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I am lucky enough to find myself in St Petersburg for a few days next month and should be able to make time for a visit to the Mariinsky.  I am fine with practicalities (booking through the .ru and not the .com site etc) but would appreciate advice from all the knowledgeable Russian ballet followers here on what would be best to see.  

 

Available options during our stay are The Nutcracker in the new Mariinsky II or a programme (details as yet unpublished) called Michel Fokine's ballets in the Mariinsky itself.  Casting is not yet available for either.  I would happily do both but my partner will want to go to an opera in return for me dragging him to ballet, so I must choose one or the other. 

 

My instinct is to go for the Fokine programme, not least because it is in the historic theatre, which I would love to see. Does anyone have any other clues/insight into what I might expect from the Fokine programme or is it safe to presume that since it is the Mariinsky it will be good and interesting whichever ballets they pick? Or am I crazy to pass up an opportunity to see one of the 'Big 3' Tchaikovsky ballets done in its city of origin?

 

As a follow up question, if the Fokine is the better option, where is the best place to sit in the historic theatre? There are still seats available at all levels from what I can see.

 

Thank you in advance for any assistance!

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I didn't think the Mariinsky's Nutcracker was a particularly good one, or has that changed?

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[W]here is the best place to sit in the historic theatre?

 

My favorite place to sit is in the Stalls, Row 13, seats 12, 13 or 14, 15.  That's at the intersection of two aisles.  Lots of leg and elbow room.

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Last time when I saw the Fokine program at the Mariinsky, it was Les Sylphides, Spectre la Rose, Dying Swan and Scheherazade. 

 

And for seat preferences, the stalls are very flat and not raked at all at the historic theatre so I would not recommend stalls especially if you are not tall. (Russians are very tall as a whole.

I would recommend stall boxes, boxes 5,6, 18,19 or dress circle 9,10, 13,14

 

Mariinsky 2 is raked very well and every seat in the theatre has a good view and the acoustics are excellent. it is a very good theatre.

 

Mariinsky has 2 versions of Nutcrackers, but this time it is the Vainonen traditional one which is okay. But if it is your first time at St Peterstburg, maybe the Fokine one might be better because the atmosphere of the theatre is magical.

Edited by Naomi M
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Agree with above about seating and ballet choice....plus do you know which theatre the opera will be in?

 

Both theatres are well worth a visit and practically next door to each other but if it's only one theatre you can do then do go to the original old Theatre ....I'm sure the Fokine will be okay and I prefer the Mikhailovsky Nutcracker ( another lovely old theatre) anyway. Do look up what's going on at the Mikhailovsky too they are a good company and I fell in love with the theatre there.

 

A little word of warning....leave plenty of time to get there

Performances often start at 7pm and the St Petersburg rush hour is a nightmare.

The Mariinsky is not that near a tube if you are in a hurry and we were nearly late for two performances when there for a week in November but got it sussed by the end of the week ....eg if ordering a taxi ...order earlier in the day to pick you up at a preordered time if you wait till too near the performance you might be stuck in a traffic jam!!

Lucky you I love St Petersburg....inspite of the rush hour!!

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Lindsay. in St Petersburg they dance the bastardized versions of Fokine's ballets mounted by Isabelle Fokine and I would avoid them like the plague.  If however you haven't seen the traditional versions perhaps you could stomach them.  I certainly couldn't.

 

I assume they are still dancing the famous Vainonen production of Nutcracker, which is very beautiful and shows off the Mariinsky's famous corps to perfection, only the four partnering assistants in the last act pas de deux tend to grate.  In my opinion it is far better than the RB's fussily ornate production.

 

Perhaps I should add most people aren't keen on Russians singing the standard operatic rep.  Try to see an opera by a Russian composer.

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Well in the end you may have to decide between which theatre to see or which ballet to see!!

 

I suppose it depends how often you may be getting over to St Petersburg! If not that often then I think it would be great to see the old Theatre and hope at least one of the ballets you see there you will like.

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Thank you everyone.  And yes, we are only going to see Russian operas - luckily several being conducted by Gergiev while we are there (my partner is a performer and also teaches and writes on opera so I am quite happy to be guided by him on that).  Sounds as though the choice between the two ballets will be more of a problem.  Thankfully there are lots of seats left for both so I shall mull it overnight and book tomorrow.

 

I love the collected wisdom here!

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If you are seeing the operas in the old Mariinsky theatre then that should make your choice easier

 

If that is the case then do go to the new theatre just for the experience there it's a great new building and the seats are more comfortable and good sight lines etc. The Nutcracker always has some enjoyable bits whichever production you see.

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MAB I'm interested in your Fokine comments.

I only ever remember seeing a lot of Fokine works with the old Festival Ballet.

Were these versions ....back in the 70's maybe some in early 80's .....the Isabelle Fokine adaptations?

 

If they are .....have we ever in UK seen the original Fokine productions....well since 1945 say?

 

I'm assuming the Ballet Russes had the originals but that would have been pre 1940's.

 

Does anybody still perform the original choreography or has that now been lost?

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Michel Fokine died in 1941 and of course his works were copyright. The duration of the copyright varied depending on the domestic law of individual countries. Since 1941 copyright periods have been extended in domestic law and the harmonization of the law of copyright internationally has further extended the period during which works are protected and has resulted in works which had entered the public domain under local domestic law being restored to copyright protection.This may not seem that significant but it helps to explain how Isabelle Fokine who was born in 1958 came to be involved in reviving her grand father's ballets. 

 

I think that you will find that Sergei Grigoriev who was Diaghilev's regisseur and business manager from 1909 until 1929 and his wife, Lubov Tcherncheva, both trained dancers, were responsible for staging a great number of Fokine's ballets well into the 1950's and 1960's. They worked first for Diaghilev then for de Basil's company and when that company folded they staged Fokine ballets for many companies including Sadler's Wells later the Royal Ballet.They staged Firebird for the company in 1954, and Petrushka in 1957 and they oversaw the company's revivals of Les Sylphides in 1963 and 1964.I don't know if they ever worked for LFB. It is quite possible that they did not, as both Markova and Dolin who founded LFB had excellent Diaghilev company credentials, and Markova at least had been coached by Fokine in some of his ballets including Les Sylphides.

 

I think that Isabelle Fokine only appeared on the scene comparatively recently when Fokine works went back into copyright. She says that what she stages is authentic because she has access to her grandfather's notebooks and other relevant materials. She is very critical of what has been staged in her grand father's name by people like Grigoriev and his wife because their stagings incorporate changes which were made to the ballets to make them easier to tour.For example she says that the RB's Firebird is inauthentic because it uses Gonchorova's designs which differ so much from the original designs that they render some of the dancers' stage business nonsensical as their movements show them reacting to things which were eliminated in the revised designs. The problem with this argument for me is that however inauthentic those elements of the RB's staging may be the ballet as performed by that company has far more theatrical life in it than her authentic stagings have. The designs for her stagings may be accurate but what she stages is an exhumation rather than a revival of a viable ballet.

 

She is also critical of stagings of  Petrushka saying that Beriosoff's stagings of the ballet were so at variance with Fokine's original that Beriosoff had been given permission to copyright his staging as his Petrushka. I believe that Beriosoff staged the ballet for LFB and POB so for her neither staging is authentic Fokine. As far as the Joffrey's staging of the ballet is concerned she said that Nureyev came to it so late in his career that he was incapable of dancing the original choreography and had altered the steps.I am not sure whether she has ever expressed an opinion on the RB's staging but then it is years since it was last seen on the Covent Garden stage.

 

She recently staged Petushka for ENB. I am afraid that I found her staging far from satisfactory as it failed to capture the ballet's mood and atmosphere. Petruska is set in St Petersburg in the 1830's at the Butter Week Fair which used to be held in the centre of the city near the Admiralty in the days leading up to the beginning of Lent. It is a very place and time specific ballet. Unfortunately her staging lacked atmosphere,mood and the characterisation which I think that Fokine wanted. This is one of those ballets in which Fokine liberated the corps de ballet showing it sometimes as a mass of undifferentiated humanity then giving the audience closes ups of groups and individuals in the crowd.The point is that none of the solos or pas should look like ballet solos or pas they should look as if they occur naturally rather than because they have been devised by a choreographer.Unfortunately the milling crowd looked like a group of ballet dancers walking around the stage because they had been told to do so rather than people out for a good time before Lent while those dancers  portraying characters who seem to stand out from the anonymity of the crowd for less than a minute and then slip back into the crowd all looked like ballet dancers performing choreography.This was true of the stable boys, the wet nurses, the coachmen and even the bear.As for Petrushka, the Ballerina, the Moor and the Charlatan it was not their fault that the ballet looked more like a costume display or pageant than a piece of viable living theatre. It is not Fokine's fault either. As far as I am concerned it was another example of the dead hand of the stager. So I would avoid anything that Ms Fokine has been involved in staging because however much she may say that her staging is authentic because she is using her grandfather's staging notes and is following his intentions  she lacks the ability to breathe life into what she stages, or so it seems to me.

 

Now if RB said that it was going to revive Petrushka or ENB said that it was gong to revive Markova's staging of Les Sylphides that would interest me as long as Ms Fokine had no involvement in the enterprise. I should of course want to know who was to dance them. Markova's Les Sylphides seemed incredibly slow when it was first staged but it was exceptionally beautiful and who knows today the tempo might almost seem brisk.

Edited by FLOSS
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Agree entirely with the above and will add that the revolutionary (at the time) nature of Fokine's work means that there are a lot of contemporary descriptions of his ballets, for those that are interested I'd recommend Michel Fokine and his Ballets by Cyril Beaumont.  All of Ms Fokine's versions are pale imitations of what went before and despite her claims to the contrary, they stink of inauthenticity.

 

She is incorrect is believing Nureyev danced Petrushka late in his career as he first danced the role with the RB in 1963 and went back to it at intervals throughout his career, he was also famous for his ability to faithfully reproduce choreography seen years before.

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I agree with MAB about the Beaumont book even though it should carry a "health warning". Like me, you may be left with a strong desire to see Fokine's ballets in live performance - a desire not easily satisfied, if at all! So it's a tantalising work.

 

I'm sad to say my only live experience of Fokine has been the excerpts in Sunday's "Russian Ballet Icons" Gala at the Coliseum. Scheherazade and The Firebird were in revival versions by Andris Liepa (who may be a creative partner of Isabelle Fokine, not sure). If the full ballets were danced as expressively as by Kretova/Vasiliev and Alexandrova/Lantratov on Sunday, I'd be happy even if the versions aren't ideal.

 

On the Mariinsky website, Ms Fokine is not mentioned in the credits for the following Fokine ballets: Carnaval, Petrushka, (Dying) Swan and Chopiniana (Les Sylphides). 

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Thank you John - that is useful information if they ever get around to listing the actual ballets to be performed on the site

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I'm sad to say my only live experience of Fokine has been the excerpts in Sunday's "Russian Ballet Icons" Gala at the Coliseum. Scheherazade and The Firebird were in revival versions by Andris Liepa (who may be a creative partner of Isabelle Fokine, not sure). If the full ballets were danced as expressively as by Kretova/Vasiliev and Alexandrova/Lantratov on Sunday, I'd be happy even if the versions aren't ideal.

 

 

 

The long romantic pas de deux we saw from Scheherazade never existed in the original and although Fokine appears to have choreographed it at a later date, it grates if you've ever seen earlier versions.  Petrushka has one simple movement that is one of the saddest moments in all of ballet when Petrushka lays one mittened hand against his cheek and strokes it with the other as if to comfort himself.   Those heart breaking seconds tell you everything about the puppet's lonely plight but you never see it now.  It is these details passed down from one performer to another down the generations that keep ballet alive, note books are no substitute for that.

Edited by MAB
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Thanks so much for all the above info.

Many years ago I did read up a lot about Fokine but cannot remember exactly which books now but could well have been the Cyril Beaumont one....I was fascinated with Fokine at the time for some reason but do remember he was considered an innovator and wanted more naturalistic movement in some of his ballets.

 

I think it is important that dancers pass on their teaching from original choreographers in a very direct and personal way to others.

I hope we don't just decide to rely on dance notation in future too pass on knowledge as although it's a sort of record of the dance it cannot convey the feeling of the dance in the same way as person to person may.

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The long romantic pas de deux we saw from Scheherazade never existed in the original and although Fokine appears to have choreographed it at a later date, it grates if you've ever seen earlier versions.

 what filled those 10 minutes of music then?

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MAB.

I don't believe that Ms Fokine was suggesting that Nureyev had only danced Petrsuhka late in his career she was simply said that he had danced it for the Joffrey Ballet late in his career and that he had altered the steps. Perhaps  she felt the need to single out Nureyev's performance for its lack of authenticity because a lot of people would have been familiar with it because it had been televised in the US.If you want to establish the authenticity of your own stagings then you have to suggest that versions which are reasonably well known are inadequate in some way. I have always thought that it was a great pity that Bintley's account of the role was not captured on film as  I thought it one of the best that I had ever seen. I believe that the BBC has a gem locked away in its vaults in the form of a performance of Petrushka danced by the RB soon after it was staged for the company starring Alexander Grant as Petrushka.

 

Live performances of Fokine's ballets are few and far between in the West and it does not seem that there is much likelihood of the position altering any time soon. It is difficult to determine whether that is  because they are deemed to be hopelessly old fashioned in terms of their harmonious choreography or whether people are not that impressed by the lack of life in recent stagings. 

 

Recorded performances are no substitute for live ones which have been cast and staged with care but while we are waiting for management to show an interest in the Fokine repertory and a stager with a bit of theatrical flair to make them live there are a couple of recordings which are of real interest.There are two performances of Les Sylphides on DVD which capture the essence of the ballet and which I would hate to be without.The first was recorded by the BBC in the early 1950's it is introduced by Karsavina and its cast includes Markova, Beriosova, Elvin and Field it is available on the ICA label paired with a heavily cut Giselle.The second recording was made for for the Rank Organisation in the 1960's it is danced by the Royal Ballet and the cast is headed by Nureyev and Fonteyn. Both recordings are worth buying if you are at all curious about Fokine's ballets.

 

Fokine's Chopiniana /Les Sylphides was created in response to Petipa's later works which seemed to many of the younger generation to be focused on technical display for its own sake. How can a ballet which contains no overt display of technique and in which as I heard audience members say in 2012 "Nothing happens" and "the man did nothing" be revolutionary? It seems all far too low key. What we need to remember is that it was created at a time when the repertory at the Mariinsky was thought by some to be increasingly dominated by Petipa ballets created to display a succession of Italian guest stars. Fokine's ballet is an evocation of the purity of the French school of the Romantic era and was intended as a riposte to the late Petipa ballets.

 

There are also two recordings of the Firebird both of which involve the RB. The earlier recording is of  highlights from the ballet. It stars  Fonteyn the company's first Firebird who was coached by Karsavina who had created the role,and Somes as Ivan Tsarevitch. The second recording is a full account of the ballet with Leanne Benjamin in the lead.

 

All of these recordings have a claim to authenticity because of their direct connection with the choreographer himself in Markova's case, members of the original cast, and the stagers of the works who had custody of them during the years they remained in the repertory of the Diaghilev company.The added element which they possess even in recording is an effective  theatricality which the revivals which Ms.Fokine has staged have singularly lacked for me. 

Edited by FLOSS
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 what filled those 10 minutes of music then?

 

Originally Fokine never used the entire score for Scheherazade which lasts about 45 minutes depending on who's conducting, in the current versions the encounter between Zobeide and Slave is much extended using part of the score previously unused.

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The Mariinsky do tend to include Chopiniana/Les Sylphides as a matter of course in their Fokine bills, so I think, Lindsay, this would be one of the ballets you would get.  In a sense, it is their ballet because it was created by Michel Fokine for the Mariinksy theatre in 1908.  I do not believe that Isabelle Fokine has ever been involved in the Mariinksy’s staging, as theirs is based on the revival by Agrippina Vaganova in 1931 – at any rate, according to my programme, that is the version they danced at the Royal Opera House in 2011.

Whatever you choose, I hope you have a great time. I see that they are doing Fountain of Bakhchisarai tonight and tomorrow. Now that is a ballet I’d love them to bring to the UK.

Interesting about Petroushka. According to my then “Kirov” programme, their 2000 production was a revival by Sergei Vikharev of a production by Leonid Leontiev for the Mariinsky in 1920.  No mention of Ms Fokine.

FLOSS mentions two recordings of Firebird. There is also a recording of the Mariinsky’s production of Firebird performed in Paris in 2002 with Diana Vishneva in the title role, on a DVD called “The Kirov Celebrates Nijinsky”.  The notes credit the reconstruction to Isabelle Fokine and Andris Liepa. The DVD also features Sheherazade, Le Spectre de la rose and a ballet I saw London’s Festival Ballet dance as a boy in the 1960s, The Polovtsian Dances.

 

James

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Thank you James - I was hoping for Chopiniana/Sylphides since the photos used to illustrate the program on the Mariinsky site looks like that ballet.  I may cross my fingers and book for the Fokine programme as I do like the idea of seeing ballet in that original theatre.

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I remember the Polovtsian Dances I remember loving the music but was into national character dancing at the time and belonged to a couple of groups in London.....mostly Polish and Hungarian though.

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Well I wish they were bringing Les Syphides to London instead of Anna Karenina or their mixed bill featuring Infra- er, yes we know that one!

.

Hope you are going to write up your adventures for us in detail Lindsay- aren't you lucky.

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Thank you Mary - I am lucky! The Fokine programme is now listed as Chopiniana, Spectre de la Rose, The Swan (which I assume is the Dying Swan?) and Scheherezade.  No casting yet, but I am sure it will be interesting and even if the choreography/staging is questionable for some of those ballets I am going to take the opportunity to squint and imagine myself back in Tsarist days, with Diaghilev, Bakst, Cecchetti and Isadora Duncan wandering around the corridors.  

 

I think it is the right decision and should offer more food for thought than another Nutcracker.  Thanks everyone for the advice!

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I just think for any Dance fan that some theatres are just so iconic that if you have a chance to go then do. The Mariinsky is definitely one of those!!

 

Also for me personally St Petersburg has become one of those cities! I just fell in love with it and definitely want to get back at some point.....though 2017 seems a good year to be visiting Russia and that city in particular.

Hope you have a great time.

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Lindsay I am sure that you will have a wonderful time attending a performance in the old theatre. The position of the Imperial Box shows just what keen theatre goers the Romanovs were. The production notes on the Mariinsky's website are of interest.It would appear that only the Swan is being performed in a version which does not owe anything to anyone other than Fokine himself.Their Chopiniana is performed in a version revised by Vaganova in 1931. I can't help  wondering precisely what she "revised". Did she alter the text in some way or did she merely modify the way in which the choreography was performed by adopting a more modern performance style? She is often portrayed as a stout supporter of classical dance who was opposed to the athletic, gymnastic,accessible style of dancing which was favoured in Russia in the 1920's. Did the tastes of the new audience lead her to adapt and revise the ballet in some substantial way?.The other two ballets in the programme were created in the West for Western European audiences and like many other works created for the Diaghilev company they were not seen in Russia for many decades after their creation. The theatre website indicates that Spectre was reconstructed by Ms Fokine while Scheherazade was reconstructed by Ms Fokine and Andris Liepa. 

 

Scheherazade was once danced with great regularity by LFB but it seems to have become so much of a ballet cliche that it slipped into the inactive repertory of companies large enough to stage it. Something similar happened to Les Sylphides but it clung on to its place in the repertory for considerably longer.However it did not seem to be its status as a ballet cliche that was its downfall but a failure on the part of stagers and dancers to capture the required performance style. The RB's recent revival at Covent Garden was a dire example of this failure. Fortunately decent performances of Les Sylphides are readily accessible,at least on DVD. I would thoroughly recommend the early BBC recording with Markova as it reveals what a beautiful ballet Les Sylphides is in performance. Markova had been coached in the performance of the ballet by Fokine himself and others involved in the performance and its staging for television arguably had as much contact with the choreographer's ideas and expectations as Vaganova did.There is also a DVD, Markova la Legende,which was filmed in Paris, It shows a very frail Markova coaching dancers of the POB in sections of the ballet. By the way the Western name of the ballet, Les Sylphides, appears to have been a marketing ploy by Diaghilev who thought that Chopiniana would mean little to Parisian audiences but that Les Sylphides with its clear reference to one of the earliest Romantic ballets would both flatter the Parisian audience and hint at the nature of the work as an evocation of the great days of French ballet..

 

One or two people have suggested that 2017 will be a good year to visit St Petersburg because of the centenary celebrations of the October Revolution. I am not sure that the centenary of the October Russian Revolution is going to be lavishly commemorated. The current Russia government has a very slippery path to tread when it comes to the Russian Revolutions.While the February Revolution which led to the abdication of the Tsar is largely forgotten the October Revolution is not. Commemorating the October Revolution presents the current Russian government with a dilemma.How is it to commemorate the revolution from which it derives its legitimacy when the same revolution led to the murder of the Tsar and his family all of whom are now saints of the Russian Orthodox Church? I do not think that there is an obvious answer although I suspect that the commemoration is likely to be low key.  Petipa's bicentenary in 2018 presents no such problems.It will be interesting to see whether it is this totally apolitical commemoration which generates celebrations.on at least as grand a scale as those of the October Revolution. Perhaps they will be on a grander scale than those for the October Revolution.Who knows?

Edited by FLOSS
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Oh wow Petipas bicentenary in 2018 .....will keep an eye on that...perhaps a good time for a revisit.

Thanks for the info FLOSS and your time in sharing it with Balletcoforum

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