Russia Theatre Ballet Pétrouchka


Pétrouchka was the first ballet on a Russian theme to be created jointly by composer Igor Stravinsky, choreographer Mikhail Fokine and artist Alexander Benois. Made for Sergei Diaghilev’s third Saison Russe in Paris in 1911, the Parisian production was almost completely repeated in 1921 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. In 1920, Pétrouchka was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre in Petrograd, based on revived designs made by Benois in 1917–18.

The ballet describes the rivalry of Pétrouchka and Blackamoor for the attentions of the Ballerina – what Mikhail Fokine called a “human tragedy expressed in puppet symbols.” This story of unrequired love unfolds on a background of Shrovetide festivities in St Petersburg. Benois wrote in his memoirs: “I was ... tempted by the idea of depicting the Butter Week Fair ... the dear balagani [fairground booths] which were the delight of my childhood.”

When designing the sets and costumes, Alexander Benois closely studied historical and genre material. The stage sets consisted of a portal, present throughout the entire performance, and four interchanging tableaux. The first tableau depicts merry shrovetide festivities on a snow-covered square in St Petersburg.

The costumes were not just created for a certain character, but were designed for each specific dancer. Benois paid equally close attention to both the central and peripheral heroes of the ballet, including the folk types in the crowd scenes – jugglers, organ-grinders, street dancers and coachmen. The costume designs reflected the influence of folk toys and Russian lubok prints, as well as the lithographed albums and fashion journals of the nineteenth century. Alexander Benois called Pétrouchka a “street ballet” recreating a picture of Russian folk life in the 1830s–40s.

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