restricted access 2. Ideological Pressure: Classical Ballet and Soviet Cultural Politics, 1923–1936
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 2å Ideological Pressure Classical Ballet and Soviet Cultural Politics, 1923–1936 The main difficulty in Soviet ballet lies in the fact that dolls are impossible here. “Baletnaia fal’sh’,” Pravda, 6 February 1936 If the survival of Russia’s prerevolutionary cultural heritage was put in question by the violent political and social watershed of the October Revolution , the new political masters soon demonstrated that, in the sphere of high culture, they were not so much fanatical iconoclasts as propagandists seeking to capitalize on the power of Russia’s prerevolutionary cultural symbols by recasting them in their own image. Before long, discussions on the future of the academic theaters focused on the political aim of giving them contemporary relevance beyond contributing to the regime’s educational mission of enlightening the masses. Reflecting the transformational aspirations of the Soviet cultural project, art was supposed to help the regime shape a new civilization. The theaters were expected to build a repertoire that contributed to the state’s ideological goals. In the 1930s, the Soviet regime’s desire to use art as a handmaiden of ideology and politics acted as a catalyst for a process culminating in a dogmatic interpretation of the doctrine of socialist realism. Socialist realism was not just an artistic style but a propagandistic ideology that promoted a view of Soviet life that had little to do with reality. If nineteenth-century realism had tried to draw attention to real social problems by showing life as it was, socialist realism showed life as it ought to be—a happy, Socialist utopia, where workers, peasants, and different na- z Ideological Pressure  tionalities were united in brotherly comradeship, successfully constructing socialism and celebrating the fruits of their labor in a land of plenty. While socialist realism was initially used as a vague umbrella term extended from literature to all areas of cultural production, the actual meaning of this paradigm for each field of artistic expression was determined within each art form via a complex process. Interpreting the meaning of socialist realism for classical ballet was complicated by several factors. If we distinguish between the substantial and formal aspects of a work of art, at least in theory, creating a ballet based on a plot showing Socialist life as it ought to be should be no more difficult than creating a dramatic play with a socialist realist plot. Finding a choreographic form of ballet production compatible with socialist realism from a formal point of view, however, proved problematic for at least three reasons. First, realism in art demands a representation of concrete things that is true to life, but as a medium of artistic expression, classical dance demands the acceptance of a highly formalized system of movement that has nothing to do with realism or the way “normal” people move. Like classical music, the nonrepresentational nature of classical dance makes it an allegorical or symbolic artistic medium whose meaning is not concrete and is difficult to verbalize, but unlike classical music, it is bound to the visual reality of the human body. Its very nature made classical dance vulnerable to the Soviet accusation of formalism, the focus on the formal elements of an art form at the expense of social content. Second, classical ballet had formed an intrinsic part of imperial Russia’s aristocratic court culture. Even before the revolution, in comparison to literature , music, and painting and among circles that believed in a social mission for art, ballet carried the stigma of a decadent entertainment that would never be able to make the social contributions of a “serious” art form. For this reason, many voices ridiculed ballet as a courtly hothouse plant irrelevant for a revolutionary society and condemned it as inherently incapable of contributing to the major discussions of the day. Third, if other art forms could orient themselves by taking nineteenth-century realism in their field as model, classical ballet had no nineteenth-century model of realism to fall back on. On the contrary, while Russian literature and art increasingly strove to depict real life in general, and social problems in particular, classical ballet had remained aloof from the social ills plaguing Russia, focusing instead on providing a dazzling entertainment for the elites of imperial Russia. If it was difficult to determine the meaning of socialist realism for classical dance, the antiformalism campaign of 1936 provided ballet with a negative definition. The Pravda editorial “Baletnaia fal’sh’” (Balletic falsity),  z Ideological Pressure which was about the choreographer Fedor Lopukhov’s production...