While the Mariinsky was infiltrating the ballet circuit across Europe, Moscow’s answer to St Petersburg’s now world-famous dance troupe came in the form of the Bolshoi Ballet. Founded in 1776, the Bolshoi was originally a dance school set up to give Moscow’s orphans a chance at achieving stardom through classical ballet. It was established within the city’s Petrovsky Theatre which, after several tragic fires and redevelopments, would become the beautiful Bolshoi Theatre we know and admire today.
During Russia’s imperialist years, the Bolshoi struggled to compete with Landé’s Mariinsky Ballet, whose directors and dancers were formally selected by the Tsar, and performed in theatres across Europe. The turning point came in 1900, when renowned choreographer Alexander Gorsky was appointed ballet master at the Bolshoi. With Gorsky’s influence, the Bolshoi developed its own signature style, and staged new or restaged ballets including Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Don Quixote – helping to cement the Bolshoi as Russia’s leading ballet troupe.
In the early 20th century, Bolshoi Theatre dancer and choreographer, Ivan Clustine, was appointed Maître de ballet at the Paris Operá. Clustine’s appointment marked an unprecedented shift in classical European ballet, placing Russia at the forefront of the movement. It also signified the move towards the creation of Ballets Russes, a ballet company which brought together some of Europe’s most ground-breaking and progressive performers, designers, composers and choreographers, who together established arguably the most influential ballet school of the 20th century.
Russia’s contribution to ballet brought about huge changes in how the dance form was perceived, infusing it with a drama, intensity and danger never before seen in the theatres of Europe. Today, the Mariinsky and Bolshoi theatres remain at the forefront of classical and contemporary ballet, and are world renowned for their architectural magnificence and immersive performances.