From Russia with love: in praise of Petipa and Ivanov
A look at two colossuses of Russian ballet.
The Mariinksy Ballet is now in residence, and there is an air of glorious Russian glamour about the place. So it’s timely to pay tribute to Russian classical ballet, St Petersburg, and the choreography double act of Petipa and Ivanov. Where would we be without them?
We’ve ventured into the lesser-travelled byways of www.roh.org.uk and hooked out some history for dedicated fans of Russian dance.
The colossus of 19th-century ballet
- Clement Crisp
Petipa’s ballets fused French sophistication, Italian brio and Russian majesty into the form that we now recognise as ‘classical ballet’ (as distinct from romantic or modern ballet). As such, Petipa’s phenomenal influence has touched almost every ballet company and choreographer since. Even his predecessors are indebted to him: some earlier works such as Giselle and Coppélia have survived only through Petipa’s restagings of them
‘Classical ballet’ as a technique derives from a set of codified principles – the placement of the feet, the iconic steps and stances, the clarity and proportion of the positions originally devised in the highly elaborate social world of the French courts. Petipa developed this style to virtuoso levels, displaying the brilliance of his dancers as if to raise a mirror to the grandeur of his Russian imperial audience. The ballerinas’ short, stiffened tutus showed off their fancy footwork and perfect alignment. Their ‘steely’ pointe work, sharper and harder than the softer romantic style, emphasised precision, line and balance.
But classical ballet is not just technique, it is also theatre. In this respect, too, Petipa both played to his aristocratic imperial audience and led them to new heights. His first major success was The Pharaoh’s Daughter (1862), an elaborate, evening-length epic with a cast of 400 dancers that established the fashion for the ballet à grand spectacle. [Read on in the Discover section]
No artist ever made a stronger claim to posterity’s respect for creating half a masterpiece
- Roland John Wiley
The 19th-century Russian choreographer Lev Ivanovich Ivanov is something of an enigma. He is the man responsible for two of the world’s best loved ballets: Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, yet he seems to have left so faint a mark in the history books that he has been largely overlooked until relatively recently. He choreographed nearly 20 different ballets, some by himself and some in collaboration with Marius Petipa, however he did not always receive full dues for his work as Petipa was often credited in the programme. [Read on in the Discover section.]