His name is so closely linked with the Russian school that we tend to forget that he was French by nationality: Marius Petipa was, in fact, born in Marseille in 1818. His father and brothers were dancers. After several years in Paris, and a period of time in Spain (1845), he was employed as principal dancer in Saint-Petersburg (1847).
But he was not just a performer; Petipa was already taking an interest in choreography, and restaged “Paquita” by Joseph Mazilier. In 1850, he was assistant to Jules Perrot who restaged “Giselle”, and in 1858, he produced “A Regency Marriage”, his first ballet in Russia.
Then in 1862, Petipa became ballet master, and took over from Arthur Saint-Léon as choreographer-in-chief, in 1870. He went on to make his name as the organizer of great spectacular ballets, succeeding in his combination of classical purity imported from France, and virtuosity coming from Italy: an academic ballet which accommodated steps taken from a variety of traditional folklore. This interbreeding resulted in the birth of “the Russian school”.
Thus, it was he created sixty or so ballets that included “The Pharaoh’s Daughter” (1862), “Don Quixote” (1869), “La Bayadère” (1877), “Sleeping Beauty” (1890) enriched through his collaboration with Tchaikovsky, “The Nutcracker” with Lev Ivanov (1892), “Swan Lake” (1895), “Raymonda” (1898), and “The Magic Mirror” which, in 1903, was to be his last ballet.
Advanced in age and ill, the master spent the last years of his life by the Black Sea. He died in 1910 in Gourzouf (Crimea) at the age of 92.
Ballets from Marius Petipa’s repertoire danced by Rudolf Nureyev:
The Sleeping Beauty
PETIPA AND THE SLEEPING BEAUTY
The ballet “Sleeping Beauty” was created on January 15th 1890 (January 3rd according to the old Russian calendar) at the Maryinsky (Marie) Theatre in Saint Petersburg – the former name of Leningrad’s Kirov Theatre.
It was the combined work of the choreographer Marius Petipa and the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The director of the Russian Imperial Theatres at that time – Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolojski – who was definitely a Francophile (French was commonly spoken in Saint Petersburg in the 19th century and the French culture was greatly admired), planned on producing a great ballet in the magnificent style of Versailles.
He suggested a subject, drawn from a fairytale written by Charles Perrault, “Sleeping Beauty” (1697) and Vsevolojski commissioned Tchaikovsky to compose the music. Tchaikovsky was well-known and appreciated but his first attempt at ballet music (Swan Lake, performed in Moscow in 1877), was not a great success because of its choreography.
The choreography was entrusted to a Frenchman who had lived in Russia since 1847 and who had become the unquestioned master of the Imperial Ballet: Petipa.