Growing Old

The Narrative


We meet our protagonists as their story unfolds from birth. We go through a brief history of time and place that spans the early Soviet period. Ideology and politics are referenced through the drive to mould individuals into the New Soviet Person.

Our protagonists meet and we see the beginning of a beautiful relationship that grows in the most harrowing of times. They are separated by war (the Great Patriotic War) and reunited through love after the war.


The post-war period saw the significant development of gerontology and geriatrics, with researchers in those disciplines working to deepen understandings of health and illness in old age.

Interest grew in biomedicine and social gerontology at this time. The Institute of Gerontology AMN USSR in Kyiv led the development of gerontology and geriatrics in the Soviet Union.


She retires at 55, the retirement age for women in the Soviet Union, and this is marked by a party. This scene depicts the importance of the collective as well as the hardship (the dancers falling to the ground represent workers being broken by the system).

As the couple ages he notices that something is amiss about the way his wife is behaving. She becomes an outsider owing to her deteriorating health. She develops a neurological disease, and as time passes this worsens (Growing Old duet), forcing the couple to take different paths. She is admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

Soviet ideology

He engages with physical culture and other methods of prolonging his health so that he can contribute to Soviet society. Labour was a fundamental part of Soviet life and important for the economic wellbeing of the Soviet Union. In the dance we see symbols of ‘belonging’ to Soviet society and participating in working life in the form of the coloured waistcoats that the dancers wear.

As he gets older, our protagonist shares the memories of his wife and remembers how beautiful and precious their time together was.

Text by Taira Foo and Susan Grant

Historical Context

In 1917 there were two revolutions in Russia. After the second revolution in October 1917, the Bolsheviks – led by V.I. Lenin, came to power. This power was not secure, and civil wars ensued from 1918-1922. During this time the lands of the former Russian empire were ravaged by disease, violence, and famine. After the Bolshevik victory in the civil wars, they set about building a new socialist society based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Education and preventative healthcare propaganda, calls for female emancipation, anti-religion campaigns, and an emphasis on class all characterised the 1920s. Some of these campaigns continued in the following decades.

When I.V. Stalin came to power, he set the Soviet Union on course for collectivisation and industrialisation campaigns that first began in the late 1920s and early 1930s. These campaigns to modernise the Soviet Union, especially forcible collectivisation, were often brutal and violent. In the Ukrainian republic, famine took millions of lives in 1933. By the late 1930s, terror consumed Soviet society as so-called enemies of the people were arrested, incarcerated, and executed.

The Soviet Union entered the Second World War on 22 June 1941, after the German invasion known as Operation Barbarossa. After the war a period of reconstruction attempted to rebuild the wartime devastation. Stalinist terror and violence remained a feature of Soviet society until the leader’s death in 1953.

N.S. Khrushchev’s time in power was characterised by Cold War flashpoints including Hungary in 1956 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as well as a focus on improving living standards in the Soviet Union.  Despite improvements, life remained difficult for many with housing shortages and high prices for consumer goods. Ideology remained important and Soviet citizens were encouraged to be active, morally observant communists.

This humanistic dimension continued under L.I. Brezhnev in the 1960s and 1970s. During this time stability characterised Soviet life, albeit a stability rocked by events such as the Prague Spring in 1968 and the Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1979. By the time M.S. Gorbachev came to power in 1985, the Soviet Union was struggling with massive economic problems, a population with deteriorating health, and a low birth rate. By 1991, the Soviet Union had collapsed.