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Russian Ballets Loved throughout the World



Ballet performance at world famous Mariinsky Theatre St. Petersburg Russia

Performed over the centuries, these timeless Ballet productions are known 


and loved throughout the world.



Let us look back at the history of Russia's enduringly popular ballets






The Sleeping Beauty (1889)

The famous Sleeping Beauty ballet is often described as an encyclopedia of classical dance.

This three-act ballet comprises everything created by the genre of classical ballet over the three hundred years it has existed.

Marius Petipa, the god of the 19th century St. Petersburg ballet, was an outstanding creator of this masterpiece. 

By the time The Sleeping Beauty premiered in 1890, he had been the chief choreographer of the Mariinsky Theatre for 30 years. 

In The Sleeping Beauty, the 72-year-old choreographer was radically innovative.

His co-author was the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who was at the height of his career, world famous and widely admired. Tchaikovsky's music for The Sleeping Beauty is one of his best works. 


The director of the Imperial Theatres, Ivan Vsevolozhsky, was taken by the idea of creating a lavish extravaganza, and his energy and enthusiasm were strong enough to bring the two geniuses work together.


The Sleeping Beauty also holds a special place in the history of Russian culture because legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova and artist Alexandre Benois decided to commit their lives to ballet after they first saw its production as children. 


The ballet's premiere received more favorable accolades than Swan Lake from the press but Tchaikovsky never had the luxury to witness his work become an instant success in theatres outside of Russia. He died in 1893.


By 1903, The Sleeping Beauty was the second most popular ballet in the repertoire of the Imperial Mariinsky Ballet, having been performed 200 times in only 10 years.


Outside of Russia The Sleeping Beauty was staged at the world famous La Scala, Milan (1896), at Alhambra Theatre in London UK (Diaghilev production, 1921), at Royal Opera House in London, UK (1946), at San Francisco Ballet (1990) and Theatre Basel, in Basel, Switzerland





Swan Lake (1876)


The story of the ballet is based on a German fairy tale. The music is composed by the famous Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky in 1876. 


Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets. 

The ballet was premiered by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1877 at the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow. 


Although it is presented in many different versions, most stage companies base their stagings both choreographically and musically on the 1895 revival of Marius Petipa.

For many, Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky's first foray into the genre, composed 140 years ago, has become synonymous with the idea of ballet. And yet, its fate was far from smooth. 

Swan Lake is one of the few Russian classical ballets to have premiered not in the imperial St. Petersburg, but in Moscow.  

The production was a success, to the extent that a production of a provincial theater - which is what Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre was at the time - could be. 

It was performed 27 times, and two years later disappeared from the repertoire, reemerging later in imperial St. Petersburg.

Swan Lake underwent numerous alterations. Every historical period sought to express something of its own in yet another version of the ballet.

And the Swan Lake responded to those changes, albeit sometimes reluctantly. 

In 1910 the Swan Lake was presented as the last spark of Russia's Silver Age and the era of modernism. 
In a 1930s production in Leningrad, Agrippina Vaganova used it to condemn a bourgeois morality.
In the 1960s, Yury Grigorovich interpreted it as a struggle between light and dark forces in the soul of one man; while in the 1970s John Neumeier saw it as reflecting the fatal hopelessness of beautiful illusions. 

This readiness to express new ideas is perhaps what has turned the Swan Lake into an exceptional ballet that audiences are still eager to see whether in Moscow, New York, London or New Delhi






La Bayadere (1877; 1990 revival)

La Bayadère (in English: The Temple Dancer) is a ballet, originally staged in four acts and seven tableaux by French Russian choreographer Marius Petipa to the music of Ludwig Minkus.


La Bayadère was first presented by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 4 February 1877.


A scene from the ballet, known as The Kingdom of the Shades, is one of the most celebrated excerpts in all of classical ballet.


Nearly all modern versions of La Bayadère are derived from the Mariinsky Ballet's production, which was originally staged in 1941 by Vakhtang Chabukiani and Vladimir Ponomarev. 


Natalia Makarova's 1980 production for American Ballet Theatre has also been staged by several theatres throughout the world and is itself derived from Chabukiani and Ponomarev's version.

La Bayadère was the creation of the dramatist Sergei Khudekov and of Marius Petipa, the renowned Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

The music was composed by Ludwig Minkus, who from 1871 until 1886 held the official post of Ballet Composer to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres.

A quarter of a century ago, it was impossible to imagine La Bayadere being performed outside of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The Bolshoi performed just one scene from it, "Shades". 

Shortly before his death, Rudolf Nureyev staged a full-length production of La Bayadere at Opera National de Paris, and a little earlier prima ballerina and choreographer Natalia Makarova produced her version for the American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet.


Marius Petipa's masterpiece was simply overwhelming in its scale: the "Shades" scene alone requires 32 well-trained dancers, three virtuoso female and two male soloist dancers.

Even to get to the third act with its "Shades" scene, audiences first have to go through the scene of the temple festival of fire worship, with temple maidens, fakirs, dervishes, followed by a no less crowded scene of the betrothal of the Raja's daughter. 

And in Act two, there is a lavish wedding scene, with 12 couples in the dance with fans, 12 more dancers with parrots, eight little moors, 11 Indians, four temple dancers, and six dancers in pairs, not counting several soloists. 


Marius Petipa, a genius of classical ballet who for almost 60 years served at the Russian Imperial Court, was not in the habit of exercising restraint when it came to spending – his contemporaries joked sarcastically that even his little one-act ballets staged "for the occasion" could cripple a small country's budget. 

La Bayadere was never a routine production: Petipa first created it in 1877 and spent the next 30 years honing it to what he saw as perfection. 


During the Soviet era, La Bayadere was further improved – by cutting the fourth act, in which the gods respond to the passionate plea of the deceived and deceased temple maiden and punish her unfaithful lover and his bride by bringing the palace crashing down on them during their wedding. 


However, unlike Swan Lake, whose numerous choreographers hide under the pseudonym Petipa, La Bayadere has retained its integrity.


And although today few people know that the word bayadere denotes a Hindu dancing girl, particularly those that perform in temples, people still flock to see the ballet.

The waves of emotion created by the jealous rivalry between a beautiful priestess and an imperious princess over a noble warrior, who is courageous when it comes to fighting tigers, but a weakling in love, strikes a chord even with those that have never been to India




The Nutcracker (1892)

It is a sure sign that Christmas is coming when tickets for The Nutcracker go on sale in Russia. The clear voices of the children's choir accompanying the circle dance of snowflakes in white tutus perfectly embody the belief in miracles that is so strongly associated with this holiday.

And yet, The Nutcracker has only recently been connected with Christmas: In the mid-20th century, when the choreographer George Balanchine staged his version of the ballet for the New York City Ballet.

A sophisticated connoisseur of music, he did not struggle with the problem of how to reconcile a rites-of-passage fairy tale with music that seemed to have absorbed all the tragedy of the world. 

George Balanchine, born Giorgi Balanchivadze, turned his production into a recollection of his youth, of his work at the Leningrad Theatre of Opera and Ballet, and his virtuoso solo of the Clown in the famous version of The Nutcracker choreographed by Lev Ivanov.

Always a second choreographer under Marius Petipa, Ivanov only twice came out of the great master's shadow - in the swan scene of Swan Lake and in The Nutcracker


The idea of the ballet belonged to Marius Petipa: He wanted to repeat his collaboration with Tchaikovsky. It was he who came up with the story, using a fairy tale by German romantic author Hoffmann in the version written by his fellow Frenchman Alexandre Dumas.

He developed the libretto and issued instructions for the composer. However, at the last minute - for reasons that remain unclear – he gave up the production, delegating the three-act ballet to his assistant.

Not only did Ivanov save the New Year Eve premiere in 1892, he created a production whose version of the dance of the snowflakes is still considered to be unrivaled   






Russian theaters on foreign tours are always expected to perform Spartacus, even when the degree of press enthusiasm for this ballet is practically zero. Nevertheless, in its finale the audience – without fail - jump to their feet, as if it were not a ballet but the conclusion of a fiercely fought soccer match.

Few people remember that prior to the great production by Yury Grigorovich [Yury Grigorovich is a Soviet and Russian dancer and choreographer who dominated the Russian ballet for 30 years. He worked as an artistic director at the world famous Bolshoi theatre from 1964 until 1995.


His most famous productions at the Bolshoi were The Nutcracker (1966), Spartacus (1967), and Ivan the Terrible (1975)], Aram Khachaturian's ballet already had a long and happy fate.


Almost simultaneously, it was staged at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre and the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theatre in Leningrad.


These productions were created by Igor Moiseyev, a genius of mass scenes and multiple-figure dances, and Leonid Yakobson, one of the most radical innovators in the 20th century choreography.

Based on frescos and vases in the Hermitage collection, he created the dance language of the Romans in the ballet.

Yet, the legendary glory of a gladiator who took on the might of power came back to life in another production, the one staged in 1968 in Moscow by the then 41-year-old Grigorovich.


In collaboration with stage designer Simon Virsaladze, he created a ballet combining the onslaught of phalanxes of rebellious slaves, who seemed to march right into the audience, with the intimate intonation of confessional monologues. In them, a suffering and doubting Spartacus, as he assumed responsibility for hundreds of people, opposed a cruel and sophisticated Roman general, Crassus.


For the two of them, Grigorovich created choreography whose virtuosity had been previously unseen in modern ballet. Thanks to this, the opposition between the two characters and the two dancers, both professional and historical, stirs and captures the imagination of audiences worldwide to this day