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Bolshoi Moscow

Dianne Brooks

The Bolshoi Moscow is a theatre company known mainly for opera and ballet. Its ballet company, known as the Bolshoi Ballet, is the second most famous in Russia after the Kirov Ballet, officially known as the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersberg.

The Beginning of the Bolshoi Moscow

The Bolshoi theatre was started in 1776 as a small group that performed plays and opera in private homes. It then became a state theatre in Moscow once it moved into its current home on Theatre Square in 1824. Originally called The Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow it was inaugurated in 1825 with a ballet performance of Cendrillon (Cinderella).

During the post-Stalin Communist era, the Bolshoi Ballet became famous worldwide for its touring companies that performed the classics in the strict Russian tradition of almost perfect unison in the corp de ballet, combined with fiery virtuosic passion of the principal dancers. Some controversy arose when it was discovered that some of the touring dancers billed as Stars of the Bolshoi Ballet in fact danced with other companies.

Bolshoi Moscow Ballet Repertoire

The Bolshoi Ballet has been most closely associated with the great 19th century classical ballets for most of its history, although it has recently begun to incorporate more modern work. Perhaps its most famous ballet association is with Peter Illyich Tchaikovsy's Swan Lake, which had its premiere at the Bolshoi Moscow on March 4, 1877 and was then known as The Lake of the Swans. It was originally choregoraphed by Julius Reisinger.

Most of the famous classical works that are now part of the Bolshoi repertory were either orginally choreographed or reworked by the famous Marius Petipa of the St. Petersburg, Maryinsky Theatre. These ballets include:

  • The Sleeping Beauty: music by Tchaikovsky, choreography by Petipa
  • Nutrcracker: music by Tchaikovsky, choregraphy by Petipa
  • Giselle: music by Adolphe Adam, choregraphy by Corelli, Petipa
  • La Bayadere: music by Ludvig Minkus, choregraphy by Petia, Gorsky
  • Raymonda: music by Alexander Glazunov, choregraphy by Grigorieve, Gorsky, Petipa
  • Don Quixote: music by Ludwig Minkus, choregraphy by Petipa
  • Le Corsaire: music by Adolphe Adam, choregraphy by Petipa
  • Chopiniana, also known as Les Sylphides: music by Frederick Chopin, choregraphy by Mikhail Fokine

More recently, the Bolshoi has incorporated more modern works by choregraphers like George Balanchine and other 20th and 21st century choreographers such as:

  • Serenade: music by Tchaikovsky, choregraphy by Balanchine
  • Symphony in C: music by Georges Bizet, choregraphy by Balanchine
  • La Fille Mal Gardee: music by Louis Herold, choregraphy by Frederick Ashton
  • In the Upper Room: music by Phillip Glass, choregraphy by Twyla Tharp
  • The Bright Stream: music by Dmitri Shostacovich, choreography by Alexei Ratmansky

The Bolshoi also specializes in some of the biggest Russian grand operas like Boris Godunov (Tchaikovsky) and Prince Igor (Borodin), which both contain extensive ballet sequences.

The Bolshoi's Greatest Dancers

The Bolshoi Moscow, because of it's strict Russian style of ballet training that starts at an early age, has produced some of the greatest dancers in the world, for example:

  • Maya Plisetskaya danced from 1943 until 1990 and was one of best known and loved stars.
  • Nina Ananshiavilli has danced with many major ballet companies around the world including American Ballet Theatre. She is currently the director of the State Ballet of Georgia which is where she hails from.
  • Galina Stepanenko
  • Alexander Mercuriev

The Bolshoi Ballet Today

Alexsei Ratmansky ran the Bolshoi from 2004 until this year when his contract expired and he accepted an offer to join American Ballet Theatre. He is credited as having freshened up the repertory by introducing more 20th century work by famous choregraphers. From 1964 to 1981, Yuri Grigorovich was the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, strongly controlling every aspect from development of dancers to repertoire. He was ousted after criticisms that he had let the company's reputation decline due to a stagnating style. He was reappointed in March of 2008 until 2009 when Yuri Burlaka, an heir of Ratmansky's, takes over.

The website for the Bolshoi Moscow provides information on their current performances and dancers. The Bolshoi Ballet has a teaching school called the Bolshoi Ballet Academy and which, together with the Russian American Foundation, provides a summer intensive program for pre-professionals to get Russian style training.

The Bolshoi Moscow has a long and proud dance tradition which continues to this day. It is a company where you can see the greatest ballets performed by some of the greatest dancers in the world.

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Bolshoi Moscow