Ever since St Petersburg set the stage for the original Nutcracker, ballet has found a warm welcome in Russia.Considered by many to be the ballet capital of the world, the city is home to many of the greatest ballet companies, academies, dancers and theatres on Earth. Here, we explore the city’s relationship with ballet, from its first dance company in the 1740s to contemporary stars of Russian ballet and where to see them perform.
The Home of Russian Ballet
Russian ballet varies stylistically from other ballet styles, favouring high extensions and dynamic turns over, for example, the Italian focus on intricate footwork. A number of trend-setting methods have also emerged out of St Petersburg, such as the Vaganova method, which fuses traditional French elements with the technical ability of Italian ballet and was created by St Petersburg-born ballet teacher Agrippina Vaganova; and the Legat method, developed by Nikolai Legat, a former dancer for the Russian Imperial Ballet.
World-Leading Ballet Companies
From the Mariinsky Ballet to the Bolshoi Ballet, Russia is home to some of the most renowned and influential ballet companies in the world.Mariinsky Ballet is the resident ballet company of St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre. Originally named the Imperial Russian Ballet (or Kirov Ballet, as it was known in the Soviet era), the company was founded in the 1740s after the 1739 opening of Russia’s first dance school. Mariinsky Ballet works with many of the greatest talents of the Russian ballet world, not just dancers, but choreographers and balletmasters, too.
Famous Russian Ballet Stars
Many of the most influential ballet dancers of the 20th century come from, or were trained in, St Petersburg. This is testament to the city’s reputation as a ballet capital and to the standard of Russia’s dance academies. Many were born in St Petersburg, includingAnna Pavlova – one of the most celebrated ballerinas of all time – and 20th century star Galina Ulanova, lovingly known as “the ballerina of the morning”.Other famous names such as Ulyana Lopatkina, the greatest ballerina in modern-day Russia, chose to train and work in the city.
Development of Talent
One of the reasons that Russian ballet continues to be so successful is the country’s dedication to developing new talent. Dance schools across the country scout and train future stars from a young age. Vaganova Dance Academy in St Petersburg is a premier school of classical ballet, and has been open for around 200 years, training the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, celebrated prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, and Russian-American dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov. More recent graduates who’ve gone on to receive international acclaim include Ulyana Lopatkina, Yulia Makhalina and Farukh Ruzimatov. Vaganova Dance Academy, the associate school of the Mariinksy Ballet, has a long-term relationship with Hotel Astoria and guests have the opportunity to visit the school and witness the talents of Russian ballet stars in the making.
The World’s Grandest Theatres
Mariinsky Theatre is a historic ballet and opera theatre that’s widely considered the most impressive in St Petersburg. Located within walking distance from Hotel Astoria, the theatre (formerly known as Kirov Theatre) celebrated its first theatrical season in 1860. As its influence grew, legendary chorographer Marius Petipa was made director of ballet, and brought many of his famous productions, such as ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘The Nutcracker’, to its stage, performed by the illustrious Mariinksy Ballet, which continues to be one of the world’s leading ballet companies.
Other leading ballet venues in St Petersburg include Mikhailovsky Theatre and Alexandrinsky Theatre, both built in the 1830s. The distinctive Mikhailovsky Theatre, named after Grand Prince Mikhail, was originally a space where French and Russian talents could perform together, while Alexandrinsky Theatre was the main theatre in the Russia before the Mariinsky Theatre opened. Both are incredibly impressive buildings and put on exciting programmes of ballet and opera throughout the year.
Mariinsky ballet images © Valentin Baranovsky/State Academic Mariinsky Theatre