Russian Ballet: From the First Performance to the National Heritage

Russian Ballet: From the First Performance to the National Heritage

It is believed that Russian ballet was created on February 8, 1673. On that day, the first ever ballet performance was presented at the residence of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich. How the art of Russian classical dance in 350 years grew from court entertainment to a phenomenon admired by the whole world?

Beginning: Ballet Based on a Greek Myth and Men on Stage

The first "ballet performance" in Russia was given at the royal residence in the village of Preobrazhenskoye near Moscow. The audience was composed of the Tsar’s people, members of the royal family and the sovereign Alexei Mikhailovich himself. The theme of the performance was quite exotic, it was based on a Greek myth - that evening the audience saw the Ballet about Orpheus and Eurydice.

The stage for ballet performances appeared at the royal court earlier: in 1672, Alexei Mikhailovich ordered to build a "comedy mansion". The court theater looked like a great chamber richly decorated with expensive woolen cloth. It had a stage - that was just a part of the room separated by curtains.

The first Russian ballet about Orpheus and Eurydice was staged by Nicola Lima. Later, he taught the first theater troupe that emerged at the royal court after the successful premiere. The score of the first performance has not survived, but its authorship is attributed to the German composer Heinrich Schütz. In the premiere performance, the choreographer Lima danced the part of Orpheus himself, other roles were played by the children of townspeople - only boys, as girls were not allowed on the ballet stage at that time.

After the premiere, several more performances took place on the “comedy mansion” stage. However, this part of the ballet history in Russia was not long. In 1676, after the death of Alexei Mikhailovich, theatrical and musical performances at the court ceased.

Golden Age: From Court Art to the National Heritage

The fashion for ballet in the high society was revived by Peter the Great. At that time, the first professional ballet master Jean-Baptiste Landé came to Russia and the first ballet dance school was opened. Another major event in the history of Russian ballet of the 18th century was the opening of the Bolshoi Theater on the right bank of the Neglinka River. This building was later called the Old Petrovsky Theatre.

After that, the history of Russian ballet develops onward and upward: various productions, world-renowned ballerinas and dancers, culminating in the European and world triumph of Russian ballet thanks to the "Russian Seasons" of impresario Sergei Diaghilev.

In 1909, Diaghilev brought Russian ballet to Paris and was a huge success! Starting with that premiere tour, the ballet seasons got a European “residence permit” for several years. 20 “Russian Seasons", the world success of productions, immortalized names of dancers, choreographers and composers - this is the outcome of the "tours" of Diaghilev  and the representatives of the Russian ballet.

Vector to the Future: Ballet in Russia is More Than Ballet

Many people associate contemporary ballet with the Moscow Bolshoi Theater, that is, probably, the most famous stage for classical dance. Over the years of its existence, the building has been repaired, modified and expanded on repeated occasions throughout the 20th century and later: for example, in 2002 the New Stage building was opened. In 2005, the Bolshoi was closed for a massive reconstruction that took 6 years. It was a world-class project in scale, since the theater building and its interiors have long been perceived as the most important scenery, against which the history of Russian ballet was made.

The renovated Bolshoi Theater is a modern space with new premises and new capabilities. The reconstruction revived the historical appearance of the building and strengthened its technical equipment at the same time.

The Bolshoi Theater is the symbol of classical dance and art in general. Today, to watch a performance on this immortal stage means to become acquainted with the great history of Russian ballet, to appreciate our national heritage.