russian ballet

Bakst, Scheherazade, 1911

About Russian

Ballet is the national honor of Russian and the “visiting card” of the Russian culture.Originated in Italy and France, here it found its “second home country”. It is in Russia where classical ballet traditions have been kept and developed to present them to the whole world again afterwards.


The unique style of Russian ballet has been formed for a long time (since 1738)  and with particular precision. The main feature of the style of the Russian ballet school is strict adherence to academic canons. It is academicism that explains the technical side of ballet performances in Russia.

The basics of classical dance,Agrippina Vaganova
Dance "from campus" provides a solid support
and artistic
coloration, brings up an intelligent and sensitive ballet dancer.

The emergence
of ballet in Russia

Ballet in Russia appeared together with the decree of Peter I, according to which dancing became the main part of court etiquette.

The first Russian
ballet group

Empress Catherine II provided all possible patronage to the new art, thanks to which the Russian ballet literally stood firmly on its feet.The first choreographer was Arthur Saint-Leon, a French dancer and choreographer. For the first time, the audience saw real waterfalls, electric lights, large bicycles and other innovations on the stage.

Classical ballet
sleeping beauty

Maria Petipa and Her Pages, The Sleeping Beauty, 1890

The ballet was created in 1890 by Marius Petipa to the music of Tchaikovsky. In The Sleeping Beauty, Petipa seemed to summarize everything that he had learned and understood about the compositional laws of the classical “Bolshoi Ballet” during his long career as a choreographer.

The famous Russian ballerina Matilda Kseshinskaya made her debut in the ballet Sleeping Beauty. She later appears in all of Petipa's classical productions.The artist Alexandre Benois, who fell in love with The Sleeping Beauty right at the premiere of 1890, then claimed that it was then that he understood what ballet is and what he himself should do in art. These discoveries also influenced the painting of Benoit himself, who later drew sketches for The Sleeping Beauty and other productions.

Famous — Famous Famous — Famous — Famous — Famous


Was the Maître de Ballet of St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet from 1859 until 1869 and is famous for creating the choreography of the ballet Coppélia, Le Poisson doré, La Source. Known for his interactions with the press and celebrities


The famous Russian ballerina of the 19th century. Prima of the Mariinsky Theater, known for her connections with the Imperial family.


Premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters, Ballet Master and principal choreographer of the Imperial Ballet (today known as the Mariinsky Ballet), a position he held from 1871 until 1903.

world recognition
Russian seasons

Nijinsky with Karsavina and Dyagelev, Paris, 1927
of the century

The beginning of the 20th century in Russia was marked by a general revolutionary upsurge. The revolutionary nature of the society affected everything that existed in the country; in ballet it manifested itself as an innovative quest, a desire
to overcome stereotypes and conventions of 19th century academic ballet.


At the beginning of the 20th century, European classical ballet was disappearing. Diaghilev was the first to draw attention to this, who in 1907 began to organize "Russian Seasons" in Europe. The European publication reacted with great interest to the ballets performed by Russian artists, admitting that they did not have such a thing.


Diageliev's Russian seasons began as early as 1906, when he brought an exhibition of Russian artists to Paris. Noticing an interesting audience, in the early years he organized an opera show, and by 1909 he brought the Ballet to Paris. Diagelev showed five Classical ballets "Pavilion of Armida", "Polovtsian Dances", "Feast", "Cleopatra" and "La Sylphides", which were greeted with enthusiasm by the audience.

Famous "blue" poster with Anna Pavlova, Valentin Serov, 1909

In 1910, Diaghilev staged the ballet Firebird. And the music for it was written by a young composer Igor Stravinsky.
The Firebird became the first ballet with Russian national motives, the play Petrushka to Stravinsky's music was the hit of the 1911 Season.
In 1914 love for Russia and everything Russian reached its climax after the premiere of the ballet The Golden Cockerel. Natalia Goncharova designed the production in an avant-garde pictorial manner with a "fiery" flavor.
An innovative solution became a sensation: ballet was combined with elements of opera. The aesthetics of this performance opened a new stage in the history
of Diaghilev's ballets: modernism was replaced by the avant-garde.

Modern ballet

Vaslav Nijinsky in "Petroushka", Paris 1911

Nobody danced "Petrushka" in the usual sense of the word as in "The Sleeping Beauty". The heroes had dramatic plastic monologues and dialogues: the ballet courageously rejected everything “beautiful” and “elegant”.

The main role went to the talented dancer Nijinsky, who drove him crazy last year as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. In "Petrushka" the star's face was covered with ugly make-up, they pulled a shabby wig and cap over the handsome dancer, put their hands into clumsy mittens and did not allow to make a single jump, for which Nijinsky was famous. His hero was emphatically ugly, but this did not prevent Nijinsky from proving that he was a great artist: his Petrushka killed Charlie Chaplin and Sarah Bernhardt.


In 1915, there were no full-fledged Seasons, and in 1916 Diaghilev toured America with the troupe. The artists returned to Europe with a premiere - the ballet "Parade". The libretto was written by Jean Cocteau, the music was created by the avant-garde artist Eric Satie, and the choreography was by Leonid Massine, a young choreographer who was already famous for Diaghilev's Seasons. Pablo Picasso made his debut as a theater artist in the production, he created the sets and costumes. However, the audience, while still very conservative, did not immediately accept the shocking style of the new performance.

Costume of The French Manager from “Parade”1917

In 1921, the Russian seasons overtook the economic crisis. The ballet The Sleeping Beauty brought by Diaghilev to London was successful, but not profitable. The income did not cover the expenses on decorations, renting a hall and moving the troupe. Coco Chanel again came to the aid of the impresario, having learned about the plight of the most beautiful ballet company in the world. Chanel invested colossal funds in the restoration of the Seasons, and after a few years even took part in productions, creating costumes.

Coco Chanel costumes for “The Blue Express”,1924

The new star of the Russian seasons is choreographer Georgy Balanchivadze (George Balanchine), whom Sergei Diaghilev advised Georgy Balanchivadze to introduce himself in a European manner. Former student of the Theater School at the Mariinsky Theater. George Balanchine renewed The Nightingale's Song for Diaghilev and staged the play Barabo, which breathed new life into the ballet enterprise. Balanchine worked with Diaghilev until the end of the Russian Seasons, and then moved to the United States and founded the School of American Ballet.
On August 19, 1929, Diaghilev died in Venice. Traditionally, they bring notes on music paper to the composer's grave, and ballet pointe shoes to Diaghilev. With the death of the impresario, the Russian seasons ended, but his entreprise has forever remained a bright page in the history of world culture.

Famous — Famous — Famous — Famous — Famous— Famous

Vaslav Nijinsky

Russian dancer and choreographer, dance innovator. One of the leading participants in Diaghilev's Russian Ballet. Choreographer of the ballets The Rite of Spring, Afternoon of a Faun. In 1909-1913, the leading dancer and choreographer of the Diaghilev's Russian Ballet troupe.

Anna pavlova

The most recognizable abroad Russian ballet dancer, prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater in 1906-1913, one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century. “The Dying Swan” performed by the ballerina has become one of the highest standards of the Russian ballet school.

Sergei Diaghilev

He was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise. He initiated the creation of the magazine "World of Art"; was its editor and later, head. He also wrote articles on art history.

Set and Costume

Bakst, Scheherazade, scenery illustration, 1901
organic whole

The figure of the artist in "Russian Seasons" was, if not the main, then, perhaps, equal in importance to the figure of the composer. The combination of movement and color, various attempts to see this combination in dynamics, the new use of the combination of light and shadow, play with color and various theatrical textures, fabrics brought the performances of the entreprise to a new artistic level.

Natalia Goncharova, The Golden Cockerel, 1914

Collaboration with Diaghilev of the most influential artists of the early twentieth century Bakst, Benoit, Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Goncharova, Larionov, and many others took their work outside of art studios, making a revolution in the field of theatrical design, which had previously remained an inert and secondary area.

"The revolution that we have made in ballet concerns, perhaps, only the least specialized field of dancing, but most of all the scenery and costumes."Diaghilev

painters — painters — painters — painters — painters

Léon Bakst

Was a Russian painter and scene and costume designer of Belarusian origin. His ballet sets were called "a feast for the eyes" and "a symphony of colors." The costumes, thanks to the color, texture and ornaments, emphasized the plasticity and grace of the actors. One of Lev Bakst's best design works    is Scheherazade. Seeing the scenery, Alexander Benois said that it was thanks to Bakst that the Russian seasons gained worldwide recognition.

Nicholas Roerich

Nicholas Roerich created sets and costumes for several of Diaghilev's ballets. Especially famous is his design for the play "Polovtsian Dances". Roerich recreated on stage the space of the Polovtsian camp, the distant steppe scorched by the sun and the burnt sky. In combination with the choreography of Mikhail Fokine - Vera Krasovskaya called the dance of the Polovtsians “a frantic whirlwind dance” - Roerich's scenery conveyed the frantic and violent character of the Eastern people.

Alexandre Benois

It was Benois who worked on the Armida Pavilion, the ballet premiere of the Russian Seasons. The artist did not confine himself to the design of the performance: he constantly discussed with the choreographer and felt himself a full-fledged creator of artistic action. Benoit also helped the impresario to assemble a creative team. On his advice, Diaghilev invited Natalia Goncharova, who designed one of the brightest ballets, The Golden Cockerel.

change of
ballet & politics

TV ballet Spartak, Liepa as Crassus, 1978

Influence of power
war and ballet

With the establishment of Soviet power, qualitatively new prospects opened up for the art of ballet. The masters and young talents who remained in the country kept the traditions of the Russian ballet, thereby preparing the ground for the subsequent degeneration of their art.
New original ballets "Stenka Razin" by Glazunov appeared; "Eternally fresh flowers" on the music of Asafiev.During the Second World War, the leading masters of theaters in Moscow and Leningrad worked in the evacuation, which stimulated the creation of ballet companies in other cities of the country.


Stalin took advantage of imperial bourgeois art and turned it into a symbol of Soviet power. Thus, through art, the USSR distanced itself from the image of a bloody dictatorship.
Theater with its propaganda performances faded into the background, remaining only a way of entertaining the people.  The ballet remained in the traditions and aesthetics laid down by Petipa, as development and experimentation were not welcomed.
Ballets were created based on historical plots or literary works and tried to fill them with deep meaning. From the performances of Soviet times from the stage of theaters until now do not leave "Romeo and Juliet", "Spartacus", "Stone Flower", "Bakhchisarai Fountain", "Cinderella", "Anyuta", "Anna Karenina".

socialist ballet

TV ballet Spartak, Liepa as Crassus, 1978

Like many pieces of music during the Soviet era, the ballet drew a parallel between ancient history and modern reality. The viewer saw in "Spartacus" not only the personal drama of the characters, but also their social conflict.

The first two performances at the Bolshoi Theater did not have an audience success and did not last long in the theater's repertoire. It took more than ten years after the creation of the music before the ballet found its danceable face. The third production, created by the brilliant choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, was truly a triumph. Grigorovich's choreography complemented the vivid musical images with acting images created by the skill of the dancers. This passion for creating dramatic images on stage materialized in the music, which complemented Grigorovich's production. The ballet turned out to be unlike other ballet works.

dancers — dancers — dancers — dancers — dancers

Mikhail Baryshnikov

One of the most famous Russian ballet dancers in the world, who remained in Canada during his 1974 tour. Was nominated for Oskar.  He opened the Russian Samovar restaurant in New York.

tamara Tumanova

Prima ballerina, choreographer and actress. She began her stage career in 1932 with the Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo. She has collaborated with the world's leading troupes.

Māris Liepa

Was a Soviet Latvian ballet dancer.  At the height of career, Liepa was considered one of the finest male dancers in the world and one of the most versatile, at home in a wide range of roles.

Russian ballet
decline & rebirth

Ballet status for
the 21st century

After the collapse of the country and the entire socialist system, traditions, as it turned out, no longer made any sense - the world ballet practice left them long ago, modern ballet dance has fundamentally changed. These years saw the decline of Russian ballet.
In contrast, art reached its apogee in the United States and Europe thanks to Russian emigrants. Contemporary dance has evolved into a new concept of movement. Everything was based on aesthetics and, of course, innovation.

Golden God, La Bayadere, St. Petersburg, 2002

At the beginning of the 21st century, leading Russian ballet theaters such as the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky, entered a period of cultural renewal.
Establishing contacts with foreign countries and the arrival of young talented performers allowed choreographers to revive the Russian ballet, filling it with new, modern meanings and techniques.
Today, the Russian Ballet School is again considered one of the strongest in the world, ballet schools annually host hundreds of foreign students who dream of learning the art of dance at the highest level.

dancers — dancers — dancers — dancers — dancers

Nikolay Tsiskaridze

Russian ballet dancer and teacher, premier of the Bolshoi Theater in 1992–2013, People's Artist of the Russian Federation. In 2013, by decision of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, he headed the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.

Diana Vishneva

Russian ballet dancer, prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater and the American Ballet Theater. Winner of the Lausanne Prize competition, Golden Sofit, Golden Mask, People's Artist of the Russian Federation.

Ulyana Lopatkina

Russian ballet dancer, prima ballerina of the Mariinsky Theater in 1995-2017. Laureate of the State Prize and the RF Government Prize.People's Artist of Russia, who is called an icon of the style of Russian ballet.

new school
of Modern ballet

Performance by Boris Eifman, Rodin

Boris Eifman, the creator of his theater, his style, his ballet universe, who is called "one of the world's leading choreographers", "an amazing theatrical wizard." Eifman brilliantly combined the avant-garde achievements of the ballet world with the academic school of Russian classical choreography, on which he grew up himself.

Its artists, who had only academic basic training, had to master new plastic vocabulary. It was a completely different choreography, the fundamental principle of which was born together with the troupe created by Eifman.
A recognizable feature, the "brand" of Eifman's choreography, is that almost all of his productions are plot-based and often have a literary basis. It is in a person that Eifman sees the main object of his art, which has power over the hearts of people and is able to address the soul. For him, ballet is a way of thinking.

“Ballet is not only a profession for me. This is a way of being, my earthly destiny. By his means I must convey what is given to me from above. Choreography for me is a deeply religious art in the broadest sense of the word.” Boris Eifman.

Swan Lake
The history of


In 1877, a dance performance was staged at the Moscow Bolshoi Theater for the first time, which everyone knows today. The ballet "Swan Lake" was born. Since then, one way or another, but the history of world choreography is associated with a magical "medieval" tale about an enchanted girl, a prince in love and an evil wizard.
It is believed that Tchaikovsky was inspired by a visit to Bavaria, where the composer saw the famous Neuschwanstein - the "swan castle" of King Ludwig II. By the way, the scenery for classical productions still depicts a Gothic castle in the mountains.


The first production of 1877, staged by the mediocre Moscow choreographer Reisinger, had bad press and virtually failed.
The rebirth of ballet took place in 1895 in St. Petersburg.
The ballet was undertaken by two outstanding choreographers of the Imperial Theaters, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The choreographer gave the stage swans an appearance close to the modern one - without fake wings with glued feathers. Instead, he introduced hand dances.


The role of Odette was played by the most famous Russian ballerinas, Tamara Krasavina, Anna Pavlova, Agrippina Vaganova. The role of Odette brought worldwide fame to Maya Plisetskaya, the most famous Russian ballerina of the second half of the 20th century. Maya Plisetskaya performed two roles in one, tender Odette and her demonic alterego Odelia.

Swan Lake, Agrippina Vaganova as Odette, St. Petersburg, 1912
first changers

In 1969, Yuri Grigorovich created his own version of Swan Lake. He preserved fragments of Petipa, Ivanov and Gorsky in the Bolshoi Theater production. But he could not deliver the desired tragic ending: for ideological reasons, they demanded a happy ending from him. Only many years later the choreographer realized the original idea. Grigorovich thought with the motive of doubles: The evil genius became the second “I” of the positive hero, looming behind the prince's back.
By 1984, Rudolf Nureyev staged his own version of ballet in Paris. In many ways he reshaped the ballet for himself, adding a lot of dances to the Prince, focusing on him, and not on the ballerina, as was traditionally the case before.

World scene
new meaning

At the end of the 20th century, different versions of Swan Lake appeared on world stages, which were not associated with either classical dance or the previous staging tradition. In search of new meanings, choreographers abandoned the traditional plot. The fairy tale became the starting point for all sorts of reflections on the burning problems of our time. The ballet was often staged with the help of various modern dance techniques and the so-called "contemporary dance".

Matthew Bourne, Swan Lake, 1995

British director Matthew Bourne is known for ballet in which all swans are men. But this was  not done for shocking. "Swan Lake" 1995 is a humanistic and light performance with completely original choreography. The action takes place today, and in the visual realities of ballet, many have recognized the UK. This is a parable about loneliness and the fact that it is impossible and dangerous to go against a flock, whether you are a bird, an ordinary person or a person of royal blood.
One of the most recent versions is Swan Lake 2014 by the Norwegian Ballet. Its author Alexander Ekman reproduced on stage the history of the first ballet production in Russia and created a real lake on the stage, which required 6,000 liters of water. The climax is a fight between the Black and White Swans in exquisite designer costumes.

return to original

In recent years, along with staging radicalism, an opposite, restoration trend has been gaining momentum, when contemporary choreographers are trying to restore the stage appearance of the first ballet performances. In 2016, Alexei Ratmansky suggested one of the retro versions. An attempt was made not only to restore the lost or altered episodes of Swan Lake, but also, if possible, music, costumes, even makeup. The voluminous pantomime, the old cut of ballet tutus and black swans in the corps de ballet of the last act returned to their place. The original style of ballet performance a la "a hundred years ago", the original manner of movements was picked up.

200 years of marius petipa— 200 years of marius petipa— 200 years of marius petipa— 200 years of marius petipa

200 years of marius petipa - 200 years of marius petipa

2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marius Petipa. Choreographer and teacher, he brought up more than one generation of Russian artists, staged more than seventy ballets and moved the capital of the ballet world to St. Petersburg. Today Marius Petipa's productions are the golden fund of the classical heritage.

Visit the main
ballet stage
of russia
Russia, St Petersburg, Teatralnaya street, 1