The Mariinsky Theater

Franck Fernandez – Translator, interpreter, philologist

Classical ballet is an integrated art because it involves music, dance, scenery and mime. Several ballet schools train the new generations in this art and when a show is presented in the great theaters of the world, the attendees usually know they are going to enjoy the plastic beauty of the event. There are many great renowned ballet companies, but we cannot deny that the mecca, the Sanctum Sanctorum of classical ballet, is located in Saint Petersburg and is the Mariinsky Theater. From the end of the 17th century, Saint Petersburg had several theaters in the Hermitage, the Gatchina Palace, the Bolshoi Kamenny Theater, the Alexandrinsky Theater, the Mikhailovsky Theater – currently owned by a rich Russian patron- and the Circus Theater. It must be said that in Russia there has always been a great circus tradition, something that continued during the Soviet era and even today.

As they say that all evil is for a benefit, the Circus Theater burned down in 1859 and in its place began the construction of what would be named the Mariinsky Theater after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Tsar Alexander II. The new theater’s main was built in the old circus’ stage. This caused the stage to be of enormous proportions. This made the current ballets look ridiculously small on such a large stage and led to the creation of what has come to be called “Russian style ballet”, that is, with great choreography and spectacular scenery.

The best in the life of bel canto and ballet in Russia and later in the Soviet Union have passed through the Mariinsky Theater. Great operas by Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin and others opened here. The hall is U-shaped, which is called the “Italian-style hall”, the interior decoration is of extraordinary beauty and the exterior of the theater was inspired by the beautiful Opera House in the city of Dresden. Marius Petipa created dozens of choreographies for ballets that premiered at the Mariinsky Theater, many of which are still part of the world repertoire, the most important being Swan Lake with music by the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. On December 18, 1892, the famous Nutcracker was released in this theater, also with music by Tchaikovsky, which is still the delight of children and adults at Christmas season. The end of the 19th century marked the golden age of the company, being then the world reference in dance. This was due to the work of ballet greats like Michel Fokin and Serge Diaghilev who took the Mariinsky’s troupe around the world, what would later be the Russian Ballets of Monte Carlo with the advent of communism in Russia.

After the revolution of 1917, the theater was given the name of State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet to be later replaced in 1935 by the name of Kirov, after the murder of the head of the communist party of the city that bore this surname. Kirov died by express decision of Stalin himself. Then its decline began due to the preferences of the new Soviet authorities for the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. In 1992, the theater recovered its original name of Mariinsky Theater.

Thanks to the direction of Valery Gergiev, director of the theater itself and the orchestra, the theater is currently recovering its international renown of yesteryear. Two new halls have been added, projects of two important offices of French architects. One of them is what is called Mariinsky 2, which is at the back of the old theater, separated from it by a channel and it is dedicated to concerts. A few blocks away, there is a third hall also for concert music known as Mariinsky 3. The main Mariinsky Theater itself has been completely renovated to meet all the requirements of new theatrical techniques. Every two years the Mariinsky Theater International Ballet Festival is held, a meeting place for the great stars of ballet. Every year in July, the annual international Stars of the White Nights Festival in Saint Petersburg is held, which also brings together the great interpreters of world music.

With dedication, love of work and, of course, a lot of money, the Mariinsky of Saint Petersburg is again a world reference in art.

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