Twentieth Century Ballet

Marius Petipa

In 1869, French Marius Petipa became ballet master of the Russian Imperial Ballet, a choreographer who had perhaps the biggest impact on the formation of Russian ballet (Leach and Borovsky 184). Petipa's choreography was simple and clean with the same combinations repeated and molded into intricacy with less narration. Petipa was able to identify with the idea of Russian ballet being very expressive—despite his being French—and worked to incorporate Russian folk dance into ballet as well as other dances inspired by fairytales.

Petipa produced a classic, Giselle, and is responsible for its revival in 1884, as well as the restagings of Coppélia in 1884 and Esmeralda in 1886 (Leach and Borovsky 193). A photo from Coppélia, which tells the story of a doll that comes to life, can be seen on the right.

In Petipa’s performances, the dancers were seen as a hierarchy to match court society, starting with the prima ballerina down through the corps de ballet. During his “reign” as a ballet master, a decrease in male dancers was seen, as he focused mostly on female dancers and their role onstage. The function of the male dancer was transformed to that of a supporter for the ballerina in lifts and pirouettes; this stability and permanence was due to the court’s requests and contrasted the previous “pursuit of attainable dreams” (Leach and Borovsky 190). The audience also called for more technological advances, such as solos completely on pointe with much turning and balancing.

In the 1880s, Petipa worked together with composer Tchaikovsky, and together they produced The Sleeping Beauty, considered Petipa’s greatest success, along with The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, which was revived in 1894. Second ballet master Lev Ivanov also assisted (Leach and Borovsky 193). Historians agree that “both musically and choreographically The Sleeping Beauty is the crowning glory of Russian nineteenth century ballet and includes some of Petipa’s finest works” (Leach and Borovsky 193). Below is the waltz from The Sleeping Beauty, as performed by the Kirov Ballet.

Unfortunately, Petipa’s career ended in 1903 when Telyakovsky became the new director of the Imperial Theater and wanted to modernize ballet (Leach and Borovsky 194).