by marius petipa

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Introducing the magic of The Sleeping Beauty (The Royal Ballet)

Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty is notoriously one of the most challenging ballets to perform. The production holds a particularly special place in the history of The Royal Ballet. 
Now over 70 years old, it was the first production the Company performed when Covent Garden re-opened its doors after World War II. In this film the cast and crew explain why the production has remained such an iconic staple in the Repertory.

anonymous asked:

What does it mean that the first two stagings of Swan Lake didn't work? That sounds like an interesting story:)

It’s an interesting story, indeed. A bit of a sad one too.

“Swan Lake” had technically had two premiers. One in 1877 at the Bolshoi and another in 1895 at the Mariinsky. There had been several other attempts to re-stage the ballet in the interim years, but all had failed*.

Julius Reisinger, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (the men behind “Swan Lake”):


The Imperial Bolshoi Theatre commissioned Tchaikovsky to write the music for “Swan Lake” in 1875. This was Tchaikovsky’s first attempt at writing music for a ballet (he was one of the first major composers to take on such commissions) and he took the task very seriously. Tchaikovsky was given a script, written by Vladimir Begichev and Vasili Geltser, which centred around the Russian folk tales of a maiden turning into a swan, and composed the music between 1875 and 1876. Interestingly enough, a few years previously (in 1871), Tchaikovsky actually composed a little ballet for his niece and nephew called “The Lake of the Swans” #foreshadowing

The work on the ballet started in the fall of 1876. The Bolshoi’s resident ballet-master Julius Reisinger was tasked with creating the choreography, and the ballet’s unveiling was to take place as part of a benefit performance for the ballerina Pelagia Karpakova. You can blame Reisinger and Karpakova for the ballet’s resounding failure. Reisinger found Tchaikovsky’s score too complicated to work with, so he chopped and changed it freely, while Karpakova insisted on replacing several sections of the music with display-pieces from other ballets in her repertoire. By the opening night (March 4 N.S. / Feb 20 O.S., 1877), half of Tchaikovsky’s score was butchered beyond recognition. The parts that were left in were considered by the critics to be “too noisy”, “too Wagnerian” and “too symphonic”, while Reisinger’s choreography was deemed “unimaginative” and “unmemorable”. Reisinger’s “Swan Lake” ran until 1883 (33 performances in total) before being dropped from the repertoire.

Anna Sobechshanskaya as Odette in Reisinger’s original 1877 production:


The Imperial Bolshoi Theatre decided to revisit the ballet in the 1886 / 87 season, but something went wrong and the production was never staged. Another, more serious attempt at re-staging took place in 1893. This time, to the delight of Tchaikovsky, Marius Petipa was tasked with recreating the choreography. Sadly, the work was derailed by Tchaikovsky’s sudden death. Petipa was so devastated by his friend’s and collaborator’s death that he himself became ill. At this point, Lev Ivanov (Petipa’s deputy) stepped in and choreographed what would eventually become Act II of Swan Lake. The piece was presented at Tchaikovsky’s Memorial Evening in the winter of 1894.  

The “Swan Lake” we know and love today is the result of a collaboration between Petipa and Ivanov. Their production premiered at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on January 27 N.S. (January 15 O.S), 1895. It starred Pierina Legnani as Odette/Odile and Pavel Gerdt as Prince Siegfried. Petipa famously included the 32 fouettes in Act III because the sequence was Legnani’s “party trick” - a feat no ballerina in Russia could imitate at the time.

Pierina Legnani in the1895  Petipa / Ivanov production:


Pavel Gerdt as Prince Siegfried (and some swans) in the1895  Petipa / Ivanov production:


Petipa and Ivanov’s “Swan Lake” was notated between 1901 and 1907 in the Stepanov notation method and is part of the Sergeyev Collection. In February 2016, Alexei Ratmansky mounted a reconstruction of Petipa and Ivanov’s Swan Lake for the Zürich National Ballet. As far as I know, the production received very positive reviews.


*So I was wrong to say that two productions had failed, since there was only one serious attempt.

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Evgenia Obraztsova (Bolshoi Ballet) and Dimitry Gudanov, “The Sleeping Beauty” choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Russian Ballet Icons Gala", March 12, 2017 až the London Coliseum, London, England, Photo © Marc Haegeman

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December 18th 1892: The Nutcracker debuts

On this day in 1892, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker received its debut at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. By this point, Tchaikovsky was a noted composer, and had already produced his masterpieces the ‘1812 Overture’, and the ballet Swan Lake, though the latter was not initially a critical success. The Nutcracker told the story of an enchanted Nutcracker doll, which leads its young friend into a magical world where they battle the evil Mouse King. The story was adapted by Tchaikovsky from Alexandre Dumas’ own adaptation of the E.T.A Hoffman story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The ballet was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker was not an immediate success, but Tchaikovsky’s score was generally praised. Indeed, ‘Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy’ became one of his most famous compositions. Tchaikovsky died the year after the premiere of The Nutcracker, never seeing his ballet become the hugely popular Christmas classic it is today.

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Viktoria Tereshkina as Odette/Odile and Xander Parish as Prince Siegfried, The Mariinsky Ballet dances “Swan Lake”, choreography: Konstantin Sergeyev after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, music by Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky at the Royal Opera House, 27 July - 7 August 2017

Photos © Foteini Christofilopoulou

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‘It wouldn’t be Christmas without it’ – Why The Royal Ballet never tire of The Nutcracker  

Marius Petipa created the scenario, which is based on a fairytale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Lev Ivanov provided the choreography. The Nutcracker was first performed in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. It initially had a poor reception, but its combination of enchanting choreography and unforgettable music has since made it one of the most loved of all ballets.

In Peter Wright’s classic production for The Royal Ballet, the stage sparkles with theatrical magic – a Christmas tree grows before our eyes, toy soldiers come to life to fight the villainous Mouse King and Clara and the Nutcracker are whisked off to the Kingdom of Sweets on a golden sleigh. Tchaikovsky’s score contains some of ballet’s best-known melodies, from the flurrying Waltz of the Snowflakes to the dream-like Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – all brilliantly set in Wright’s choreography. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs draw upon 19th-century images of Christmas, making this magical production perfect for the festive season. 

Choreographer Peter Wright on what makes The Nutcracker so magical

Choreographer Peter Wright reflects what makes his classic Royal Ballet production of The Nutcracker so magical, more than three decades after its premiere.

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score was commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, following the resounding success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890. Marius Petipa created the scenario, which is based on a fairytale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Lev Ivanov provided the choreography. The Nutcracker was first performed in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. It initially had a poor reception, but its combination of enchanting choreography and unforgettable music has since made it one of the most loved of all ballets.

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“Paquita”, Act III. Vaganova Ballet Academy graduation performance. Mariinsky Theatre. June 2017.

Choreography: Marius Petipa (1881)
Re-staged: Yuri Burlaka and Nikolai Tsiskaridze (2017)
Costumes: Dmitry Paradizov

Paquita: Eleonora Sevenard
Lucien d'Hervilly: Egor Gerashckenko Count d'Hervilly: Sergei Osminkin
Countess d'Hervilly: Ekaterina Zhukova
Master of Ceremonies: Alexander Blend

Polonaise: Daria Naumova, Olga Moreva, Anna Shishanova, Valentina Ivanova, Maria Truetseva, Tatiana Gorbunova, Alena Mashantseva, Alexandra Morozova, Stella Malkina, Valentina Yakubova, Olga Petrova, Lidia Kovalenko, Maxim Zenin, Aganak Badyrgy, Ilya Lagunenko, Vakhtang Kherkheluidze, Issa Bolkoev, Peter Attikov, Roman Suslov, Alexei Shmetoev, Evgeni Bolotskih, Lev Petrov, Raul Ferreira.

Contredanse: junior students

Gavotte: Anastasia Bogdashkina, Anita Voroshilova, Ksenia Andreenko, Marina Pak, Nikolai Vorobiev, Pavel Mikheev.

Cotillion: Ekaterina Zhukova, Sergei Osminkin, Daria Naumova, Olga Moreva, Maria Truitseva, Valentina Ivanova, Maxim Zenin, Raul Ferreira, Lev Petrov, Evgeni Bolotskih.

Pas de trois: Vlada Borodulina, Aleksandra Korshunova, Ruslan Stenyushkin

Mazurka: junior students

Grand pas: Eleonora Sevenard, Egor Gerashchenko, Svetlana Savelieva, Katerina Kuzmicheva, Anastasia Uzhanskaya, Valeria Sklotskaya, Orina Anzai, Maria Bualova, Maria Khoreva, Maria Peukhova, Alexandra Khiteeva, Julia Spiridonova, Polina Bualova, Anastasia Demidova, Daria Ionova, Lada Ivanova.

Variations: Maria Petukhova (from the ballet “La Camargo”), Julia Spiridonova (from the ballet “Armida’s Pavilion”), Alexandra Khoteeva (from the ballet “Paquita”), Eleonora Sevenard (from the ballet “Trilby”), Egor Gerashchenko (from the ballet “The Spring”)

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February 20th 1877: Swan Lake debut

On this day in 1877, by the old-style calendar, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake had its debut at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Tchaikovsky, already a noted composer, was commissioned to compose the ballet by Vladimir Petrovich Begichev, the intendant of the Russian Imperial Theatres. Borrowing from Russian folk tales, Tchaikovsky wrote the ballet in 1875-6, telling the story of princess Odette as she is transformed into a swan by an evil sorceror. The original show - then called The Lake of the Swans - was performed by the famous Bolshoi Ballet, and was choreographed by Julius Reisinger. This first performance was not well received, with its score and choreography criticised as too complex, and Tchaikovsky never saw his ballet achieve the iconic status it now enjoys. Only after the composer’s death in 1893 was Swan Lake eventually revived, with a new version of the music produced by Tchaikovsky‘s brother and others, along with new choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The 1895 version of Swan Lake was a success, and subsequent productions owe more stylistically to this version than the initial 1877 performance. Swan Lake is one of Tchaikovsky’s most famous compositions - alongside other iconic pieces like The Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture - and remains one of the world’s favourite ballets.

Natalia Osipova in Giselle mad scene, music by Adolphe Adam, choreography by Peter Wright after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa, conductor Aivo Välja, artistic director Igor Zelensky.

© Jack Devant for Bayerisches Staatsballett

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Svetlana Zakharova and Denis Rodkin (Bolshoi Ballet), “Le Corsaire” choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Adolphe Adam, 2017 Svetlana Zakharova and Friends Gala, 2017 Ravenna Festival, Palazzo Mauro De André, Ravenna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy (July 22)

Photos © Ravenna Festival / Fabrizio Zani / Daniele Casadio

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The Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet.

Alexander Campbell as Hans-Peter/the Nutcracker dances his mime sequence from Act II of Peter Wright’s production of The Nutcracker, recorded live in December 2013.

Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score was commissioned by the director of the Russian Imperial Theatres, following the resounding success of The Sleeping Beauty in 1890. Marius Petipa created the scenario, which is based on a fairytale by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Lev Ivanov provided the choreography. The Nutcracker was first performed in 1892 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. It initially had a poor reception, but its combination of enchanting choreography and unforgettable music has since made it one of the most loved of all ballets.

In Peter Wright’s classic production for The Royal Ballet, the stage sparkles with theatrical magic – a Christmas tree grows before our eyes, toy soldiers come to life to fight the villainous Mouse King and Clara and the Nutcracker are whisked off to the Kingdom of Sweets on a golden sleigh. Tchaikovsky’s score contains some of ballet’s best-known melodies, from the flurrying Waltz of the Snowflakes to the dream-like Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – all brilliantly set in Wright’s choreography. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs draw upon 19th-century images of Christmas, making this magical production perfect for the festive season.

In this mime sequence from Act II, Hans-Peter recounts to the Sugar Plum Fairy his adventures, and how Clara saved him from the Mouse King.

The cast includes Francesca Hayward as Clara and Gary Avis as Herr Drosselmeyer.

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Per request from @suzzay, here is a summary of Nikolai Tsiskaridze’s foreword to Heinz Spoerli’s production of “Swan Lake”.

For a number of years, Tsiskaridze was engaged by Russia’s Kultura channel to record these brief introductions, which would accompany ballet broadcasts. He would usually cover the ballet’s history and the details of a particular staging.


  • “Swan Lake” was first staged in Moscow in 1877. In 1895, following Tchaikovsky’s death, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov stage their own production of “Swan Lake”. That is the version of the ballet we are all familiar with today, the one which exists till today and keeps getting reimagined by different choreographers.
  • Tchaikovsky wrote a score that isn’t always convenient for choreographer, so there is a tendency to chop and change the music, as well as the choreography.

  • People tend to forget that Act 2 was choreographed by Ivanov, not Petipa. This is the case with Spoerli, who writes that he created his ballet based of Petipa’s choreography, while he owns as much credit to Lev Ivanov.
  • Western choreographers feel the need to depart from the classical Russian choreography and “cleanse”, as they put it, classical ballets of their “Russian-ness”, while only leaving the elements they consider to be crowd-pleasers in. 
  • The “Swan Lake” you are about to see is the third version of the ballet staged by Spoerli. His original production followed the classical canon, but he later re-choreographed a version which takes place in a ballet class, with the dancers falling in love with each other and the balletmaster - Von Rothbart - coming between them. In 2002, Spoerli returned to the classical Petipa version, though he removed the one element he loathes - the pantomime. 
  • Over the years “Swan Lake” has undergone so many transformations that even though we know that most of the swan scenes were choreographed by Ivanov, while the pas de deux belong to Petipa, in actuality it is very difficult to tell which choreographer is responsible for which element of the ballet. 
  • Pierina Legnani was the first ballerina to perform the thirty-two fouettes in “Swan Lake” (she originally performed this feat in “Cinderella”). In fact, Petipa included the fouettes in Act 3 specifically for Legnani, which is how this element became part of classical canon.

I did not include Tsiskaridze’s overview of the cast and Spoerli’s biography. You can read up on Spoerli here.

The photos included in this post are from the original 1895 production at the Mariinsky Theatre.

A young Pytor Illyich Tchaikovsky while he was a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (photo taken in 1863)

Along with Marius Petipa, he helped in the rise of Russian ballet by composing lavish pieces (such as Swan Lake and the Sleeping Beauty), as well as many other monumental symphonies, operas and concertos. Due to his Westernised teachings, he was set apart from other composers and still remains a figurehead of the Romantic movement today (not to mention how good he looks both young and old).

Svetlana Lunkina in “La Esmeralda” choreography by Marius Petipa, music by Cesare Pugni, Bolshoi Ballet  (March 17, 2011) 

Photo © Irina Lepnyova