Russia is an ancient nation and there are a great many things that you can do if you ever visit the country. The art in the country in particular is quite incredible, from the music to the literature. However, one art form that has always stood apart is Russian ballet. Russian ballet is renowned the world over for being absolutely beautiful and providing an artistic experience that is unparalleled, with narratives being described through little more than dance and the music that is playing in the background of said dance.
However, there is one problem that you might face when you are trying to enjoy ballet in Russia. The two most famous places for ballet are the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow and the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. The ballet companies that belong to these theaters put on incredible performances that are a joy to see but the problem is that they are extremely popular which means that performances are usually booked well in advance. If you are a huge fan of Russian ballet, going to these theaters may be prohibitively expensive and the chances of you getting a ticket aren’t that high in the first place anyway.
This does not mean that you will never be able to enjoy the beauty of the Russian ballet, of course. The two aforementioned theaters are the biggest in Russia, and belong to the two biggest Russian cities to boot. If you go into smaller cities, you would find theaters that are a great deal more accessible, and to top it all off you would be able to buy cheaper tickets as well.
If you make your way to Perm you would find that the city has an excellent theater company as well that hosts performances curated by one of the most iconic modern ballet producers from St. Petersburg who headed to a smaller town to make a name for himself. Alexey Miroshnichenko is a visionary, so if you make a special trip to Perm you are going to be doing yourself justice by witnessing some of the greatest Russian ballet that the country has to offer at much more affordable prices.
However, if you are vising Russia chances are that you’re just not going to want to get out of the main cities. Luckily, there are quite a few smaller companies in the larger cities as well that you can look into. One is the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theater which has always been sidelined by some of the more major productions of the modern era. This theater hosts some international performances that are always well received, and the great thing is that these performances always tend to provide audiences with some of the best results possible. Since this theater is not as commercial as others the performances tend to be more soulful and true to the spirit of the original art rather than products that are created for the sake of money.
Sergei Prokofiev is one of the most iconic figures in the history of Russian ballet. He is widely known for subverting the tropes of the art form at the time, being widely seen as a maverick whose unorthodox methods were simultaneously criticized, lauded and ultimately enormously influential. Perhaps his crowning work is his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet which he decided to compose after being commissioned by the Mariinsky Theater in Moscow which was known as the Kirov.
Prokofiev wanted to do a ballet that would adapt one of the greatest love stories ever told, and he settled on Romeo and Juliet because he felt that other love stories such as Tristan and Isolde and Pelleas et Melisande already had strong musical components that he would have ended up getting compared to. He retreated to the town of Polenevo where, surrounded by some of the greatest artists of the time, he ended up composing the glorious music for the ballet on piano within four months. The duration in which he managed to create his work is quite astonishing when you notice the complexities of the music and how moving it still sounds.
One of the most controversial yet iconic artistic decisions that Sergei made for his ballet was to change the ending. Instead of the tragic fate that meets the protagonists in Shakespeare’s original play, Prokofiev’s ballet celebrated the triumph of love over hate. It was a unique ending that shocked many, but the more visionary critics of the time such as Shakespeare scholar Sergei Dinamov approved seeing Prokofiev’s vision for what it truly was and understanding that the work may have been adapted from an original source but was actually meant to be an artistic statement in its own right.
Vladimir Mutnikh, owner of the Bolshoi which was the Kirov’s greatest rival and remains so for the Mariinsky today, was so taken by the ballet that he acquired it and decided to premier it in the year 1937. However, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Mutnikh ended up being targeted by Stalin during the dictators regime where hundreds of thousands of people were killed. As a result of this, anyone that was associated with Mutnikh ended up finding themselves in harm’s way as well.
As a result of these tumultuous times, Prokofiev’s original ballet became lost. Eventually it was acquired by the Kirov yet again but the proprietor of the theater ended up making heavy changes in order to distance it from the version Mutnikh had been about to premier. Prokofiev was not consulted for these changes, and as a result his masterwork became something else entirely.
The original Romeo and Juliet ballet remained lost for a time. Now, interpretations of Prokofiev’s version are being performed based on his sheet music, and the orchestration is strikingly different from what Russian ballet was at the time. It serves as a snapshot of history, of a time when a troubled genius was at his best.
Couture fashion is one of the world’s most exclusive art forms, and as a result of this it has seen a lot of criticism and sidelining by the mainstream public. Dance has similarly been sidelined mostly because of its lack of middle class appeal. These two art forms are historically significant and aesthetically sound in their own rights, but no one has ever thought to merge them in order to create something new. That is, no one thought of this until now.
Alexander McQueen is one of the foremost fashion designers in the world known for his striking clothes that inspire people all around the world to bolder versions of themselves. The Paris Opera Ballet is similarly known in the world of dance for taking a far more modern approach to the art form. While the Russians mire themselves in the classic traditions, the Paris Opera Ballet produces groundbreaking productions that push the limit of what dance can truly be. These things made these two artistic entities perfect for one another, so when McQueen was invited by the Paris Opera Ballet to bring his designs into their new performance he finally decided that it was time to branch out into new things.
The performance is called Eonnagata, and McQueen has played an enormous role in making it what it now is. A lot of people assumed that all McQueen did was dress the dancers but this is not the case at all. Inspired by the music that was created for the performance, McQueen created designs that reflected the dark, broody nature of the ballet. He also looked at each individual dancer and monitored their styles, creating designs that would help them move in the best way possible and would complement their movements and make them even more beautiful.
In this manner, McQueen ended up impacting the very choreography of the dance itself. In his designs, the dancers ended up moving differently. They were simultaneously given a boost in their performance and a challenge that they had to overcome, because the ballet was now not just about the movements of their bodies but how the clothes responded to said movements as well.
Suffice it to say that this ballet is a work of extraordinary art that is changing the way ballet is done in the world right now. Sylvie Guillem, one of the most virtuosic dancers in the world, looks particularly magnificent in the various designs that McQueen created specifically for her. Only time will tell whether more theaters and designers collaborate to make art in this manner. Art is the sort of thing that is ever changing. It allows expression to be free and liberating, but it also needs to challenge the artists and performers. This is the first time in a long time that the idea of art itself has been challenged in this manner, and it shows an exciting shift in the dynamic of ballet and couture.