Russia has made a unique contribution to the development of ballet.
national school of ballet evolved in the first three decades of the
19th century shaped by two equally important traditions: Western
academic dance, introduced to Russia by European ballet masters, and
Russian folk dance. At that time ballet enjoyed a privileged
position among other theater arts as confirmed by the opening of the
Bolshoi Theater in Moscow in 1825 and the Mariinskii Theatre
(renamed Kirov Theater under the Soviets) in St. Petersburg in 1860.
In the latter 19th century
Marius Petipa, a French choreographer who spent fifty years staging
ballets in Russia, was the dominant figure, his greatest triumphs
being the staging of Tchaikovsky's ballets.
most influential figure of the early twentieth century was the
impresario Sergey Diaghilev, who founded an innovative touring
ballet company in 1909 with choreographer Michel Fokine, dancer
Vaslav Nijinksy, and designer Alexandre Benois. Until Diaghilev died
in 1929, his Russian dance company, the Ballet Russe, was
headquartered in Paris and enjoyed tremendous success. In the same
period, the émigré dancer Anna Pavlova toured the world with her
troupe and exerted a huge influence on the art form.
most influential Russian dancer of the mid-twentieth century was
Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to the West in 1961 and is credited
with establishing the dominant role of the male dancer in classical
ballet. A second notable émigré, Mikhail Baryshnikov, burnished an
already brilliant career in the United States after defecting from
Leningrad's Kirov Ballet in 1974.
Meanwhile, the Soviet government sponsored new ballet companies
throughout the union. After a period of innovation and
experimentation in the 1920s, Russia's ballet reverted under Stalin
to the traditional forms of Petipa. Many
ballet versions of literary classics appeared. This “narrative” form
of ballet, such as Sergey Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”, typically
told a dramatic or tragic story by choreographic means.
In the latter
20th century the most influential figure in Soviet ballet was Yury
Grigorovich, who for 30 years directed the Bolshoi Theater’s ballet
company. His productions were distinguished by classical elegance of
women’s parts, the power and energy of men’s roles and the epic
atmosphere of ballet scenes, characteristic of his versions of
Sergey Prokofiev’s “Ivan the Terrible,” Aram Khachaturian’s
“Spartacus” and Dmitry Shostakovich’s “The Golden Age.”
the mid-1970s Russian ballet troupes had been permitted by the
Soviet government to tour abroad, and the Bolshoi Ballet Company and
the Kirov Ballet Company upheld the outstanding place that Russian
ballet came to occupy in the world of dance. Rich traditions of
Russian ballet are developed by new generations of Russian ballet
stars, with the two outstanding ballet companies competing for the
pre-eminence in the present-day Russian ballet.