10 "Literary" Ballets

10 "Literary" Ballets

In honor of the 200th anniversary of F.M. Dostoevsky prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater Olga Smirnova dreams of staging a ballet.We recall the famous ballets that danced off the pages of books.

Don Quixote

The classical production to the music by Ludwig Minkus and the libretto by Marius Petipa was released in the 19th century, in 1869, on stage of the Bolshoi Theater. The further stage life of the Don Quixote ballet was connected with both the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi Theaters.

In contrast to the extensive narration of the book by Cervantes, the ballet is actually based on a single episode - the wedding of Kitheria and Basilio. Love of the characters on stage wins, as does the affection of the audience. The ballet Don Quixote staged by Alexander Gorsky has been shown on stage of the Bolshoi over 220 times.

Till Eulenspiegel

This one-act comedy-drama ballet was released in 1916 at the Manhattan Opera. The production by Vaslav Nijinsky was based on the symphonic poem Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks by Strauss and the original source - historical novel by Charles de Coster The Legend of Eulenspiegel.

The ballet was presented to the public during Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Ballet tour in the United States. In 1994, the production returned, this time in the Paris Opera setting.

The Fountain of Bakhchisarai

The ballet reinterpretation touched upon several of Pushkin's creations. The Fountain of Bakhchisarai was first shown at the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater in 1934. Ballet master Rostislav Zakharov and writer Nikolai Volkov defined their production as a choreographic poem. Music was composed by Boris Asafiev. Two years after the premiere, the ballet moved to the stage of the Bolshoi Theater.

The Fountain of Bakhchisarai had a bright creative life. The ballet returned to the playbills several times: in 1944 and 1954. It is also known for the fact that the part of Maria in the production was danced by Galina Ulanova.


In classical ballet, there are several productions based on the Lermontov drama. One of them is the 4-act ballet by Lev Laputin, the student and follower of Aram Khachaturian. The premiere took place on March 23, 1956, at the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theater; the libretto was written by Otar Dadishkiliani.

This production is interesting because it is the first ballet based on the work by the Russian poet. Four years later, Masquerade was staged at the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theater named after Kirov. Choreographer Boris Fenster offered the audience a "dramatic ballet", but reviews on this production were negative for the most part.

Anna Karenina

The three-act ballet to the music by Rodion Shchedrin premiered in 1972 at the Bolshoi. The production is known for the fact that Maya Plisetskaya was engaged in its implementation. In 1967, she played a role in the Anna Karenina movie and this is how the idea of a ballet arose.

When they were staging the dance part, several choreographers changed until Plisetskaya decided that she would stage the ballet herself. Ballet Karenina can be called a real long-liver of stage. It was performed 103 times, the last performance was in 1985.

The Seagull

Another ballet created by Rodion Shchedrin and Maya Plisetskaya working in tandem. The production based on Chekhov's play premiered on May 27, 1980, at the Bolshoi Theater.

Plisetskaya not only staged the ballet and danced the title role in it. She also inspired composer Shchedrin to create an innovative musical form. It is known that Rodion Shchedrin wrote, “To Maya Plisetskaya, always” on the title page of the score that had 24 preludes, 3 interludes and a postlude.

Spectators of the Bolshoi saw this production 71 times. The final performance was in 1990.


Kirill Molchanov's ballet based on Shakespeare's tragedy was first performed at the Bolshoi Theater on July 1, 1980. Choreography and libretto were written by Vladimir Vasiliev.

The production is interesting because composer Molchanov had never created ballet performances before, although he wrote eight operas. It is believed that this debut was inspired by his wife, ballerina Nina Timofeeva. For the last time Molchanov’s Macbeth was played at the Bolshoi in 1988. The audience saw the performance 44 times in total.

Lost Illusions

Honore de Balzac's novel inspired Leonid Desyatnikov, Vladimir Dmitriev and Alexei Ratmansky to create a ballet in three acts. It premiered exactly 10 years ago, in April 2011, at the Bolshoi Theater.

Composer Desyatnikov was ordered a new score - for the first time in the post-Soviet history of theater.


This two-act ballet based on the novel by Virginia Woolf was the premiere of March  2021 and the debut of the German choreographer Christian Spuck  at the Bolshoi Theater.

The English writer created her novel in 1928. Gender and creative nature of human became the main topic of this work. The plot of the book spans 350 years (!), and at the center of the story is a young man endowed with the ability to travel through centuries.

Christian Spuck emphasized that narrative fabric in the novel is more like a dream than a reality.


Premiere of this ballet lies ahead. The youngest prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater Olga Smirnova shared why they decided to create this production based on one of the most famous Russian novels of the 20th century. The idea is to time the ballet to the 200th anniversary of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. The ballerina said that the team has already been staffed, and now they are looking for a site.

“I received the President's Prize recently and publicly announced that I wanted to use the prize money to make my dream come true - to stage the Idiot ballet, and asked the President for support. Now this issue is being worked out," said the ballerina in the interview.

Olga Smirnova plans to dance the part of Nastasya Filippovna, “a combination of fire and sacrifice”.