Russia's contribution on the development of world ballet is unquestionable. At the very beginning ballet performances aimed at entertaining the royal court. The first ballet performance dates back to 8 February 1673 at the court of Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich Romanov. It took place in Preobrazhenskoe village and was directed by a foreigner - Nikiolas Lima, who also became the first ballet-master in Russia.
Ballet in Russia got the further development during Peter the Great's Westernization program in the early 1700s. According to Peter's decree dances became the part of the court etiquette and were even taught to cadets at Imperial Cadet School.
The formal beginning of Russian ballet was in 1738 under the protection of Empress Anna Ioanovna when the first Russian school of dancing was opened in St-Petersburg. It was directed by the Frenchmen Jean Baptiste Lande. Lande was later succeeded by Rinaldo Fusano, a comic dancer from Italy. Later this school became the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School.
Imperial patronage always ensured that ballet in Russia remained a vigorous art form. Successive tsars invited foreign ballet masters to develop the art. The history of the Russian ballet consists of the gradual absorption of this foreign knowledge by the Russians themselves until the art became indigenous.
In 1742 Russian empress Elizaveta Petrovna issued a decree to establish a Russian ballet company.
Catherine the Great, a great patron of the arts, established the Directorate of the Imperial theatres, giving it control over ballet. At a Moscow Orphanage in 1774 she started a ballet school under the direction of Filippo Beccari. In 1765 she brought the Italian dancer-composer-choreographer Domenico Angiolini (1731-1803) to St Petersburg. Angiolini composed the first heroic Russian ballet Semira in 1772. He was one of the first choreographers to move away from ballet as a divertissement, a mere history in costume, to a psychological drama.
Italian and French dancers and choreographers predominated in Russian ballet in that period. Marius Petipa, a French choreographer who spent fifty years staging ballets in Russia, was the dominant figure during that period; his greatest triumphs were the staging of Tchaikovsky's ballets. Other noted European dancers, such as Marie Taglioni, Christian Johansson, and Enrico Cecchetti, performed in Russia throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bringing new influences from the West
At the beginning of the 20th century began Russian ballet had surpassed the French ballet and many Russian dancers had become international stars. Probably the most notable ballerina of this time was Anna Pavlova, (1881-1931), who is known for dancing The Dying Swan. However the academic ballet became out of date and a search for innovatory ideas and a move beyond stereotypical ballet traditions was more and more evident. Mikhail Folkine, a Russian choreographer greatly contributed into the Russian ballet and added new styles characters and as well as presented his reformist ideas in the choreography and costume.
In 1909 Russian impresario Sergei, (or Serge), Diaghilev, (1872-1929), created the Ballets Russes.
Over the next several years, the Ballets Russes performed many ballets that have since become famous including "Scheherazade", (1910),
"Firebird", (1910), and "Petroucha", (1911).
Diaghilev's Ballets Russes became one of the most influential ballet companies of the 20th century, in part because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. Its works were part of the avant-garde culture in Paris and France. After the staging of Stravinskiy's controversial "The Rite of Spring", World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution kept Diaghilev from returning to Russia. Until Diaghilev died in 1929, his Russian dance company, the Ballet Russe, was headquartered in Paris.
After the Russian Revolution ballet was saved by Anatoli Lunacharsky, the first ever People's Commissar for Enlightenment. After Lunacharsky, the Commissars allowed ballet as long as it was light and uplifting During the 1930s in Leningrad a ballerina Agrippina Vaganova became the artistic director of the former Imperial Ballet. She developed her own method of teaching classical ballet, known as Vaganova method.
After a period of innovation and experimentation in the 1920s, Russia's ballet reverted under Stalin to the traditional forms of Petipa, even changing the plots of some ballets to emphasize the positive themes of socialist realism.
The most influential Russian dancer of the mid-twentieth century was Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to the West in 1961 and is credited with establishing the dominant role of the male dancer in classical ballet. A second notable dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, burnished an already brilliant career in the United States after defecting from Leningrad's Kirov Ballet in 1974. Other notable Russian dancers include Nina Ananiashvili, Ekaterina Maximova, Galina Ulanova, Olga Lepeshinskaya Maya Plisetskaya
The large cities of Russia traditionally have their own symphony orchestras and ballet and opera houses. Although funding for such facilities has diminished in the 1990s, attendance at performances remains high. The ballet companies of the Bol'shoy Theater in Moscow and the Kirov Theater in St. Petersburg are world renowned and have toured regularly since the early 1960s.
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