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The Russian Ballet: A Requiem

All praise for Russian ballet is justified, but the charms of its primordial forms may be lost in the countryside for ever. We associate Russian ballet with the great cities of the Soviet Union, not all of which remain in the present configuration of Russia. Odessa for example, has always been a major center for the exposition of this graceful form of the performing arts, but is now a treasured part of the Ukraine.

Ballet has an aura of glamour about it, with top artists becoming a rarity. It is such an exclusive form of evening recreation that only the discerning could enjoy it, even during the most proletarian times of Soviet rule. This is an anachronism because while ballet evolved as a distraction for the landed aristocracy of the 18th century, the performers were drawn from peasant families. Serf theatre was an authentic precursor of modern ballet, but this mysterious form of the performing arts did not survive the era of communism. Such destruction is puzzling because the Soviets took such diligent care of many other art forms which graced 19th century Russia, which the communists overtook.

While it is nearly impossible to trace the pastoral roots of Russian ballet, the history of most of the smaller urban centers of Russia bear concrete records and other testimony that the art form existed and even thrived. Performers drawn from farm families displayed amazing versatility, alternating between theatre, and opera, apart from ballet. The traditions of being able to dance, sing, and to move with great dexterity, must be responsible for the modern generation of Russia being so adept at a number of sporting disciplines.

Retrospectives of Russian ballet, urban-centered as they are today, yield some glimpses of the agrarian origins of this exquisite stage craft. The movements, music, and settings often reflect such rural dispositions as delight with harvests, reverence of nature, and eternal revival of the human spirit. Perhaps a deeper scrutiny of the lines and logic of modern ballet sequences in Russian ballet can tell us how village folk must have conceived and enjoyed these moves in their primordial forms. Now there is some food for thought when you next have the sublime experience of Russian ballet!


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