Great Ballet of a Brilliant Artist

Great Ballet of a Brilliant Artist

The Russian ballet of the second half of the 19th century is often called the Age of Petipa. This time turned out to be fruitful: in almost half a century, Marius Petipa managed to create 56 original productions and 17 of his own versions of other ballets. The legacy of the Russified Frenchman, who was called Marius Ivanovich during his lifetime, is great and lives to this day.

Hereditary dancer

Marius Petipa was born two centuries ago - on March 11, 1818. His first ballet teacher was his father - artist Jean-Antoine Petipa. Marius spent his childhood and adolescence touring around Europe and America; for several seasons, he worked on stage of the Royal Theater in Madrid.

In 1847, 29-year-old Petipa came to St. Petersburg to stay here for the rest of his life. Almost immediately he debuted as Lucien in Joseph Mazilier's ballet Paquita. As dancer, Marius Petipa repeatedly appeared before the audience in Mazilier's productions of Satanella, Jules Perrot's Esmeralda, performed the main roles in Faust and Le Corsaire, as well as in his own performances. The fact confirming Petipa's great talent as a dancer is that he headed the Mariinsky ballet troupe for over 40 years. Contemporaries also recalled that Marius Petipa was a professional in classical dances, but in character and folk dances, which required acting skills and authenticity, he was second to none.

Author of productions: canons of the "Bolshoi Ballet" and attention to music

The fame of a choreographer came to Marius Petipa in 1862. Then his production of The Pharaoh's Daughter got public recognition - the ballet was called spectacular and choreographically abundant. The choreographer's grand debut was preceded by several one-act performances created by Petipa in the years 1850-1860. During this period, the author was shaping his own style.

With every new performance, Marius Petipa polished the canons of the “Bolshoi Ballet” - the structure based on which his performances were subsequently built. 

The choreographer was telling the story - the main events of the performance - in pantomime scenes, and was elaborating on the internal themes - experiences and feelings of the characters - in classical ensembles and dances.

Petipa had his own special way of working with composers. Thus, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky created his ballet masterpieces - The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker - based on detailed plans that Petipa wrote down to the last beat.

The choreographer also worked with ensemble constructions in a special way. His plans for ballet performances have survived. Dancers are represented in them by crosses and ballerinas - by circles, and the movement of dancers across the stage is shown by numerous arrows, dashes and lines. Only the author himself could decipher all these signs.

Petipa's legacy: from denial to acceptance

At the beginning of the 20th century, the young generation of choreographers called the canons of the "Age of Petipa" irrelevant. 

In his article "Five Principles", Mikhail Fokine contrasted the "old" ballet with the "new" one. He wrote, “In contrast to the old ballet, the new one does not require “ballet music” from the composer as an accompaniment to the dances, it accepts any music, if it is good and expressive... It doesn’t impose any specific “ballet” conditions on the composer or artist, but gives absolute freedom to their creative powers.”

Nevertheless, the canons of Petipa's “Bolshoi Ballet” didn’t leave the stage. The next generation of choreographers took these expressive means as the basis of modern ballet. So, ideas and discoveries creatively rethought by Petipa are not yet history but modernity. And the famous performances by the choreographer are still on the posters of the major theaters in Russia and the world, and people who are far from classical dance have heard something about these ballets almost for sure.