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 On 25 October 1917, as Bolshevik forces were besieging the Winter Palace, the Mariinsky Theater was preparing for that evening’s ballet performance dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky.1 Tamara Karsavina left her flat near the Winter Palace around five o’clock in the afternoon. The ballerina, who had achieved international fame with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, was dancing that night. By many detours she arrived at the theater an hour later, but by eight o’clock, an hour after the scheduled beginning of the performance , about four-fifths of the cast were still missing. The performance went ahead, even though “the few performers on the vast stage were like the beginning of a jigsaw puzzle, a few clustered pieces here and there—the pattern had to be imagined. Still fewer people in the audience. A cannonade was faintly heard from the stage, quite plainly from the dressing rooms.”2 The capture of the Winter Palace later that night concluded the Bolshevik coup d’état and symbolized the beginning of a new era. The Bolshevik Revolution struck the imperial theaters like a thunderbolt. Ballet had been an entertainment for the elites of imperial Russia, and its prospects were at best unclear during the assault on tradition and the clash 1å Survival The Mariinsky and Bolshoi after the October Revolution Of all stage arts inherited from the past, ballet bore the largest quantity of “birth-marks” of the exploitative society. . . . One incontestable fact was preserved in the memory of each and everyone—ballet performances of the past were given only at the imperial theaters and they were held in the highest esteem by the tsar’s family, by high officials, by the apex of the exploitative society.­—Yuri Slonimsky, Sovetskii balet z Survival  between the old and the emerging new order that followed the October Revolution. The political, ideological, and economic consequences of the revolution put the survival of ballet into question. Not only did the ballet companies have to cope with a mass exodus of leading figures of the stage and with nearly impossible working conditions but ideological pressures emerged from the cacophony of shouts by grassroots Communists, supporters of proletarian cultural movements, and the militant artistic avant-garde who were decrying ballet as an artificial, frivolous art form—a decadent playground for grand dukes hopelessly out of touch with reality. The question whether there should be a place for ballet in the proletarian, Socialist society Bolshevism was hoping to build was closely linked to an ideological -political debate involving the regime, Russia’s prerevolutionary cultural elite, and the avant-garde: What should be the role of culture in a society that was supposed to build socialism? What should be the relationship between postrevolutionary culture and Russia’s prerevolutionary cultural heritage ? Would there be a place for ballet in the Soviet cultural project? The Imperial Ballet in Prerevolutionary Russia Born at Renaissance and absolutist courts in Europe, ballet’s roots as an art form are firmly planted in aristocratic soil.3 In imperial Russia, the sumptuous ballet productions at the Mariinsky celebrated the patrons of the imperial ballet companies, the tsars.4 The first professional ballet performance in Russia is said to have taken place in 1736.5 Two years later, Empress Anna Ivanovna granted permission to open a ballet school in the Winter Palace. Under continued royal patronage, ballet flourished and evolved into a wellestablished institution. In the nineteenth century, Russian ballet reached its golden age under the guidance of the Frenchman Marius Petipa.6 Imperial St. Petersburg emerged as the undisputed international capital of classical ballet. For the Romanov dynasty, architecture and ballet were means of cultural self-celebration. In many ways, the academic classicism of Petipa’s choreography expressed in dance the grandeur and harmony of St. Petersburg’s imperial architecture. Nowhere is this aesthetic symbiosis of imperial architecture and classical ballet more apparent than in the extraordinary harmony of proportion of Rossi Street, formerly known as Theater Street, which has housed the ballet school of the Mariinsky since 1836. Rossi Street is two hundred meters long, and its width of twenty meters corresponds exactly to the height of the identical buildings that occupy the whole length of the street on either side of it.7 The yellow and white, strictly classical facades of arches and columns perfectly complement the color and style of the Aleksandrinsky Theater, located where Rossi Street meets Ostrovsky Square.  z Survival For the dancers of the Mariinsky, life revolved almost...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780822978077
Related ISBN
9780822962144
MARC Record
OCLC
830023210
Pages
368
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-16
Language
English
Open Access
No
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