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Titas September 26, 2007
A Brief History of Russian Ballet
The study of ballet’s history is a lengthy and complex endeavor, yet it is vastly rewarding. The aim of this paper is to scrutinize the intricacies of arguably the apex of this particular type of dance: Russian ballet. Over the past few centuries this term has become virtually synonymous with everything that is great about classical ballet. This expression is tantamount to the collaboration of the best dancers, choreographers, musicians, and artists of the classical time period. The study of its history is of course essential to all dances of today. A cursory knowledge of ballet’s classical history and more particularly Russia’s will most certainly improve the understanding of the art and theory of the dance in today’s modern setting. First one must define the art form that is ballet. On the surface ballet is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:
“1 a: a theatrical art form using dancing, music, and scenery to convey a story, theme, or atmosphere b: dancing in which conventional poses and steps are combined with light flowing figures (as leaps and turns).”
The extravagant amounts of money needed to perform. whose result is rhythm given three dimensions by the human body in motion” (99). This led to the eventual exportation in of ballet to a variety of nations. The origins of Ballet can be traced back to the arrival of Italian dance masters in France in the late 16th century (Pardo 100). These dancers performed for the royal court of France in front of King Louis XIV. Prior to these annual shows the King was himself a dancer and truly promoted the fine arts during his tenure.However one must delve further to truly discover the magnificence of this wide collusion. The political and social upheaval during the French Revolution took much attention. Carol Pardo a dance instructor and scholar of classical ballet describes ballet as “. it typically refers to the classical definition above. and house dancers and musicians was only able to be met by royal . . . While the term may be used in reference to any dance work involving a group of dancers. money. THE Russian version is considered among many to be the “best-preserved” and refined. train. Because this was the first true dance academy all ballet terms of today are in French. However after King Louis XIV’s great strides ballet within France began a downward slide. and support away from the fine arts. Ballet is simply too complex to put into a straightforward definition. only after much visual scrutiny of the movements and positions in ballet may one completely understand its truest form: art. an appointed group of thirteen ballet masters whose charge was to reestablish the art of dancing ‘to its original perfection’ and the Royal Academy of Music” (Pardo 101). While each of these nations pursued different avenues to preserve ballet. a combination of athletics and aesthetics. He eventually established “the Royal Academy of Dancing. among them was Russia. It is evident that ballet flourishes in monarchical societies.
Peter the Great can be seen as a parallel to Louis XIV of France in that both took a great interest in ballet. and established . The two rulers also took part in the dancing (Louis XIV more so than Peter the Great) and had their courts taught the intricacies of the art form. While France is known as the birthplace of ballet.families throughout Europe. His name was Jean Batiste Lande and he was a French national who eventually became the head of the first Russian dance school (later it became known as the St. in two years they will execute different dances.to create ballets and theater dances using twelve persons of comic and serious character. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School). “[Catherine the Great]. As Andy Adamson a Russian Theatre scholar aptly put. The first true appearance of ballet is said to have arrived onto the harsh Russian landscape through the second Romanov ruler Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich for his wedding in the mid 17th century. Russia can be seen as the place it was truly mastered. Imperialist Russia was no exception and had vast amounts of money to invest in the development and refinement of ballet. was a great patron of the arts. ultimately resulting in its growth and expansion in their respective countries. by the end of the first year. Yet other scholars maintain that it was Catherine the Great who originally brought ballet to the Russians. Dancers and choreographers were hired from all over Europe (the majority were either Italian or French). “The history of the Russian ballet consists of the gradual absorption of this foreign knowledge by the Russians themselves until the art became indigenous” (185). These pupils. in three years they will not be less than the best of foreign dancers” (Belova 68). It is also argued that the gymnastics teacher at the Imperial Cadet School sent a letter to the Empress Anne “I humbly ask Your Majesty that I shall be given twelve children -.will dance with cadets.six males and six females -.
At a Moscow Orphanage in 1774 she also started a ballet school under the direction of Filippo Beccari a dancer and choreographer from Italy. Perrot came to St. With him he brought immense talent within himself but also “world-renowned dancers. In 1847 growing nationalism within Russia caused Tsar Nikolai I to begin searching for a more “Russian” choreographer. He was renowned for his skill and enthusiasm for dance. Many ballets before this tended to be seen as ‘Un-Russian’ and thus Jules Perrot was found. He learned all that he knew while in France and brought that knowledge with him when he joined the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1820’s. He eventually took up a teaching post within the Ballet school set up by Catherine the Great and significantly grew the knowledge and popularity of ballet throughout Russia. giving it control over ballet” (Adamson 183). Bournonville is of particular importance to Russian ballet in that he had a Swedish student Christian Johannson who came to Russia as one of the first Imperial dancers.the Directorate of the Imperial theaters. The Directorate while not quite as interested in Ballet as its aristocracy was ultimately inclined to favor it over the other fine arts under its control. Carlotta Grisi. August Bournonville was a great dancer and teacher of classical ballet and was of Danish descent. He eventually resigned in 1859 (Adamson 185). . Petersburg and with him he brought many of his popular performances with a more Russian style. The lavish amounts of money and notoriety were more than enough to draw dancers and choreographers throughout Europe eastward. and Fanny Cerrito” (Adamson 185). including Fanny Elssler. However he encountered problems with censors and his work was eventually deemed inappropriate and anti-Russian for its realistic themes and contemporary styles.
However Petipa’s success did not last forever. With that in mind anything that they produced was considered “the best” and in turn this was resoundingly successful in promoting Russian ballet throughout Europe.Hidden in the shadow of Perrot was Marius Petipa from France. the Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s and Petipa’s relationship gave both more fame and fortune because both were considered the best in their respective fields. He created many Ballets of note including: Don Quixote. Giselle. “In 1847 he was Marius was offered a one-year contract in St. Ballet enthusiasts craved something new. Swan Lake. La Bayadere. Following this successful outing Petipa was appointed Ballet Master in Chief of the Imperial Tsar. Marius Petipa is arguably the reason Russian ballet is considered to be the essential paragon of perfection. devoting fifty-six years to the Russian stage” (Adamson 186). people grew tired of Petipa’s ideas and principles. and Sleeping Beauty all of which had music accompaniment with the famous Russian composer Tchaikovsky. Many up and coming choreographers tried to fill this niche with some .Early in his career he mainly danced as his choreographies were not terribly popular. something exciting. Petipa found great success on the stage and by 1962 he was the leading dancer in St. the Nutcracker.and single-act ballets for presentation on the imperial stages of Russia. Petersburg. “The Big Three” ballets by Petipa were Swan Lake. Petersburg and remained there for the rest of his life. In that same year he created his first wildly successful choreography entitled “The Pharaoh’s Daughter”. Although much of his early choreographic work was riddled with failure. In his role of leadership Petipa created many multi. Near the turn of the century. and Sleeping Beauty. This is technically the reason why Russian ballet is in turn considered “the best” when it comes to ballet.
After Diaghilev died Balanchine left the Ballets Russes and set out on his own for a while before ending up directing the dance company “Ballets” 1933 (Pardo 189). as were props and other accessories on stage. Costumes were used. Bare toes were portrayed (one was not allowed to go without shoes in Imperial Theater) with toes painted over the shoes (Belova 83). Today Russian ballet is still seen as the paragon of ballet in this contemporary setting. However it was never as overwhelming as Petipa’s. and a young dancer and choreographer named Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze (commonly known as George Balanchine) helped Diaghilev (another choreographer after Petipa) with its last ‘major’ production in 1922. a new piece called Serenade that same year. It was seen as an extravagant waste of time by the powerful communist regime of the era and it got little to no subsidy or attention from the government.success. it suffered greatly during the Soviet Unions reign. it was ultimately deemed a failure because it failed to recoup its enormous expenses. Studying and researching ballet’s history is essential in understanding where it came from and how . In 1934 Balanchine established the School of American Ballet. It was then that ballet had ‘officially’ left Russia and its talent was dispersed throughout the world. The Ballet Russes was still going strong. While there still exists ballet in Russia today. As the Tsar’s reign over Russia came to end (similarly to France’s) ballet began to disperse throughout the not just Europe. The production was Sleeping Beauty and while it rekindled Europe’s interest in ballet. but the world. Russian Imperial ballet was still going on however it was slowly losing the popularity it previously enjoyed. When that company folded he was invited to come to America by Lincoln Kirstein an American who while knew little about ballet was particularly interested in the art form. which gave its first performance.
.to improve and maintain the wonderful form of ballet. Without this knowledge ballet cannot go forward as a fine art and would surely falter into the collective memory of the world. It is with this information that we as individuals can glorify and ultimately preserve ballet.
"The Russian Imperial Ballet. The Great History of Russian Ballet." History of Russian Theatre. Bournemouth.Bibliography Adamson. Pardo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003. . "Ballet: A History In Broad Brushstrokes. England: Parkstone Press. Carol. Andy. 1999. Belova. Ed. Evdokia and Souritz Elisabeth. Comp. 1997. Robert Leach & Victor Borosky." The Dance Experience. Myron Howard Nadel & Marc Raymond Strauss. Hightstown: Princeton Book Company.
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