One of the most influential foreign ballet masters of the time was Mariinsky leading dancer Christian Johanson. It was due to him that the male dancers remained significant part of Russian ballet which helped to keep it prolific. Russian classical ballet style for men as well as for women is formed on the basis of his strict and impeccable technique. His best known students were Anna Pavlova and Vatslav Nijinsky.
An anchorman in Russian ballet history whose importance can scarcely be overestimated was French choreographer and Mariinsky leading dancer Marius Petipa who came to St Petersburg at the age of 22 (1840) and stayed for good. Among the servants of the Imperial theatre he found well-trained and talented ballet dancers who never had a chance to get spoiled by the attention and luxury. Petipa reformed Russian ballet to overcome its stagnation.
Russian ballet companies were strongly in need of appropriate symphonic music which could be unified with complicated ballet movements. Petipa harmonized work of corps de ballet uniting dancers into the ensembles, fixed proportion of dance to mime and established special pas de deux order of dancing. This way he worked out basic rules of what is known as “classical ballet”.
The fantastic Egyptian story including mummies moving and horrible snakes “The Pharouh’s Daughter” put on the stage in 1862 was his first big three-act ballet produced for St Petersburg Imperial Theatre. In 1869 after being appointed chief choreographer of Imperial theatres Petipa staged “Don Quixote” for the Moscow Bolshoi theatre. One more significant production was “La Bayadère” created in St Petersburg in 1877.
However Petipa became famous first of all for his producing ballets with Tchaikovsky’s music. The first ballet score created by Tchaikovsky was the one of “Swan Lake” set in 1877 by Austrian choreographer Reisinger in Moscow and then reproduced many times abroad. In 1895 “Swan Lake” was put on the stage again in St Petersburg by Marius Petipa who made a lot of changes in choreography of the ballet. One of them was including 32 fouetté turns in the ballroom scene pas de deux coda. Petipa’s “Swan Lake” staging became the first of three greatest Russian classical ballets.
Nine years later Petipa breathed new life into “Gisell” and “Coppelia” (before set by Saint-Leon). Music for new staging of “Coppelia” was composed by Tchaikovsky. Both ballets had once been popular on the Parisian stage. For “Giselle” Petipa worked out great stage innovation, the so-called “ballet blanc” (which is now considered a classic of romantic ballet), where all the female dancers on stage, soloist and corps de ballet, wear classical white skirts.
Being chief choreographer Petipa promoted a lot of Russian ballet dancers who started to work for different theatres and acquired a reputation of being exceptional quality ballet dancers. The reputation of Russian ballet dancers around the world is of the highest standard.