Marius Petipa was born in France on 11 March 1818 in the family of the ballet master, choreographer and dance teacher Jean Antoine Petipa whose dynasty numbered several generations. At the age of nine, Marius first performed as a dancer in his father's staging of the ballet «La Dansomani (Dancing Mania)».
At the time Marius was sixteen years old, the young artist got his first independent engagement. Possessing an extraordinary temperament, he excelled in characteristic dances. Traveling throughout different countries between 1838 and 1846, Petipa created dances for opera, ballet pieces for divertissements and one-act ballets in theaters of Bordeaux, Nantes, New York and Madrid.
Marius Petipa in Russia
An important milestone in Marius Petipa's career was in 1847, when the chief choreographer of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, A. Titus, invited him to Russia. And from the very first performances, Petipa proved himself to be a a wonderful mimic artist and a character dancer. He danced until 1869, performing a number of roles: Albert («Giselle»), Lucien d'Herville («Paquita»), Fabio («Satanilla, or Love and Hell»), Earl («La femme capricieuse /Wayward Wife/») Phoebus de Chateaubert («Esmeralda»), Faust in the ballet of the same name, and many others.
In the same year of 1847, he revived the ballet by the Paris Opera Ballet Master Joseph Mazilier «Paquita» to the music by E. Deldevez in the instrumentation of K. Liadov at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. Note that already being in Paris, Petipa watched ballet performances not only as a spectator: he remembered a sequence of gestures and movements in pantomimes, made choreographic notations for dance groups and solos, memorized details. These records were useful to him later in Petersburg. E.Andreyanova (as Paquita) and M. Petipa (as Lucien) were principle dancers. The ballet turned out to be a great success with the public; the Director of the Imperial Theaters S.A. Gedeonov was perfectly satisfied with the debut of the young choreographer. Marius Petipa re-staged the same production for the Moscow Imperial troupe at the Bolshoi Theater on 23 November 1848.
The ballet was repeatedly revived in different musical theaters. In 1896, Petipa made the final «Paquita»'s edition, adding some dances from Adam's ballet «La femme capricieuse (Wayward Wife)» to the new scenes. The performance marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Catherine II. For the lead role, the choreographer chose Mathilde Kschessinskaya.
In February 1848, the dancer with his father J. Petipa who also arrived in Saint Petersburg, revived a grand Mazilier's ballet pantomime «Le Diable amoureux (The Devil in Love)», which was performed in Russia under the title «Satanella». And again it was success. In 1855, Petipa began to teach female classical dances in the St. Petersburg Theater School. In the 1850s, M. Petipa choreographed: the half-character ballet «Lida, a Swiss Milkwoman» to the music of A. Herowitz, the divertissement «The Star of Grenada», the two-act ballet «A Regency Marriage» and the comic ballet «The Parisian Market» to the music of Cesare Pugni. During this period, he created all works especially for his wife Maria Surovschikova, a prima ballerina of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. Petipa gave high praise to her in his memoirs, 'she was a graceful person, which could be compared with the very Venus'.
In 1862, Petipa's first multi-act ballet «The Pharaoh's Daughter» to the music of Cesare Pugni was triumphantly premiered. The libretto was composed Petipa in collaboration with the playwright and librettist J. de Saint-Georges from the novel «Roman about the Mummy» («Le Roman dela Momie») by T. Gautier. The title role of Mummy/Aspicia was performed by the Italian ballerina Carolina Rosati. The choreographer himself danced the parts of Lord Wilson and the Egyptian Ta-Hor.
In 1862, Petipa was appointed a staff ballet master of the Moscow Bolshoi Theater, in 1869 he held the post of chief ballet master of the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre. The peak of his distinguished career falls at the end of the 19th century, when he created ballets that enriched the world's treasure-house of musical culture: «The Sleeping Beauty», «Swan Lake» and «Nutcracker» by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, «Don Quixote» and «La Bayadere» of Ludwig Minkus, «La Raymond» of Alexander Glazunov and many others. It was the meeting with Tchaikovsky that led to a new level of his creative life, when Petipa created a series of real masterpieces.
«The Sleeping Beauty» (1890)
The scenario of the ballet-féerie was conceived by Director of the Imperial Theaters Ivan Vsevolozhsky and Petipa, and is based on Charles Perrault's tales. The title party of Aurora was performed by the Italian ballerina Carlotta Brianza, a soloist of the Mariinsky Theater in 1889 - 1991.
When preparing a performance, M. Petipa was able to imagine how his future creation will look and sound. He also could meticulously describe his concept of the music that did not yet exist. So, at the first meeting with Tchaikovsky in November 1888, when the ballet was only conceived, he gave to the composer a detailed plan for the «Prologue», that assigned the nature of the music, its tempo, the number of bars in each dance and even the desired instruments. M. Petipa wrote, 'Creating and staging a big ballet presents an enormous challenge: to write a scenario or programme, you must have everybody in view. Having finished with a mimic part and a plot of a ballet, it is necessary to think of and choreograph suitable dances, steps and variations which have to be coordinated with music.
You enjoy this work when you find such an expert, talented adviser, as Director Vsevolozhsky, when you cooperate with such a brilliant composer as P. Tchaikovsky'1
«Swan Lake» (1895)
A ballet based on the scenario of V. Begichev and V. Geltzer was staged by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov who reached the pinnacle of his skills in the second scene of «Swan Lake». The roles of Odette-Odile was performed by the Italian dancer Pierina Legnani with virtuosity, musicality, femininity and a special "melodious" plastic so characteristic of her.
The «Petersburg Newspaper» presented a rewiew of the spectacle,
'… M.I. Petipa has done a perfectly good job in staging «Swan Lake». A huge quantity of taste, talent was shown in the choreography of the dances of this ballet, in the skillful arrangement of the corps de ballet, and, finally, in the diversity of the whole ensemble. This proves that the true swan song of this brilliant choreographer-artist is still to come.'2.
The ballet "«Swan Lake» is regarded to be Petipa's most enduring work which has gained world's popularity as one of his outstanding masterpieces of choreography.
«Raymonda» is a debut of A. Glazunov, as a ballet composer. He created an original score and won a reputation as a worthy successor to Tchaikovsky, developing dance forms in music and relying on the co-author's help of the choreographer.
In this ballet, Petipa tried to creatively solve the problem of the interaction of classical and characteristic dances. The first performer of the party Raymonda was Pierina Legnani. Petipa created this ballet especially for the benefit performance of this Italian ballerina who danced the title role. The party of Raymonda was intended to emphasized the unique versatile dancer's technique. It is no accident that this party is still considered to be one of the most difficult in the classical ballet repertoire.
In 1900, the audience saw two one-act ballets to A. Glazunov's music: «Les Ruses D'Amour, Or The Trial Of Damis» created in the style of the 18th century gallant pastorales and the plotless dance suite «Seasons». But «Raymonda» was the last big success of M. Petipa, this impessive spectacle summed up everything he had been working for.
Students of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School perform the Mazurka des Enfant in ballet «Paquita» 1881.
М.Petipa. Memoirs // Marius Petipa: Materials. Memories. Articles. –Leningrad, 1971. – Pp. 54. .
[About the premiere of «Swan Lake»] // Petersburg Newspaper. – 1895, 16 January.