Premiere: 19 May 1909, Saison de l´Opéra et des Ballets russes, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Performed as a ballet scene from the opera Prince Igor at the Mariinsky Theatre since 1909
In the repertoire of the Mariinsky Theatre as an independent ballet since 1997
Running time 11 minutes
Music by Alexander Borodin
Choreography by Michel Fokine (1909)
Set and costume design by Nikolai Roerich
In Polovtsian Dances I attempted to set an example for expressive crowd dancing. Prior to that, the tasks of the corps de ballet in a production essentially amounted to creating a background for the dances of the ballerina or the soloists, as an accompaniment. There were dances for the corps de ballet without any soloists whatsoever. And yet its tasks amounted to ornamentation in movement, to uniting the dancers in a single rhythm. There were crossovers and groupings that delighted the eyes. But there was no talk of expressing emotions, of ecstasy or of spiritual flight with the corps de ballet. It was an interesting task for me to create a dance that was disturbing and stirring.
(...) It seemed that I had to ask myself "what do I know about the dances of the Polovtsians?" How little at all history knows about this savage people! How can I convey in my opus some element of truth about the Polovtsians, when so little is known about them? Which pas could be used to create these dances? The lack of materials and delight at the music, which it would be terrible to spoil, worried me, and I was ready to abandon the production. Diaghilev, proposing that I stage dances for the opera, one act of which was being presented in Paris, said: "You'll do it brilliantly, Mikhail Mikhailovich!" Nicholas Roerich, who was hired to create the sets and costumes for Igor, told me: "I am certain that you will do something outstanding." And I believed him and commenced work. (...) Where did I take my pas from? I would say it was from the music. Sometimes I attacked a production fully armed, having absorbed historic, ethnographic, museum and literary materials. On this occasion I came to Borodin with the score under my arm, and that was all the weaponry I had.
However worried I was before I started work, that was totally replaced by confidence in myself when I commenced the staging. No-one could stand in my path. Everything was so clearly drawn before me, and I believed that if the Polovtsians didn't dance like that, then to Borodin's music that was how they should dance. Michel Fokine. Extract from the book Against the Current
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