No matter what you think about the leadership of Russia, the people of Russia have an enviable artistic legacy. Their glorious architecture, inspiring literature, and heartrending music express the triumphs and challenges of their centuries of existence. Russian dance transcends mortal experience and transports audiences to the heights of beauty and wonder.
If I had to reduce Russian dance to two words, they would be grace and athleticism.
Let’s start by looking at some Russian folk dances.
Here’s an example of grace: Berezka. (This may actually be from the Ukraine; if so, my apologies.)
The dancers glide so smoothly in their long gowns that observers barely see their steps. It’s almost as though they’re dolls on a turntable.
Now, for athleticism: Kalinka.
This vigorous dance features prisyadka, the deep squats followed by a kick that male Russian dancers made famous; also that crab-walking thing (I’m so sorry—I don’t know the name of that step).
Russia produced some of the greatest composers of ballet music: Tschaikovsky, Prokofiev, Glazunov, Stravinsky. It comes as no surprise that Russian choreographers drew upon the wealth of their native culture to create inherently Russian ballet. It also stands to reason that some of the most legendary ballet dancers in history are Russians.
The Dance of the Snowflakes from The Nutcracker:
Dance of the Little Swans from Swan Lake:
The Dying Swan from Swan Lake:
Rudolph Nureyev defected from Soviet Russia in 1961 and partnered with Dame Margot Fonteyn at The Royal Ballet in London. Here is the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet:
Nureyev in Swine Lake:
Long before becoming Carrie’s love interest on Sex and the City, Mikhail Baryshnikov was a Russian dancer who also defected, in 1974, when he was hired by the American Ballet Theater.
Watch him leap. He seems almost to be jumping on a trampoline.
The training of a Russian ballet dancer starts before the age of 10, when students can audition and commit to the ballet academy. They reside onsite while they complete their study, including several hours of dance classes every day. Less than half graduate, due to the high demands of the program.
Few people understand what it takes to actually become a prima ballerina. Here are a couple of videos that give you an idea what young dancers need to practice every day. Note: even though they make it look effortless, in reality, ballerinas suffer severe foot pain for their art.
Click here to see en pointe technique.
I studied ballet in kindergarten, and took another class when I was a young adult. I also have been a member of Phoenix International Folk Dancers for about six years.
Do you dance? Do you like to watch dancers? What are your favorite kinds of dance? Share in the comments below.