costuming, and staging practices of Russian and Soviet ballet and of principal dancers and directors including Maya Plisetskaya, Vladimir Vasiliev, Galina Ulanova, Yuri Grigorovich, and many others. Included also are rare programs from the Soviet Union from early and mid-20th century, and rare recordings of ballets, including on Soviet record labels. The collection contains paintings and drawings of artists such as Valery Kosorukov and Nancy Fontaine, whose works were shown in the Archive’s exhibitions. The Archive's audiovisual materials contain unique coverage of Soviet dancers learning, practicing, and discussing their art, while its thousands of clippings, arranged by year and sorted into English and other languages, provide an opportunity to trace critical reception of Soviet and Russian ballet.

This collection represents a broad range of subjects: Russian and Soviet Dance; choreography and costume design; and Russian and Soviet culture, including popular culture, as reflected in programs, print materials, and photographs.


  • circa 1950s-2000s


Conditions Governing Access

COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE. Advance notice required for access. Consult finding aid for additional information.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection contains published materials; researchers are reminded of the copyright restrictions imposed by publishers on reusing their articles and parts of books. It is the responsibility of researchers to acquire permission from publishers when reusing such materials. The copyright to unpublished materials belongs to the heirs of the writers. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.

Historical Note

The Bolshoi Ballet, founded in 1776 and established at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1825, made its first appearance in the West in 1956, at the Royal Opera House in London; 1959 marked its first tour to the United States. The time frame that forms the focus of the Grell/Colefax Collection on Russian Ballet, 1950-2000, has seen three chief choreographers: Leonid Lavrovsky (1944-1964), Yuri Grigorovich (1964-1995), and Vladimir Vasiliev (1995-2000); in 2000, Boris Akimov took on this role, which he held until 2003. Grigorovich also succeeded Lavrovsky as artistic director of the company, a position he held until his replacement by Vasiliev. Important dancers in the company include Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Raisa Struchkova, Yuri Zhdanov, Nikolai Fadeyechev, Vladimir Vasiliev, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Maris Liepa, Natalia Bessmertnova, Ekaterina Maximova, Nina Timofeyeva, Nina Sorokina, Nina Ananiashvili, Irek Mukhamedov, Andris Liepa, Ludmila Semenyaka, Nadezhda Pavlova, and Nina Semizorova, among others.

The company known in the West as the Kirov Ballet was originally named the Mariinsky Ballet in association with its home at the Mariinsky Theater. Renamed the Kirov Ballet in 1935 and then again as the St. Petersburg Maryinsky Ballet in 1991, it is still known outside of Russia as the Kirov Ballet. Dancers associated with the Kirov have been Galina Ulanova, Natalia Makarova, Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev, Yuri Soloviev, Vakhtang Chabukiani, Natalia Dudinskaya, Ninei Kurgapkina, Askold Makarov, Vaslav Nijinski, Marina Semyonova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Early director: Marius Petipa. Teacher Agrippina Vaganova (1879-1951) trained the Kirov's principal dancers; her work "became the foundation of ballet instruction in the Soviet Union" (Columbia Encyclopedia).

Both the Bolshoi and the Kirov Ballet companies made their first appearances in the West in 1956, the Bolshoi Ballet in London, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The Bolshoi first toured the United States in 1959; for the time frame that is the focus of this collection (1950-2000), Grell lists performances in Los Angeles as having taken place in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1968, 1975, 1975, 1979, 1987, 1990, 1996, and 2000. Along with materials pertaining to these and other companies, the Archive also contains materials concerning International Ballet Competitions, for which Grell played a liaison role. These Competitions began in Varna, Bulgaria, in 1964, and began a rotation with Moscow and Tokyo; the first Competition in the United States took place in 1979. The current rotation includes Jackson, Varna, New York, Shanghai, and Helsinki. Winners of 1986 competition in Jackson were dancers Nina Ananiashvili, Vadim Pisarev, and Andris Liepa; Yuri Grigorovich and Vladimir Vasiliev have served as judges.

Sources: The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012; The International Encyclopedia of Dance (Cohen, Selma Jeanne, ed., Oxford University Press. 1998; online via Oxford Reference, 2005).

Biographical Note

Dwight Grell was born in Los Angeles, California to a family of modest means. A music lover as a youth, he was 17 years old when he attended his first ballet--a performance of Sleeping Beauty with Margot Fonteyn at the Shrine Auditorium--and subsequently saw ballet films in 1957 featuring Russian dancers, including Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya, in performance. His interest sparked, especially by the Bolshoi Ballet, whose work he prized for what he describes as their "dynamic" and "powerful" style of dance, Grell went to see the company during its first U.S. tour in 1959, an event that was to change his life. Even as he worked in a button factory, Grell attended every performance he could, and began collecting programs, posters, and photographs, as well as asking for autographs; indeed, as he states, the Grell/Colefax Russian Ballet Archive began in 1959 when Grell acquired a small autographed photograph of Plisetskaya dancing the role of Zarema in the Fountain of Bakchisirai. In 1962, he began creating his first rudimentary exhibitions, and in 1963, Raisa Struchkova gave Grell an autographed pair of her ballet slippers--his first. From that point on, Grell began asking performers if he could have slippers from various performances.

In 1966, Russian expatriate Sonia Colefax [1896-1991] opened her Hancock Park home to Grell, providing the collection with a place in which to grow; that same year, Grell acquired American ballet presenter Sol Hurok's ballet-related materials. Grell began to assemble exhibitions, with the aim of both promoting Russian ballet and of educating audiences about Russian theatre and ballet. He created his first exhibit in the lobby of the Regent Theatre in Westwood, to accompany a screening of the film "Bolshoi '67". Shortly thereafter, seeking to create what he termed a "cultural bridge," he wrote a letter to the periodical Soviet Life, in which he expressed his admiration and gratitude for the Bolshoi Ballet; his mailing to the magazine included also photos from this first exhibition.

When Soviet Life published the letter in 1968, long after Grell had sent it, Grell's fledgling Archive gained an international dimension, when Roger L. Stevenson, a ballet enthusiast from New Zealand, read it and began sending Grell reels of 16- and 35-mm film concerning the Bolshoi Theatre and its ballet company. Stevenson sent commercial as well as non-commercial films: films and documentaries made by the Bolshoi and newsreels about its artists. Continuing in his educational mission, Grell purchased a 16-mm projector, and began to show these films in ballet schools and university classes; his first screenings occurred around 1970 and continued into the 1980s. Screenings included a 1974 screening, Two Hours of Film from the Bolshoi Ballet and the Leningrad-Kirov Ballet; screenings in 1976 and 1977 at the Vanguard Theatre (Los Angeles) of The Ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre, programs I and II (film drawn from the Archive and from footage taken by William P. Merriman and Grell during 1976 Bolshoi trip); and screenings in other locations, including at the Arizona Alliance for Arts Education (1976); Town Hall of California (1985); and the Long Beach Ballet (1986). Featured dancers included Maya Plisetskaya, Nadzehda Pavlova, Nina Sorokina, Ludmilla Semenyaka, Alexander Godunov, Vyacheslav Gordeyev, Vladimir Vasiliev, and others, in performances and rehearsals from Swan Lake, Giselle, La Rose Malade, and other ballets.

Grell continued to build the collection, buying or being sent all sorts of ballet-related materials; in 1969, he embarked on his first trip abroad, to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform the Western premiere of Spartacus at the Royal Opera House in London; he traveled in 1972 to see them in Paris. Todd Lechtick became the Archive's official photographer, capturing images in the Soviet Union, the United States, and elsewhere in Europe. In 1975, Grell took his first trip to Moscow, on the occasion of the Bolshoi's 200th Jubilee (1975-1976), and he met many of the Bolshoi's leading dancers. He requested, and was granted, permission by the ministry of culture to film ballet classes and rehearsals; he was the first Westerner to receive permission to do so for educational, noncommercial purposes. He filmed luminaries from both the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets, including Galina Ulanova, Marina Semyonova, Nadia Pavlova, Asaf Messerer, Alexander Pushkin, Natalia Dudinskaya, Ninella Kurgapkina, and many others. His intent was to show students in the United States what it took to be a dancer of their caliber and that they were "normal everyday human beings, not something that you’d wind up and turn on" (Dwight Grell, His House, 7/23/87).

Once again in the United States, Grell traveled to many states to show the Archive's films, and continued to create exhibits for venue lobbies for ballet tours. He wrote articles on events surrounding ballet and the Bolshoi and gave lectures, held screenings, and showed exhibitions from the Archive; he studied dance for two years in order to understand it better from a technical perspective. In 1985, Grell became active in founding the International Association of Friends of Soviet Ballet, serving as Vice President and Permanent Curator; Mikhail Lavrovsky and Vladimir Vasiliev served as Honorary Presidents; and Gennady Alfarenko (USSR), Olga Smoak (US), Gordon Partridge (US) as Acting Presidents. In January 1986, Grell founded the Ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre Archive as a nonprofit organization, with its major goals being to secure a permanent facility capable of supporting research and to create a master teacher program based in the Vaganova training syllabus (the training program established by Agrippina Vaganova). He also served on the Advisory Council for the International Dance Alliance, Ltd., and on the Advisory Board of the International Association of Friends of the Soviet Ballet. Supplementing his purchases of ballet-related materials, including films, dancers, teachers, choreographers, artists, and people from various venues sent brochures, booklets, photographs, books, artwork, scores, cassettes and other items; for exhibits, Grell framed the Bolshoi photographs in red and gold, and Kirov photographs in blue for exhibits. Grell attended International Ballet Competitions in 1985 and 1986, and served as liaison for the Russian contingent there. He expressed a desire that the Ballet Archive be sent to wherever the Bolshoi Ballet was performing in the United States, and purchased flowers to throw to principals after every performance.

In 1987, Grell organized a major exhibition in the foyer of the Grand Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center in Los Angeles, so that the audience could see the collection and then see the performances during the Bolshoi's three-week engagement there. The Archive's second major exhibition was held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in 1990; both of these exhibitions coincided with Bolshoi appearances and focused on the dancers appearing and on the repertoire being performed at the time. Grell organized a third exhibition, for the La Muse Eternelle tour in Tokyo, Japan, in 1995. A fourth exhibition in 2000 covered the Bolshoi from 1956-2000, starting with the company’s first appearances at Covent Garden, London, in 1956, and its first US tour (1959).

Sources: Press Bulletin for the International Ballet Competition, Moscow 1989 and from document accompanying the video; from an exhibition text panel; from LA Times article, 8/12/87: The Bolshoi Ballet: One Man’s Hobby, by Julie Wheelock


205 Linear Feet (209 boxes)

Language of Materials




The collection consists of films, books, photographs, sound recordings, posters, costumes, and artwork related to Russian ballet, chiefly the Bolshoi Ballet Company. Collected by Los Angeles resident Dwight Grell from the early 1950s through the 2000s. Many of the materials are in Russian. This collection represents a broad range of subjects: Russian and Soviet Dance; choreography and costume design; and Russian and Soviet culture, including popular culture, as reflected in programs, print materials, and photographs.

Temporarily removed from collection

The following items were borrowed by the donor, Dwight Grell, on February 8, 2010: 1. Photo album of Dwight Grell's Russian Ballet exhibit in Anaheim, 2000. 2. Photo album of Dwight Grell's Russian Ballet exhibit at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, 2000. 3. Three bound 10 1/2 x 14 autograph albums.


Gift of Dwight Grell, 2003.

Processing Note

Sue Tyson processed the collection in 2013, with assistance from Crispin Brooks and Libet Chang Stanhope as Russian-English translators, and Daniel Nguyen. For those materials that were labelled and placed together or in a particular order upon arrival, original order was maintained. Most of the collection was not in order. Sue Tyson analyzed the collection's contents and created series based on their contents and subject matter. Those photographs that were not found together under a particular topic or theme were arranged by subject (Performance, Portraits and Candids, and Rehearsal and Instruction), by ballet company (Bolshoi Ballet, Kirov Ballet, Other Companies, and Unidentified Companies), by ballet, and by year, depending on what information was available on the photographs; where photographs included no identifying information, they were arranged by subject.

Processing Information

The USC Libraries Special Collections unit transferred custody of the Grell/Colefax Russian Ballet Archive to the USC Libraries Music Library on January 20, 2022. Most of the collection's box labels still list Special Collections as the holding repository.

Finding Aid of the Grell/Colefax Collection on Russian Ballet
Sue Tyson
2013 October
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 September: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub to include material added to the collection from accrual no. 2021-010
  • 2022 January: Bo Doub transferred the resource record from the Special Collections repository to the Music Library repository.
  • 2022 May and 2022 December: Finding aid updated by Bo Doub: created new container records (listed under "Unprocessed material") after finding unprocessed boxes during a collection move from Doheny Library to Grand Archives.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Music Library Repository

Doheny Memorial Library, G-24
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-1822 United States