Category: imperial russian ballet

Tamara Karsavina in La Fille du Pharaon (Imper…

Tamara Karsavina in La Fille du Pharaon (Imperial Russian Ballet, c. 1904)

Agrippina Vaganova in Sylvia (Imperial Russian…

Agrippina Vaganova in Sylvia (Imperial Russian Ballet)

Dumas’ version, unlike many of his adven…

Dumas’ version, unlike many of his adventure tales, was not wildly popular in its day.  In fact, it languished until, seventy years later, Marius Pepita, a Frenchman considered the father of classical Russian ballet and one of ballet’s most influential choreographers, got hold of it.  As the premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, he decided to have the Dumas story made into a ballet and commissioned Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to compose the music.  According to ballet legend, the pairing was not a happy one, as the two had differing opinions on how to approach the work.  It probably didn’t help that Tchaikovsky suffered bouts of depression…It is also said that the infrequency of the composer’s early successes had made him particularly sensitive to criticism.  As it turned out, Tchaikovsky and Pepita probably did not do much collaboration.  The ballet masters was then in ill health, and it fell to his assistant, second ballet master Lev Ivanov, to create most of the choreography (under Pepita’s watchful eye, historians assume).

The ballet, now titled simply ‘The Nutcracker’, premiered the week before Christmas in 1892 at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre.  As I discovered when I first began digging into the history of the production…it was not an immediate success.  Despite the tsar’s enthusiasm – he was in attendance at the premiere – the ballet received what might kindly be referred to as ‘mixed reviews’.  It became just another part of the ongoing Russian repertoire and was not thought of as a seasonal or holiday production.  That was the state of this now-iconic ballet when, in 1919, an extraordinarily talented 15-year-old Russian dancer by the name of Giorgi Balanchivadze danced the role of the prince.  Twenty-four years later, Giorgi (George) Balanchivadze (Balanchine) came to the United States, where he became the father of American ballet and the choreographer of his own version of ‘The Nutcracker’.  Although the San Francisco Ballet was the first to present the full-length Nutcracker to American audiences in 1944, it was Balanchine’s complex, theatrical version, performed by his New York City Ballet company in 1954, that catapulted the ballet to its current-day status.  (It didn’t hurt that the production was televised as a holiday special.)  Balanchine played the role of Drosselmeyer.

Back in 1919, the 15-year-old Balanchine had d…

Back in 1919, the 15-year-old Balanchine had danced the role of the Prince in a Russian production of the ballet.  Russia was the ballet’s home, with native son Tchaikovsky writing the score and the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet’s premier and assistant ballet masters choreographing the dance.  That very performance, in December 1892 in St. Petersburg, was – I am surprised and sort of charmed to discover – somewhat of a bomb.  One critic wrote that the premier ballerina was ‘corpulent’ and ‘pudgy’ and that one of the other dancers was ‘completely insipid’.  The libretto was ‘lopsided’.  Children should not have been part of the cast.  About the choreography of the battle scene, the critic wrote, ‘One cannot understand anything.  Disorderly pushing about from corner to corner and running backwards and forwards – quite amateurish.’



Left to right: Stanislava Belinskaya as Clara, Lydia Rubtsova as Marianna and Vassily Stukolkin as Fritz, in the original production of The Nutcracker. Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia, 1892.

Ask Responses: Mariinsky


How long did it take Lukina and Shakirova to be promoted?

I believe Shakirova was promoted coryphee and then to second soloist within one year of joining the company. She has now been promoted to first soloist. Lukina followed a similar path / timeframe but a bit slower pace because of an injury. 

Which Mariinsky primas are nearing retirement?

“Nearing retirement” is a pretty broad term. Some ballerinas dance well into their forties. Tereshkina and Kondaurova are the oldest / longest serving primas in the company. I’m not counting Vishneva because I feel that she has unofficially retired from classical ballet and will only dance contemporary / modern from now on (years ago, she said that this was indeed her intention after having children). Plus, she hasn’t performed with the company in a few years.

Why is May Nagahisa hated on so much? She really is an outstanding if very young dancer who still needs to develop (as do so many others) and totally deserved the promotion in my opinion. Her sylph was etheral!

She’s an outsider. She’s a foreigner who didn’t train in Russia and she joined the company via traineeship, which is not a very common career path in Russia. Any dancer who progresses through the ranks quickly receives some form of backlash, but an outsider like May would be judged even more harshly.

Could you please tell me why mariinsky is more famous than Mikhailovsky? Ty

The Mariinsky was founded in 1783. It was Russia’s Imperial Theatre – the heart of Russian ballet. This is where “Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake” (in the incarnation we know and love today) and “The Nutcracker” were born, and the greatest Russian ballet dancers performed. Mikhailovsky was founded a bit later, in 1833. Correct me if I’m wrong, by I think that it served as a stage for foreign companies until the revolution, and the actual Mikhailovsky company wasn’t formed until 1918. So culturally and historically, the Mariinsky is older and more significant. 

I think we can all unanimously agree that Khoreva’s gonna be the next Mariinsky principal, can’t we?

Well, no. While she’s likely to be promoted to that rank at some point in the future, I think some ballerinas (like Novikova and Shakirova) will get there first. So technically she won’t be “the next”.

What happens when in the next few years most of the current Mariinsky primas retire? As the Mariinsky is slow in promoting they’d have to promote a bunch of dancers like Khoreva, Lukina, Shakirova… and I don’t see that happening.

I think they’re slowly lining up the new generation of primas, though it will be years before the changeover fully takes place. They have some tremendously talented dancers in the corps and more are joining every year. I’m actually not nearly as concerned about the future of the company as I used to be.

From an instastory picture of a Mariinsky Nov. 21st Giselle program, I saw that Vlada Borodulina (Peasant Pas/Moyna debut) had “первое выступление лауреат международного конкурса” next to her name. I know the first part is ‘First Performance’ but wasn’t sure what the last part meant. It sounded like she won a competition? But I wasn’t sure. Curious if you had any clue. Thanks!

“первое выступление” means “first performance; “лауреат международного конкурса" mean “Laureate (award winner) of an international competition”.

Could Shapran be the next Mariinsky principal?

Your guess is as good as mine. My gut feeling is that Novikova will be promoted ahead of her.

Zolotykh is dancing, however she seems to have become one of those dancers who is strictly a corps dancer. She occasionally will perform one of the three Goldfish in ’(I forgot whichever Opera it is)’.

That makes me sad. I hope she progressed beyond those roles. I’ve been really rooting for her since her injury.

Mariinsky’s website says they will be performing ‘Fairy Doll’ in the spring– though nothing to indicate it is a VBA performance, like there normally is. This would be the first time the actual company has performed it in years. Since it was revived by VBA, and so many of those students who revived it are now in the company, do you think we’ll see those students perform those roles i.e, Khoreva=Fairy Doll, Borodulina=Spanish, Ionova=Chinese, etc, or will MT bring a whole new cast?

They haven’t announced the cast yet, but I actually think it will be performed by Vaganova Academy students.

d i s c l a i m e r

Ask Responses: Vaganova


It appears that Khiteeva is rehearsing the lead in ‘Waltz of the Hours’ that Khoreva performed for graduation. Any news on if VBA has plans to perform that anytime soon?

I think VBA will (or already have) perform at the Mariinsky as part of the annual Cultural Forum that’s on in St Petersburg at the moment.

Thanks for posting the link to the new docu! Any idea where I can find it with English subtitles?

I’d like to know if they’re planning to release another version with English subs, but something’s telling me they won’t. To be honest, the doco (though very beautifully and intelligently made) didn’t present a lot of new information. There are certain parts of it that I’d like to translate, but I’m not sure when and if I will have the time…

For how long has VBA done shows on the stage of the Mariinsky?

I think they’ve been performing pretty much since 1738, when the academy was created by the order of Anna of Russia. Of course, the nature of the performances and the relationship between the academy and the theatre have changed and grown over the years, but that relationship had been there from the get-go. The academy’s role is to train dancers for the Mariinsky, so naturally the relationship between the company and the school is a symbiotic one. I can’t remember exactly when the younger students started taking part in professional performances, but I assume it had happened during Petipa’s tenure.

You mentioned that Bulanova had a rocky time in VBA. Can I ask what happened/what the story is there? I love her dancing but I’m not very familiar with her.

I don’t know the details, but I believe that she is one of the very small percentage of students who got kicked out at VBA only to come back with a vengeance. She really had to fight hard to get to where she is now.

I recently read something on some kind of limitations or problems regarding Anastasia Smirnova? Do you have any idea what that is refering to?

I’m afraid not. Could you send me a link to the article you read please? That might shed some light on the matter.

Do you think 2019’s future grads like Khiteeva and Smirnova will even stand a chance of promotion in Mariinsky or Bolshoi seeing as they’re both already filled with a lot of promising and extremely talented young dancers?

I honestly don’t know. The competition to get into the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky is always fierce, but I doubt that either company would let gems like Khiteeva and Smirnova slip away. The real question is whether they’ll be able to progress beyond the corps if they do get in.

Do you know when Ionova and Nuykina entered VBA?

Ionova herself said in a recent interview that she got in at 18, which makes o sense to me since she’s been around at VBA since the age of 15 (by my calculations). Not sure how that one worked out… Nuykina got in in 2014 (she must have been around 14.

@decadentwinnertoaddean: Hi, I read the interview with Daria Ionova on La personne. Since I used google translate, I am not sure that I understood, especially when she tells her story. She says that she decided to be a professional dancer only as a teenager, when she started to win competitions and to receive offers from Vba to join the academy. However, then she tells that she joined the academy only when she was 18, because she was refused when she was 15. I don’t understand: if she was offered, why was she refused?

Yeah, like I said above, I’m really confused about that one too…

d i s c l a i m e r 



Nikolai Tsiskaridze and Irina Kolpakova attended (and spoke at) the opening of “Petipa. Dacnomania” exhibition in St Petersburg. Photos by Tatiana Gord. 

As [Ratmansky] has become more conversant in P…

As [Ratmansky] has become more conversant in Petipa’s style, his freedom within it has increased.  In The Sleeping Beauty, he was adamant that the women should raise their legs up only 90 degrees and not point their feet when they stood at rest, but rather hold them in a semi-relaxed position.  Many of the women’s turns were executed with the foot on half tiptoe rather than fully on the tips of the toes.

These period details were difficult to maintain –  the dancers kept going back to their old habits, he said – so he hasn’t insisted on them in Harlequinade.  ‘It requires too much time to make it work, and there are never enough rehearsals,’ he said.

The key is the simplicity of the phrases.  Pep…

The key is the simplicity of the phrases.  Pepita’s choreography is so simple, and so wise.  Everything feels inevitable.