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Russian Ballet

Imperial Russian Ballet

Until 1689, ballet in Russia was nonexistent. The Tsarist control and isolationism in Russia allowed for little influence from the West. It wasn't until the rise of Peter the Great that Russian society opened up to the West. St. Petersburg was erected to embrace the West and compete against Moscow’s isolationism.

Peter the Great created a new Russia which rivaled the society of the West with magnificent courts and palaces. His vision was not to bring Russia to the West, but to bring the West to Russia. Classical ballet entered the realm of Russia not as entertainment, but as a “standard of physical comportment to be emulated and internalized-an idealized way of behaving.” The aim wasn’t to entertain the masses of Russians, but to create a cultivated and new Russian people.

In the early 19th century, the theaters were opened up to anyone who could afford a ticket. A seating section called a rayok, or 'paradise gallery', consisted of simple wooden benches. This allowed non-wealthy people access to the ballet, because tickets in this section were inexpensive.

One author describes the Imperial ballet as “unlike that of any other country in the world…the most prestigious of the ballet troupes were those attached to the state-supported theatres. The directors of these companies were personally appointed by the tsar, and all the dancers were, in a sense, Imperial servants. In the theatre, the men in the audience always remained standing until the tsar entered his box and, out of respect, after the performance they remained in their places until he had departed. Curtain calls were arranged according to a strict pattern: first, the ballerina bowed to the tsar’s box, then to that of the theater director, and finally to the general public.

Ballets Russes

By the early 1900s the Russian ballet went beyond its borders and infiltrated Paris. It had become its own force and was distinctly Russian, while still being embraced by the Parisian society. In 1903 Ivan Clustine, a Russian dancer and choreographer who had started his career at the Bolshoi Theatre, was appointed Maître de ballet at the Paris Opera. Clustine's hiring promoted a frenzy of questions about his nationality and choreographic agenda: “His hiring was thought a direct attempt by the Opera to imitate the Russian company; even he thought as much, maintaining, not without despondency, that inspiration too often came from the north: ‘A revolution! A method that people often apply in the country of the tsars.’ Clustine, although acknowledging his nationality with pride, harbored none of the revolutionary intentions that some thought an inevitable consequence of being Russian.”

The Parisians while denying adoption of the backwards Russian troupe had distinct Russian influence in their theater. “Despite Clustine’s protestations, several features of the Opera’s post-1909 ballets, along with its institutional conventions and balletic policy, appeared to betray a Russian influence.” The stigma of Russian brutality and force was applied even in Paris. While their style was being not only accepted in Paris, but implemented in Paris theaters the Ballets Russes were still considered dangerous, even in the theatre of performing art. “The Ballets Russes, at base, became a metaphor for invasion, an eternal force that could engulf and control, could penetrate the membrane of French society, culture and even art itself.” The embracing of Russian ballet in the Paris society became a point of contention and French nationalism collided with Russian determination. Questions arose about the Russian intention in the Paris theaters under the title “cultural politics” including “the delimitation of boundaries, the preservation of identity and the nature of relational engagements.” Russia was incapable of simply bringing Russian culture to the West, but created a paranoia of intentions wherever they went. In the beginning the relationship between Russia and France through the arts was a testimony to their political allegiances. “French critics acknowledged a shared choreographic heritage: French ballet had migrated to Russia in the nineteenth century, only to return, decades later, under the guise of the Ballets Russes. The company, then, moored in a history that intertwined both nations, not only contributed to a cultural programme of exchange. The Ballets Russes were a testament to Franco-Russian cooperation, goodwill and support; they represented ‘un nouveau resserrement de l’alliance’ (a further strengthening of the alliance).” However, the relationship made a negative turn when duplicity amongst the alliance arose. While Russia continued to borrow money from the French banks, “the Russians no longer interested in supporting French culture and colonial politics.” This duplicity gave fuel for the paranoia and lack of trust we see in the relationship concerning the arts. The Parisian press spoke of The Ballets Russes in terms of both “enchantement’, ‘bouleversement’ and ‘fantaisie’. Yet they also invoked metaphors of invasion, describing the company’s Parisian presence in terms of ‘assaut’ (onslaught) and ‘conquete’ (conquest).” The dual faceted relationship can be seen in this expression of both enrapture and contention. One French journalist, Maurice Lefevre, called on his fellow Parisian’s to see the reality of the Russian invasion as though it were an infestation, “We need to do some soul-searching and ask whether our guests are not about to become our masters.” To imply that Russia was about to take over France through performing arts seems to be irrational, but evidence would suggest the fears were real among those in Paris.

Karsavina and Nijinsky
the Giselle
Diaghilev and Cocteau (1924) Balanchine and Stravinsky (1965)

Bolshoi Ballet Company

Bolshoi Ballet Company was founded in 1776. It is based at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Bolshoi is known for its large scale productions and exquisite technique. It was formed by Michael Maddox and Prince Urusov. They recruited dancers from the Moscow Orphanage and the first classes started in 1773. Bolshoi style was earthier and more contemporary. In the late 19th century is when Bolshoi became noticed independently with the first staging of Petipa’s Don Quixote and Swan Lake in 1877. Bolshoi believed in highly dramatic action with dance. They also brought innovative stage design and symphonic music. Leonid Lavrovsky transferred from Kirov to Bolshoi bringing ballerinas Galina Ulanova and Maya Plisetskaya; this shifted the creativity in Russia to Moscow. Bolshoi has always done highly spectacular and heroic productions of all works classic and modern. Kirov Ballet Company

Kirov Ballet Company
Mariinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov ballet)

Kirov Ballet Company was formed in 1738 in St. Petersburg by Jean Baptiste Landé and Empress Anna Ivanovna. It was originally called the Imperial Ballet and preformed for the mid-18th century courts. With the influence of French and Italian teachers, this caused the company to grow in strength in the 19th century. Kirov dancers are known for their amazingly clean lines, lyrical mobility, and seemingly weightless jumps. Marius Petipa’s classical ballet makes up the core of the company’s repertory. It is also known for some of the worlds most highly praised classical dancers. In the 1800s many classical ballets were performed by Kirov. After the revolution in 1917 Kirov took the name of Maryinsky State Theater. At this time they also tried to bring dance to the people and diversify from aristocracy. After World War II, ballet shifted to Bolshoi Ballet Company. The company started touring in 1961 and continues to tour in Europe and the United States.

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Famous Russian Ballet Dancers

Matilda Kshesinskaya was a great ballerina and the great love of Tsar Nicholas II before he got married. She lived in St. Petersburg in house bought for her for by the tsar until he had her own mansion built. It was later taken over by Lenin, who gave speeches from the mansion's balcony.
Great dancers who distinguished themselves at the Bolshoi included Maya Plisetskaya, Yekaterina Maksimova, Nina Timofeyeva, Vladimir Vasiliev, Gedimanis Taranda and Olga Lepeshinskaya.
Great dancers who distinguished themselves at the Kirov included Mikhail Fokine, Maria Danilova, Natalia Dudinskaya, Tamara Karsavina, Irina Kolpakova, Ninel Kurgapkina, and Natalia Makarova.
In 1995, ballet lovers paid as much as $500 a ticket to witness legendary ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya, make a comeback at the Bolshoi at the age of 70. She performed the Dying Swan from Swan Lake and said the her secret to staying young was "good health."

Anna Pavlova

Anna Pavlova (1882-1931) is regarded by some people as the best ballerina that ever lived. Known as the "incomparable Pavlova," she was a contemporary of Diaghilev, Stravinsky and Nijinsky. One of he devoted fans said, "She does not dance; she soars as though on wings."

Pavlova was an only child born into in a poor family in St. Petersburg. Growing up she was weak and frail and suffered from a string illnesses. When she eight she was taken to see Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty by her mother. Enchanted by the dancing and music, she decided at that moment she wanted to be a ballerina. "I was plunged into a world that surpassed my wildest imagination,” she later recalled. "With the first notes of the orchestra I was literally entranced. I could scarcely breath."

At the age of 10, Pavlova was one of six youngsters chosen from nearly a 100 applicants to enter the Imperial Theater school. At the age of 17, Pavlova graduated from the Imperial Theater and entered the Imperial Ballet. After seven years she became the company's prima ballerina. Audiences loved her not only for dancing but for her dramatic flair.

Pavlova was invited by Diaghilev to dance in the Les Ballet Russes in Paris. She accepted but only danced for one season because of a rivalry with Nijinsky. In 1909, Pavlova formed her own company and toured all over the world, performing at a pace of or 9 or 10 performances a week for 20 years.

Pavlova made her permanent home at Hampstead Heath in London, where she lived in a large house with her collection of birds, which included flamingos, peacocks, parrots and off course swans. But she spent little time there because she toured so much. Her marriage to her manager and accompanist Victor Dandré was kept secret for many years.

Pavlova's Dancing

Pavlova danced famously in Coppélia, Autumn Leaves, Les Sylphides and Glow Worm. She was famous as the dying swan in Swan Lake arranged for her by Michel Fokine. Describing her version of the dying swan, the London critic C.W. Beaumon wrote: "The emotion transferred was so overpowering that it seemed a mockery to applaud when the dance came to an end, our souls had soared into empyrean with the passing of the swan; only when the silence was broken could we feel that they had returned to our bodies."

Pavlova was small and slender. Even at the height of her fame she often practiced and danced 15 hours a day. She danced all her life even though she was dogged by a painful knee. She had a reputation for surrounding herself with mediocre dancers so that she looked good. She often changed partners and had many run ins with her directors and male partners.

In January, 1931 she arrived in Holland for a performance and collapsed and died of pneumonia a few days later. A few minutes before died she reportedly said, "get my swan costume ready." She was only 49.

Isadora Duncan in Russia

In 1921, four years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the famous American-born, Paris-based dancer, Isadora Duncan was invited to Russia to open a dance school. Describing his impression of 1905 Duncan performance, Diaghilev remarked, "Isadora gave an irreparable jolt to the classic ballet of Imperial Russia." Excited by the opportunity "to meet my destiny" in Russia, Duncan was soon frustrated when the financial support promised by the Communists failed to materialize and she had to operate the school on her own.

In Russia, the 45-year-old dancer fell passionately in love with Yesenin. Praising his hands and sensitivity, she called him the greatest lover she ever had. Even though neither could speak the other's language the two were married, in part so it was easier to secure him a visa to get out of Russia.

Duncan and Yesenin went to the United States, where Duncan was welcomed with hostility for bringing along a "Bolshevik agent." On a spectacularly unsuccessful tour, in which she performed mostly solo because her students were not allowed to leave Russia, she spent nearly as much time answering hecklers and lecturing how she was a "revolutionist" not a "Bolshevik" as she did dancing.

Yesenin kept himself busy on the tour getting riotously drunk, chasing after other women, beating up his wife and running around nude in hotel corridors, smashing furniture. Yesesin beastly behavior and drunkenness lead to the break-up of the marriage. In 1923 Duncan returned to Paris and he went to Russia. Two years later, Duncan received a telegram that he had committed suicide.

Galina Ulanova

Galina Ulanova (1910-1998) was a great Russian ballerina. Michael Specter wrote in the New York Times she had an "uncanny blend of unabashed emotionalism and lyrical restraint" that "made her one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century.” Known for her performances as Juliet and Giselle, she made her debut at the Maryinky Theater in Leningrad in 1928 and captivated Western audiences at the age of 46 when she toured with the Bolshoi Ballet. Prokofiev wrote Romeo and Juliet and two other ballet specifically with her in mind.

In 1959, New York Times dance critic John Martin wrote: "To see a legend assumes the dimensions of reality before us and in the process lose nothing of the quality of the legend, is a rare and wonderful experience." She reportedly switched from the Maryinky to the Bolshoi in 1944 after a personal request from Stalin.

Maya Plisetskaya

Maya Mikhailovna Plisetskaya (20 November 1925 – 2 May 2015) was a Soviet-born ballet dancer, choreographer, ballet director, and actress, who held Spanish and Lithuanian citizenship. She danced during the Soviet era at the same time as Galina Ulanova, another famed Russian ballerina. In 1960 she ascended to Ulanova's former title as prima ballerina assoluta of the Bolshoi.

Plisetskaya studied ballet from age nine and first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre when she was eleven. She joined the Bolshoi Ballet company when she was eighteen, quickly rising to become their leading soloist. Her early years were also marked by political repression, however, partly because her family was Jewish. She was not allowed to tour outside the country for sixteen years after joining the Bolshoi. During those years, her fame as a national ballerina was used to project the Soviet Union's achievements during the Cold War. Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who lifted her travel ban in 1959, considered her "not only the best ballerina in the Soviet Union, but the best in the world."

As a member of the Bolshoi until 1990, her skill as a dancer changed the world of ballet, setting a higher standard for ballerinas both in terms of technical brilliance and dramatic presence. As a soloist, Plisetskaya created a number of leading roles, including Moiseyev’s Spartacus (1958); Grigorovich’s The Stone Flower (1959); Aurora in Grigorovich’s The Sleeping Beauty (1963); Alberto Alonso’s Carmen Suite (1967), written especially for her; and Maurice Bejart’s Isadora (1976). Among her most acclaimed roles was Odette-Odile in Swan Lake (1947). A fellow dancer stated that her dramatic portrayal of Carmen, reportedly her favorite role, "helped confirm her as a legend, and the ballet soon took its place as a landmark in the Bolshoi repertoire." Her husband, composer Rodion Shchedrin, wrote the scores to a number of her ballets.

Having become “an international superstar” and a continuous “box office hit throughout the world,” Plisetskaya was treated by the Soviet Union as a favored cultural emissary. Although she toured extensively during the same years that other dancers defected, including Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Plisetskaya always refused to defect. Beginning in 1994, she presided over the annual international ballet competitions, called Maya, and in 1996 she was named President of the Imperial Russian Ballet. In 1991 she published her autobiography, I, Maya Plisetskaya.

Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev (17 March 1938 – 6 January 1993) was a Soviet dancer of ballet and modern dance, one of the most celebrated of the 20th century. Nureyev's artistic skills explored expressive areas of the dance, providing a new role to the male ballet dancer who once served only as support to the women. He also worked as choreographer, actor and director.

Nureyev had his early career with the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad. He defected from the Soviet Union to the West in 1961, despite KGB efforts to stop him. This was the first defection of a Soviet artist during the Cold War and it created an international sensation. Nureyev went on to dance with The Royal Ballet in London and from 1983 to 1989 served as director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Nadezhda Pavlova

Nadezhda Pavlova (born 15 May 1956) is a Russian Chuvash ballerina of the late 20th century, People's Artist of the USSR, People's Artist of the Chuvashia, professor.

Nadia Pavlova born in Chuvashia (in city Cheboksary). Her father and mother was are ethnic Chuvash.

Nadia Pavlova liked to dance from an early age. At 7 she began to dance with a group at the House of Pioneers.

In 1966 visitors from the Perm choreographic school arrived in Cheboksary tasked with finding children of exceptional talent. They saw Nadia and recommended that she study in Perm, where she spent the next seven years — from 2nd year until graduation, in particular being coached by Lyudmila Pavlovna Saharova.

From the 2nd year Nadia Pavlova participated in concerts with the special numbers choreographed by M.Gazievym, — «the Girl and an echo», «the Small ballerina», "Mischievous person", and also was cast in various children's parts at the Perm opera and ballet theater.

In 1970, during theater tours in Moscow, Nadia Pavlova was already noticed by reviewers. Aged 15 years was awarded the first prize in the All-Union competition of ballet masters and ballet dancers, and a year later, in 1973, she won the Grand prize of II International competition of ballet dancers in Moscow. Nadia Pavlova was already frequently touring, both at home and abroad, to countries including Italy, Japan, China, Austria, Germany, France and the United States.

After graduation she became a soloist at the Perm Academic Opera and Ballet Theater of P.I.Tchaikovsky, where she was given roles including Giselle (in statement B.Scherbinin) and Juliet («Romeo and Juliet», ballet master N.Bojarchikov).

She then joined the Bolshoi Ballet. Her regular partner throughout the decade was Vyacheslav Gordeyev, whom she married. She was taught by Asaf Messerer and coached by Marina Semenova.

Since 1983 Nadia Pavlova's repertoire has included solos by M. Bejart and G. Balanchine, and she danced with all the leading soloists of the Bolshoi, including Alexander Bogatyryov, Valery Anisimov, and, later, Alexey Fadeechev, Yury Vasjuchenko, Irek Mukhamedov.

She has given master-classes in France, Germany, Japan, Finland.

From 1992 to 1994 Pavlova was the artistic director of Theatre of Pavlova's ballet, and in 1995 the Renaissance-ballet. She has also served as a member of the jury in international dance competitions in Luxembourg (1995) and Hong Kong (1996).

In 1999 Pavlova took part in the opening of the Russian cultural center in Washington, as well as being named winner of festival «Star of world ballet» in Donetsk.

She now continues to dance both classical and contemporary choreography, and also teaches in the Russian Academy of Theatrical Art (RATA). She was also the youngest actress to be named as a National Actor of the USSR.

Ulyana Lopatkina

Ulyana Vyacheslavovna Lopatkina (born 23 October 1973) is a Russian ballet dancer, currently employed as Prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Ballet in St Petersburg, Russia. She studied at the Vaganova Academy with Natalia Dudinskaya. Upon graduation Lopatkina joined the Kirov/Mariinsky Theatre Ballet in 1991, and was promoted to principal dancer in 1995. Lopatkina had been married to Vladimir Kornev, architect and writer (divorced in 2010), and has one daughter (Masha, born 2002).

Lopatkina excels in classic and dramatic roles. She is a perfect example of the Russian (Kirov) school with long limbs, great strength and a classical purity of line, as well as noted musicality.

Alexander Godonov

Alexander Godonov, a famous Bolshoi dancer, defected to the West in 1979. He died from alcohol related illness in 1996 at the age of 45. His former girlfriend Jacqueline Bisset said, "His dancing could be mesmerizing and, in spite of his unhappiness at not making more good films, he was in a kind of ecstacy at becoming an American. Godonov played a bad guy in one of the Die Hard films.

Godonov joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1971, deputing as the prince in Swan Lake and became the Bolshoi's youngest principal dancer. He wowed audiences in a 1973 world tour and defected to the United States in 1979, and caused an international stir when his wife tried to return to the Soviet Union. He was a star at the American Ballet Theater until he was sacked by its director Baryshnikov. He also appeared in the film Witness and died in West Hollywood.

Nikolay Tsiskaridze

Nikolay Tsiskaridze is a Russian ballet dancer, who was a member of the Bolshoi Ballet for 21 years (1992-2013). Born in Georgia in 1973 Tsiskaridze began his dance studies at the Tbilisi Ballet School in 1984 and joined the Moscow Ballet School in 1987, where he studied under the guidance of Pyotr Pestov. After graduating in 1992, Tsiskaridze directly joined the ballet company of the Bolshoi Theatre, then under the direction of Yury Grigorovich, and was promoted to the position of principal in 1995. Since then, Tsiskaridze has performed internationally with a number of ballet companies across the world, including the Mariinsky Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet. He also participated in most of the foreign tours of the Bolshoi Ballet, “Kings of the Dance” international project, Les Saisons Russes du XXI Siecle.

Over the course of his dance career he performed over seventy roles in major classical works as well as ballets by renowned modern choreographers. While dancing, Tsiskaridze completing his studies at the Pedagogical faculty of the Institute of Choreography in 1996. Since 2003 he was teaching a daily ballet class at the Bolshoi Theatre. Besides, since 2004 he was also teaching at the Moscow Ballet Academy.

In October 2003 Tsiskaridze had to face his first major injury which threatened to end his career. He entered the stage after 9-month intermission

As a dancer, Tsiskaridze possessed the purity of Russian dance training and the regality and mystery of royalty. His extremely long legs moved with masculine power, yet also with feminine grace. His arms could at one moment be strong and forceful, and at the next soft and elegant. His feet were well arched for a man and his beats were pristine. As a product of the Russian ballet school, which emphasizes dramatic expression hand in hand with technique from a very early stage in training, Tsiskaridze was an effortless actor with the ability to mesmerize the audience. There were no small parts for Tsiskaridze where his profession was concerned. Preparation for any role was very important for him. The dancer says, “It is desirable to know everything about the ballet, about the character, the composer, the choreographer – everything.” There is a huge collection of videos and books about ballet in his house and some ballet critics envy his knowledge of this art. He doesn't get tired of studying and researching something new in the subjects that have already been well explored by him.

Being a ballet dancer, Tsiskaridze has become a real superstar in Russia, having appeared in many reality shows and being a judge on Russia's version of Dancing with the Stars for several years.

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Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake - four little swans

Don Quixote grand pas de deux - Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Uvarov

Russian ballet training

Imperial Russian Ballet - Swan Lake (Tchaikovski)

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