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The Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauties have just drawn to a close, giving way to the usual Christmas special of Nutcrackers. Notice anything in common? Both are Petipa ballets, both are amongst the safest for box office purposes, with blockbuster works such as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, their lavish costumes, orchestral music and vast ensemble of dancers, always in demand with regulars and first timers alike. Petipa ballets may be overly done, but they remain definitive classics, with great choreography which survived more or less unscathed over the years since their Imperial Ballet days.

In this post we look at Marius Petipa and the scale of his achievements. This Franco-Russian choreographer changed the face of ballet and created masterpieces – the first ballets that come to mind when one thinks classical dance – that continue to inspire generations of dancers, new choreographers and audiences.

Marius Petipa in a Nutshell

Marius Petipa. Photo: Mariinsky Theatre

Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa was born on 11 March of 1822 in Marseille son of an actress, Victorine Grasseau, and a ballet dancer (and eventually ballet master) Jean Antoine Petipa. Petipa got drawn into the  ballet world early on, starting to train at age 7 in Brussels where his family had moved to. At the time, Petipa attended the Brussels Conservatory, where he studied music. He went to school at the Grand College.

Initially Petipa danced only to please his father who wanted to see him perform. However, he soon became enchanted with the art form and progressed so fast that he debuted at 9 in his father’s production of Pierre Gardel‘s La Dansomani. With the Belgian revolution forcing the family to move again, Jean Antoine secured a job as ballet master at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. There, Petipa completed his training under the watchful eye of Auguste Vestris. By 1838, he had a job as Premier danseur in Nantes.

The following year Petipa and his father toured the United States performing for audiences who had never seen or known about ballet. While the tour was disastrous it had plenty of historical significance. Performing at the National Theatre in Broadway, Petipa was involved in the first ballet ever staged in New York City. From there Petipa travelled to Paris were he debuted at the Comédie-Française (or Théâtre-Français), partnering Carlotta Grisi and at the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique (Paris Opéra).

In 1841 he returned to Bordeaux as a Premier danseur with the company, studying under Vestris while debuting in lead roles in Giselle and La Fille Mal Gardée. It was in Bordeaux that he started choreographing full-length productions. In 1843 he moved to the King’s Theatre in Madrid where he learnt about traditional Spanish Dancing which would come in handy for making character dances later on. He was forced to leave Spain after being challenged to a duel by a cuckolded husband, the Marquis de Chateaubriand, an important member of the French Embassy. Back in Paris, he took a position as Premier danseur at the Imperial Theatre of St. Petersburg where he arrived in 1847. His father soon followed, becoming a teacher at the Imperial Ballet School until his death in 1855.

Upon his arrival in St Peterburg, Petipa was recruited to assist in the staging of Joseph Mazilier‘s Paquita (originally staged at the Paris Opéra). Helped by his father, he also staged Mazilier’s Le Diable Amoureux. Both productions were praised and Petipa’s skills brought much needed respite to a company then in crisis.

The Mariinsky Ballet in Petipa's Le Corsaire. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky / Mariinsky Theatre ©

Towards the end of 1850 Jules Perrot arrived as Premier Maître de Ballet (Principal ballet master) for the St. Petersburg Theatres. His main collaborator, composer Cesare Pugni, had also been appointed as Ballet Composer at the Imperial Theatres. Petipa danced the main roles in Perrot’s productions and served as his assistant, staging revivals such as Giselle (1850) and Le Corsaire (1858). In parallel Petipa started to choreograph dances for opera and to revise dances for Perrot’s productions.

Petipa was now choreographing more frequently, making ballets for his ballerina wife Maria Sergeyevna Surovshchikova. A rivalry with Arthur Saint-Léon, the new Principal ballet master after Perrot’s retirement (1860) developed, the two competing for the most successful production. But while Saint-Léon’s The Little Humpbacked Horse was very well received he flopped with Le Poisson Doré (1866) and Le Lys (1869) which led to his contract not being renewed. Not long afterwards Saint-Léon died of a heart attack leaving an opening for Petipa to fill the position of Premier Maître de Ballet (March, 1871).

Before being appointed ballet master Petipa had already:

Photo of a scene from the choreographer Marius Petipa (1818-1910) & the composer Cesare Pugni's (1803-1870) 1862 ballet "The Pharaoh's Daughter". The photo shows the Grand pas des chasseresses from Act I of the ballet on the stage of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Petipa's revival of 1898. In the center can be seen the ballerinas (right) Mathilde Kschessinskaya (1871-1970) in the role of the Princess Aspicia, and (left) Olga Preobrajenskaya (1871-1962) in the role of the slave Ramzé.

1898 photo of Petipa's ballet "The Pharaoh's Daughter", Mathilde Kschessinska as Princess Aspicia and Olga Preobrajenska as Ramzé the slave. Photo: Imperial Mariinsky Theatre.

When Don Quixote was lavishly restaged in St. Petersburg its composer Ludwig Minkus became official Ballet Composer of the Imperial Theatres, leading Petipa and Minkus into a fruitful collaboration, with La Bayadère (1877) becoming one of Petipa’s most celebrated works.

Minkus retired in 1886 and Director Ivan Vsevolozhsky did not seek a replacement official composer, allowing instead for more diversified ballet music. This paved the way for Tchaikovsky to collaborate with Petipa in The Sleeping Beauty (1889) and create one of the most successful classical ballets of all time. At that time Petipa was diagnosed with a skin disease which meant long periods away from work. For The Nutcracker (1892) Tchaikovsky worked with Petipa’s assistant Lev Ivanov who would frequently cover for Petipa together with Enrico Cecchetti.

The Mariinsky Ballet in Petipa's Le Reveil de Flore (The Awakening of Flora). Photo: Natasha Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

During his tenure as balletmaster Petipa also:

  • supervised Ivanov and Cecchetti in the staging of Cinderella (1894) with italian virtuosa Pierina Legnani in the title role. Here she first performed the famous 32 fouettés en tournant later consecrated in Swan Lake;
  • choreographed The Awakening of Flora (1894) with music by Riccardo Drigo;
  • revived, together with Lev Ivanov, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1895). Lev Ivanov worked on the second and fourth acts while Petipa was in charge of the rest. Together they turned this previously unsuccessful ballet into one of the all-time greatest;
  • Continued working (coaching Anna Pavlova in her debut in Giselle) despite the deterioration of his health and persecution from new artistic director Vladimir Telyakovsky following an illreceived adaptation of Snow White (entitled Le Miroir Magique);
  • Created a final ballet, L’Amour de la Rose et le Papillon, which was scrapped before its premiere by Telyakovsky due to the impending war with Japan.

Petipa retired to Gurzuf in southern Russia in 1907 at the suggestion of his doctors. He remained there until his death on July 14, 1910. A diary entry dated 1907 reads: “I can state I created a ballet company of which everyone said: St. Petersburg has the greatest ballet in all Europe.”

His Ballets

Petipa will be forever associated with lavish productions, character and classical dances, big ensemble and dramatic scenes in mime or in pas d’action (mime with dance). His dances combine the technical purity of the French school with the virtuosity of the Italian school. He was very involved in the creation of his ballets, researching subject matter extensively and working close with the composer and designer. He created choreography before going to the studio and teaching it to his dancers. He produced more than 46 original works and revised many more (e.g. Giselle), of which a large share is still being performed today.

The Mariinsky Ballet in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Natasha Razina / Mariinsky Theatre ©

Petipa’s ballets have survived more of less intact thanks to the availability of the  Stepanov Method of notation from 1891 onwards. The method combines the encoding of dance movements with musical notes, in two steps: first, the breaking down of a complex movement and second, the translation of the broken down/basic movement into a musical symbol. The project was taken over by Alexander Gorsky and eventually by Nicholas Sergeyev, a former Imperial dancer, who later brought Giselle to the Paris Opéra Ballet and The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, Coppélia and The Nutcracker into The Royal Ballet. These notated versions became the standard choreographic text and have been adopted by nearly every major ballet company in the world.

A (non-exhaustive) list of his works

Original Works

  • Le Carnaval de Venise (Pugni on a theme by Nicolò Paganini, 1858)
  • The Pharaoh’s Daughter (Pugni, 1861)
  • Don Quixote (Minkus, 1869)
  • Les Aventures de Pélée (Minkus/Delibes, 1876)
  • La Bayadère (Minkus, 1877)
  • Roxana, la beauté de Monténégro (Minkus, 1878)
  • Pygmalion ou La Statue de Chypre (Trubestkoi, 1883)
  • La Fille Mal Gardée (with Lev Ivanov and Virginia Zucchi. Hertel / Hérold / Pugni, 1885)
  • Les Pilules Magiques (Minkus, 1886)
  • Le Talisman (Drigo, 1889)
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky, 1890)
  • The Nutcracker (with Lev Ivanov – Tchaikovsky, 1892)
  • Cendrillon (Staged by Ivanov and Cecchetti under Petipa’s supervision – Fitinhof-Schell, 1893)
  • Swan Lake (with Lev Ivanov – Tchaikovsky revised by Drigo, 1895)
  • Raymonda (Glazunov, 1898)
  • Las Saisons (Glazunov, 1900)
  • Le Millions d’Arlequin (Drigo, 1900)
  • Le Miroir Magique (Koreschchenko, 1903)
  • La Romance de la Rose et le Papillon (Drigo, never premiered)

Revivals/Restagings

  • Paquita (after J. Mazilier with F. Malevergne – Deldevez / Liadov, 1847)
  • Giselle (after J. Coralli and J. Perrot with Jules Perrot and Jean Petipa – Adam / Pugni, 1850)
  • Le Corsaire (after J. Mazilier with J. Perrot – Adam / Pugni, 1858)
  • Le Papillon (after M. Taglioni – Offenbach / Minkus 1874)
  • Coppélia (after Saint-Léon – Delibes, 1884)
  • La Esmeralda (after J. Perrot – Pugni 1886)
  • La Sylphide (after F. Taglioni – Schnietzhoeffer/Drigo 1892)
  • The Little Humpbacked Horse (after Saint-Léon – Pugni, 1895)

Videos

  • Vikharev Reconstruction of Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty with Yevgenia Obraztsova as Aurora, Anton Korsakov as Prince Désiré and Anastasia Kolegova as The Lilac Fairy [link]
  • Vikharev Reconstruction of Petipa’s La Bayadère with Daria Pavlenko as Nikiya, Igor Kolb as Solor and Elvira Tarasova as Gamzatti [link]
  • Ratmansky and Burlaka‘s restaging of Le Corsaire for The Bolshoi, with Maria Alexandrova as Medora and Nikolai Tsiskaridze as Conrad [link]
  • Dance of the Animated Frescoes from The Little Humpbacked Horse, performed by students of the Vaganova Academy. [link]
  • Vikharev Reconstruction of The Awakening of Flora with Yevgenia Obraztsova as Flora, Xenia Ostreikovskaya as the Aurora, Vladimir Shklyarov as Zephyr, Maxim Chaschegorov as Apollo and Valeria Martynyuk as Cupid.  [link]
  • Pas de deux from Le Talisman by students from the Vaganova Academy [link]
  • Pas de deux from La Fille Mal Gardée by students from the Vaganova Academy [link]
  • Burlaka’s Reconstruction of the Paquita Grand Pas Classique with Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Uvarov [link]
  • Mikhailovsky Theatre‘s staging of the Grand Pas Classique from La Esmeralda [link]
  • Ulyana Lopatkina as Odile and Danila Korsuntsev as Siegfried in Act III of Mariinsky’s Swan Lake [link]

Sources and Further Information

  1. Biography of Marius Petipa: His Life and Work. ArticleMyriad.com [link]
  2. Ballet Met Notes for Marius Petipa, Choreographer [link]
  3. Wikipedia entry for Marius Petipa [link]
  4. The Diaries of Marius Petipa. Edited and Translated by Lynn Garofola. Studies in Dance History, Society of Dance History Scholars. (1992) ASIN: B0006P1DJ6 [link]
  5. Russian Ballet Master: The Memoirs of Marius Petipa. Edited by Lillian Moore and Translated by Helen Whittaker. Dance Books LTD (2009) ISBN-10: 0903102005 [link]
  6. The Cambridge Companion to Ballet by Marion Kant. Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (2007). ISBN-10: 0521539862 [link]

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As the Mariinsky comes to the rescue of ballet-starved Londoners this week, we kick-off our series of features about ballet companies around the world, outlining their history, traditions and differences. Most readers will immediately associate the name Mariinsky to one of the premier ballet companies in the world but equally important are its links to the theatre, the city and the era where it originated, the regal and distinctive tsarist St. Petersburg.

The Theatre

Russia’s first theatrical events took place following a decree in 1742 by Tsarina Elizabeth, a patron of the arts who loved Italian opera and theatre. Initially, performances in St. Petersburg were given in the wooden stage of the Karl Knipper Theatre and in the Hermitage Theatre (for the aristocrats), but in 1783,  a bigger and better theatre, Antonio Rinaldi‘s Imperial Bolshoi (big) Kamenny (stone) Theatre, purpose built for the emerging ballet (see “The Ballet Company” below) and opera companies opened its doors with Il Mondo de la Luna, an opera by Paisiello.

The Bolshoi Kamenny theatre was renovated in 1836 by Alberto Cavos, who also conceived a neo-Byzantine building in Theatre Square (1849) first occupied by an Equestrian circus and later by Opera stagings. This other theatre burnt down in 1859 and re-opened one year later as the Mariinsky, a full-fledged opera house with more than 1500 seats and the biggest stage in the world, named after  its royal patroness Empress Maria Alexandrovna. Ballet productions alternated between the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi Kammeny (where La Bayadère and The Pharaoh’s Daughter premiered)  until 1886 when the Mariinsky underwent new works, finally acquiring its trademark blue façade and becoming the permanent home for both the opera and ballet companies.

The re-inauguration festivities were dedicated to Tsar Alexander II, and included the premiere of the first all-Mariinsky ballet, Marius Petipa‘s Les Pilules Magiques. In the years that followed, many other masterpieces would originate here: from the Petipa canon (The Sleeping Beauty in 1890, The Nutcracker in 1892, Raymonda in 1898 and Swan Lake in 1895), to a number of classic works by Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky.

The Mariinsky Theatre. Source: Books to the Ceiling. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

The Mariinsky Theatre. Source: Books to the Ceiling. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

During the Soviet years, the Mariinsky Theatre changed its name to Kirov Theatre, to honor General Sergei Kirov, the well-known early communist leader and Lenningrad’s party chief, but the theatre went back to its former Imperial name in 1992.

You can take a virtual tour around the theatre here (Quicktime required).

The Ballet Company

The ballet company timeline goes back to 1738, before the Bolshoi Kammeny and the Mariinsky theatres existed. It was the year Tsarina Anna Ioannovna inaugurated  the Choreographic School of St. Petersburg, training dancers at the Winter Palace to form the first Russian ballet company. These dancers, initially children of the Palace’s servants, were the first generation of the Imperial Russian Ballet, the school which eventually became the Imperial Ballet School, and later the Vaganova Academy. The school and the company attracted some of the most influential teachers (Franz Hilverding, Gasparo Angiolini, Giovanni Canziani, Charles Didelot) and famous stars from abroad ( Pierina Legnani – whiz ballerina who first performed 32 fouettées, Carlotta Brianza – the original princess Aurora – and Enrico Cecchetti), performing between 1783-1885 in the Bolshoi Kammeny and from 1860 onwards in the Mariinsky Theatre.

During the 1830’s Maria Taglioni performed with the company and impressed audiences with her virtuosity and artistry, her presence having left a profound impact. Later in 1859, Arthur Saint-Leon was hired as the Imperial Ballet’s maître de ballet. Saint-Leon created various pieces, of which unfortunately only Coppélia and Pas de Six (reconstructed for the Paris Opera Ballet) remain more or less complete, and inscribed the first ballet notation method, documenting the movements of the upper body. He was succeeded by the legendary Marius Petipa who created more than 60 ballets and introduced novel academic views.

Corps de ballet in La Bayadère. Photo: The Mariinsky Theatre © Source: Exploredance.com

The Soviet Era

At the time of the Russian revolution, under the modernist/neoclassical influence of Fokine (resident choreographer since 1910), the Mariinsky repertoire had evolved beyond the 19th century Petipa classics. Many of its stars joined Sergei Diaghilev in his European tours, collaborating with new influential artists and musicians. The 1917 revolution not only stalled this burst of creativity (Fokine and Diaghilev having left for the West), it also brought difficult times for the company, perceived by the government as unwanted symbols of the tsarist regime and depleted of many dancers (who had emigrated).

Thanks to Anatoly Lunacharsky, then minister of culture, the 1920’s saw a gradual acceptance of ballet as an art for the people. Ballet school and company, now re-established as the Leningrad State Choreographic School and the Soviet Ballet respectively, were to observe the principle that dance was a collective expression of the spirit and new ballets based on Russian literature or the struggles of the working class were created. At that time, former dancer turned teacher Agrippina Vaganova “fought tooth and nail” to preserve Marius Petipa’s and the Imperial Ballet’s legacy. During her directorship Vaganova managed to preserve some of the traditions inherited from the former Imperial Ballet while also developing new ideas into a new form of training, the renamed “Vaganova method”, which now has become synonym with the style of the Company.

The Mariinsky Ballet performs Swan Lake. Photo: Natasha Razina ©. Source: The Independent.

The Mariinsky Ballet performs Swan Lake. Photo: Natasha Razina ©. Source: The Independent.

The Soviet Ballet became the Kirov Ballet in 1934. During the Soviet years, many notable dancers emerged, including Lydia Lopokova, Galina Ulanova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Yuri Soloviev, Galina Mezentseva, Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. It was also during this time that Petipa’s choreographic texts were replaced with Konstantin Sergeyev‘s new versions: classics such as Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and Le Corsaire underwent cuts, such as those made to mime passages, and in the case of Swan Lake (1950), a happy ending was adopted.

During the 70’s, with defections aplenty (Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov) and the Company’s morale at a low, director Oleg Vinogradov (1977) sought to retain and appease his crop of dancers by expanding the repertoire. Bournonville‘s La Sylphide and Napoli were brought in and staged by Elsa Marianne von Rosen, founder of the Scandinavian Ballet. Maurice Béjart and Roland Petit were invited to create new works. The Tudor Foundation allowed Lilac Garden and Leaves Are Fading to be performed, while Jerome Robbins staged In the Night. The current repertoire also includes ballets by George Balanchine (given his direct links to the Mariinsky), Kenneth MacMillan and William Forsythe and the debated yet acclaimed Sergei Vikharev reconstructions of Petipa’s original masterpieces which now coexist with Sergeyev’s Soviet versions.

The Style

The Mariinsky dancers have always distinguished themselves in their beautiful port de bras and upper body épaulement, both features of the Vaganova training method. The overall feel is of aristocratic elegance (think Petipa’s princesses), with fluid arms and expression (even if acting is not the main priority),  perfect coordination between head, shoulders, neck and torso. Attention to the smallest detail such as positions of the fingers in the hands – that meticulous – give us a sense of movement with musicality. The corps are always praised by their unity and purity of style. Their principal dancers prioritize lyricism and nobility over bravura, qualities that set the Mariinsky apart from its peers.

Ulyana Lopatkina & artists from the Mariinsky Ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo:The Mariinsky Theatre ©. Source: Exploredance.com

Ulyana Lopatkina & artists from the Mariinsky Ballet in Le Corsaire. Photo:The Mariinsky Theatre ©. Source: Exploredance.com

Their work day

Under the supervision of newly appointed artistic director Yuri Fateyev, dancers are given three-day schedules listing their activities. They attend class first thing in the morning. There are four classes, two for men and two for women with teachers switching between both. Members of the corps de ballet attend a specific class whilst soloists can attend either and then it’s rehearsals for the rest of the day. The Mariinsky continuously rehearses all the ballets in their repertoire, since the company usually stages two performances of one production in a row and then switch onto another ballet. There may be five different ballets staged in a week, sometimes with half of the company at home and the other half performing on tour (thanks to their roster of over 200 dancers). Corps members often carry on rehearsing until the last minute and end their day around 10 pm (as they appear in all ballets),  while for the soloists it’s a mixture between rehearsal-only and performance-only days.

Videos

Legends

The current generation

* Indicates dancers who are due to perform in 2009 London tour

Sources and Further Information

  1. Mariinsky Theatre Main Webpage [link]
  2. Step-by-step guide to dance: Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet by Sanjoy Roy. The Guardian, September 2008 [link].
  3. Mariinsky Theatre Wikipedia Entry [link]
  4. Mariinsky/Kirov Ballet Wikipedia Entry [link]
  5. Superstars of Dance: The Mariinsky Ballet by Zoe Anderson. The Independent, August 2009 [link]
  6. The Mariinsky Theatre by Nick del Vecchio at Living at the Opera [link]
  7. Interview with Ekaterina Osmolkina by Margaret Willis. Dancing Times Magazine, August 2009.
  8. Kennedy Center information about the Mariinsky Ballet. [link]
  9. Light Steps from Leningrad by Martha Duffy. Time Magazine, May 1982. [link]

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Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

Veronika Part. Source: ABT. Copyright Ballet Theatre Foundation ©.

On one side her admirers and knight-in-shining-armour defenders. On the other those who see her as an inconsistent performer. It doesn’t matter on which side one stands,  all this debate  has helped American Ballet Theatre‘s newest Principal dancer Veronika Part become the equivalent of a ballet cross-cultural phenomenon. Other than achievements such as her success whilst still a soloist-doing-principal roles,  being hailed by London critics in the most recent ABT Coliseum season and forming together with ABT guest artist Roberto Bolle one of Ballet’s most picture perfect partnerships, Veronika has also  managed to electrify jaded ballet-goers, bring new audiences into the theatre, and bag an invitation to The Late Show with David Letterman, one of the US’s hottest talk shows, giving ballet a much needed mainstream boost, charming audiences with her grace and personality, not to mention her gorgeous face.

Londoners had the pleasure of seeing Veronika last March before her promotion to Principal dancer. She performed here amid rumours that she might be leaving the company in the absence of an overdue promotion. The British critics fell under her spell and she wowed me too: watching Veronika as one of the three odalisques in ABT’s Le Corsaire, it was not only clear that she outshined the other two women (ABT soloists Maria Riccetto and Kristi Boone), but she also commanded the stage like few do. It was no surprise to learn shortly after Part’s London stint that she had finally been promoted.

Product of the Vaganova machine, Veronika exhibits all the traits that  are so distinctive in Russian dancers: wonderful port de bras, a musical and plastic upper body, regal and elegant lines. She might not be so much the technical whiz as some of her ABT colleagues (like Gillian Murphy, Paloma Herrera or Michelle Wiles), nor did she get to the top as fast as her former classmates Svetlana Zakharova and Daria Pavlenko, however, as a tallish (5’8” = 1.72 m) womanly bodied dancer, she  knows how best to use her physical gifts to convey artistry: she makes you feel Odette’s pain, follow Odile’s flirtatious face and make the audience, rather like prince Siegfried, forget about everyone else on stage.

The best description I found of what Part brings as a dancer and why she has gathered so many admirers is by Tony Mendez, a former professional ballet dancer, turned guest finder for Letterman, who is, of course a huge Veronika fan:

Inconsistency kind of gives a dancer an edge. When I go and see Gillian (Murphy) and Paloma (Herrera), I know they’re going to be perfect… So when I see Veronika Part, there’s a little more of a human thing about her—you don’t know how well she’s going to do, and when she does really well, it’s exciting. And her beauty onstage— she’s beautiful to look at. I don’t think that Veronika Part looks like a ballerina. She looks like a beautiful woman who dances.

Veronika Part in a Nutshell

Born in St. Petersburg, 1978 into a family with no ballet connections. A nurse mentioned to her mother that she had pretty and long legs, so she might make a great ballerina, though before taking up ballet, Veronika trained in artistic gymnastics.

She started ballet at age 10 after being accepted at the famous Vaganova Academy to study under the guidance of Inna Zubkovskaya.

Veronika graduated in 1996, joined the Mariinsky as a member of the corps de ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. Her first major role was Myrtha in Giselle, which she danced just months after having entered the company (January 1997).

Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Veronika Part as Myrtha. Source: Broadwayworld.com. Copyright belongs to its respective owners.

Coached by Gabriella Komleva she danced her first principal role: Swan Lake’s double act of Odette/Odile, but her favourite classical role is  actually Raymonda, where she drew favourable comparisons with former teacher (and coach for the role) Inna Zubkovskaya.

In 2002, during a Mariinsky tour to New York where she received glowing reviews for her performances as the second soloist in Balanchine’s Emeralds, Veronika accepted Kevin McKenzie‘s invitation to stay in the US and join ABT as a Soloist.

Veronika has mentioned several times that those initial years in NY, with no friends or family, made her a stronger person. Word is that she learned English while watching episodes of the popular TV series Seinfeld.

A string of uneven performances in 2006/2007 (including Nikiya in ABT’s 2007 Paris Tour) prompted much discussion about Veronika’s stamina, technique, and whether or not nerves were getting in the way, reviews shifting between positive and negative from one season to the next (For instance, this review by Alexandra Tomalonis and this one by Gay Morris, both from Danceviewtimes).

Her big break with ABT happened in 2007, when she was cast as Aurora in the opening night of the McKenzie/Kirkland/Chernov new production of The Sleeping Beauty. Although she still got mixed reviews for this notoriously challenging role and some questioned her technical suitability for it, she generally started to get more attention in soloist and principal roles alike.

Despite the overall good reviews and an ever increasing fanbase, ABT still seemed reluctant to give her a promotion or to throw more principal roles at her (besides Odette/Odile, Nikiya and the Sugar Plum Fairy), so rumours were that she would leave in 2008. Luckily for her fans this never materialized and it is thought it was perhaps the appointment of Alexei Ratmansky as ABT’s resident choreographer which contributed to Veronika’s change of heart.

Veronika performed Odette/Odile during ABT’s London tour to outstanding reviews, rekindling the debate amongst critics and audiences about her overdue promotion. Veronika was finally made a Principal dancer in April 2009.

She is often partnered by Marcelo Gomes a tall, handsome dancer and a good match for her physique. Recently she also found another match for her “in looks” as a much commended sold out performance of Swan Lake alongside Roberto Bolle was labeled by avid fans “the best looking partnership in the history of ballet”.

Veronika is a spokesperson for Gaynor Minden Inc. and a wearer of their pointe shoes since 2002.

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in Le Corsaire. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

Veronika Part and Marcelo Gomes in La Bayadere. Photo: Gene Schiavone/ABT ©. Source: Danceviewtimes

Videos

  • A very young Veronika dances a Fairy Variation [link]
  • 1992’s 4th Year class of the Vaganova Academy. We can see her taking class together with future Mariinsky Star Daria Pavlenko. [link]
  • Veronika’s recent appearance in The Late Show with David Letterman [link]
  • Part dances the lead role in the Mariinsky’s production of Raymonda. Performance videos, parts 1 [link] and 2 [link].
  • Veronika as Odette with Marcelo Gomes as Siegfried in ABT’s Swan Lake. [link]

Extract of Reviews and Praise

Of her Odette/Odile

Ms. Part, whose clean style is tinged with an intriguing blend of languor and voluptuousness (…). She offered a superbly tender and sad Odette. With eyes down, lips parted and head thrown back, she evoked a spellbound princess. Her adagio in Act II was conventionally lyrical in the best sense: she wreathed Mr. Korsuntsev’s head with her arm with the softness that colored all her gestures. Yet sharply bent forward, she was a swan maiden with a broken wing, wounded by love and fate. Anna Kisselgoff at the NYTimes [link]

Ms. Part’s performance is always about the irreducible structural components of classical ballet. She pruned away mannerism as much as is possible or desirable to do an art form that is itself somewhat manneristic. She was technically sound, but her “Swan Lake” was not technical acrobatics; nor was it about realistic drama or animal imitation. She preserves the stylistic imprint of the role without a lot of flapping or pecking. She maintains a rare equilibrium between the linear and sculptural elements of classical ballet. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Veronika Part, with her broad-shouldered Joan Crawford looks, gave the most assured and intense performance I have seen from her in a major ballerina role. Her Odette, full of yearning backbends, is awash with feeling; her Odile glamorously exultant. Alastair Macaulay at the NYTimes [link]

Part offers dancing and interpretation of a voluptuous grandeur, Odette’s tragedy saturating movement and pose, Odile’s malevolence an intoxication of the spirit that will dazzle Siegfried utterly. The role is luscious in phrasing, ever expressive, true. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

Of her debut as Nikiya in ABT’s La Bayadère (May 2007)

Ms. Part is a great adagio technician, perhaps the greatest in Kirov lineage since Natalia Makarova and Alla Osipenko 40 years ago. During her lamenting variation in the Pas d’Action… we saw a marvel of scale, ease, and refulgence. No one onstage today better demonstrates the Russian ideal of movement originating from the back, radiating to the extremities and beyond… She is part of an epic ballet spectacle, and her outpouring of emotion is as lush and grand as her physical production. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

and of a more recent performance of the same role (2008)

Ms. Part is a highly individualistic dancer who represents several traditions in addition to her own individuality. She epitomizes the Russian emphasis on legato movements, a bel canto all its own… Very few others have succeeded artistically as well as Ms. Part. She lets her height and flexibility expand, but not traduce, the architecture and poetics of classical ballet; her taste is exemplary. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Nikiya the temple dancer – or bayadere – was the St. Petersburg-born Veronika Part, dancing with poignant eloquence and impeccable style. Clive Barnes at the NYPost [link]

Of her roles in The Sleeping Beauty:

First, as Aurora

Veronika Part’s lush, emotionally eloquent dancing as Aurora in the Vision Scene was the sole unarguably wonderful element in ABT’s new version of “The Sleeping Beauty”…The Kirov-trained ballerina’s work in the arduous first act had been admirably strong and clear. But here — seemingly impalpable, yet making it clear that she is longing for the Prince as much as he is for her — Part worked the real ballerina magic of transforming steps into atmosphere and feeling. Tobi Tobias at Bloomberg [link]

and as the Lilac Fairy

She (Part) reclaimed her rightful role as the Lilac Fairy, for which she’s perfect and in which she has lengthy experience. Ms. Part danced and declaimed magnificently. As exciting as the sweep and aplomb of her movement were the many shades of character she brought to the role, appropriate for a deity who should ideally encompass all the attributes that are presented to the infant Aurora in the Prologue by Lilac’s attendant fairies. Joel Lobenthal at the NYSun [link]

Clement Crisp comments on Part’s various appearances in London:

Balanchine’s Symphonie Concertante

…The corps was nattily exact, much given to eager smiles as if trying to jump a queue, and it was the presence of Veronika Part (as the viola’s representative) who brought the piece, and the evening, to glory. We remember her as a young divinity with the Mariinsky Ballet and the dignity and amplitude of her St Petersburg style, the voluptuous, luscious grace of her every action, pouring some noble and heady wine for us, breathed life, meaning, into her role. She was a diamond set amid rhinestones, Pouding Nesselrode as an alternative to water ices. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link]

and as one of the three Odalisques in Le Corsaire, last March:

Veronika Part appeared, a divinity in exile, as an odalisque. Clement Crisp at the Financial Times [link].

Sources and Further Information

  1. Veronika Part’s Official Website [link]
  2. Profile for Kirov Ballerina Veronika Part by Marc Haegeman, from For Ballet Lovers Only [link]
  3. Gaynor Minden Dancer Profile, written by Eliza Minden and Karen Lacy [link]
  4. Veronika Part interviewed by Graham Watts. Ballet.co Magazine, March 2008 [link]
  5. A Reason to Go on Living, blog post by James Wolcott. VanityFair.com [link]
  6. Assoluta by Laura Jacobs. Dance critic for The New Criterion [link]

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Most professional dancers start their careers rather young and, depending on where they study, the programme/syllabus they follow varies substantively. Here in England, they will probably be following RAD (Royal Academy of Dance). However there are other different methods/schools, each placing emphasis on different aspects of dance. This might result in a dancer having certain abilities and qualities that are more striking and “pop up” when performing certain roles/choreographies. For instance, lookout for extreme bending of the torso “Ashton style” in those dancers trained at the Royal Ballet School.

Given that we are all for knowing more about our favourite hobby, we will  be posting a series of entries on the different schools/methods of ballet. Of course we are not planning to be exhaustive and we should mention that there is more information available from the internet or in educational books.

Agrippina Vaganova in Esmeralda (1910). Copyright by its respective owner (Source: http://www.ballerinagallery.com).

In this post we will focus on the famous Vaganova method, which serves as the main system of instruction in Russia and is widely used in much of Europe and America. It has generated some of the best dancers in the world, admired for their clean lines and the softness of their movements.

Vaganova (pronounced va-GA-nova) training was originally developed by Agrippina Vaganova through her period of teaching in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Leningrad Choreographic School (which is now the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg).

This method originated from Vaganova’s knowledge of the basic curriculum used by the Imperial Ballet School where she trained, fused with the athleticism characteristic of the Italian school and a dash of romanticism borrowed from French ballet.

The training focuses on the upper body and starts from the basic assumption that movement comes from the core. This emphasis on core stability and strength in the back and arm plasticity enables perfect coordination with fluid arms and precision in allegro work.

Vaganova also focuses on the placement of arms (port-de-bras) whilst in motion, as they can assist the dancer while jumping and turning and enhance the beauty of the movement overall. This is why ballerinas from the big Russian companies like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky, will generally have beautiful lines and port-de-bras, while also displaying tremendous ability for bravura dancing (ie. multiple sky high jumps and dizzying spins).

Vaganova’s teaching method can be found in her book “Basic Principles of Classical Ballet”. Its application depends entirely on individual schools/teachers, as there is no parent organisation in charge to regulate the system. It should be mentioned, however, that the method assumes pupils “tick all the boxes” in terms of physical attributes for a career in ballet (given that in St. Petersburg, students were hand-picked for success, with perfect limbs and turnout). In other words, it might not be the most forgiving method for the non-professional aspirant student.

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