Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet

Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet

Marius Petipa was an unlikely artistic revolutionary. A middling dancer, he bounced around European cultural centres until he finally washed up in St. Petersburg in 1847 at age 29 – hired, sight unseen, by the Imperial Ballet as a principal dancer. A skilled socialite, he curried favor with the right people and within a decade staged his first ballet: the massive epic The Pharaoh’s Daughter.

Petipa became successful, but it would be decades before he emerged as the groundbreaking choreographer whose style transformed ballet and spread from Russia to the rest of the world. Indeed, his contributions dominated the form for generations. It is no coincidence that for his final performance, Rudolf Nureyev chose a Petipa ballet.

MARIUS PETIPA: THE FRENCH MASTER OF RUSSIAN BALLET traces Petipa’s career from his early, crowd-pleasing choreography to the works that would become his masterpieces: Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. Their stunning choreography and Tchaikovsky’s music elevated ballet for the first time to one of the world’s great art forms.

More than a biography, the film explores the social and political contexts of Petipa’s work and his ongoing influence on ballet today.

Director Denis Sneguirev takes us to Paris, New York, Berlin, Milan, and Moscow, where we meet some of ballet’s top choreographers, dancers, and conductors – including Nacho Duato, Alexei Ratmansky, and Nicoletta Mani. Some wrestle with ways to adapt Petipa’s work for contemporary tastes, while others face the challenge of re-learning basic techniques in order to revive works as close to the original style as possible.

The film features stunning performance and rehearsal footage, along with intriguing period artwork and colorized photography. Once celebrated, Petipa’s name has been largely forgotten outside of ballet. MARIUS PETIPA makes a significant contribution in re-introducing us to the life and work of this central figure.

“Gives valuable insight for dance students and scholars to understand how we might frame Petipa in a contemporary, discerning way. Spends time exploring how his ballets have been preserved, changed or reinterpreted; gazes at Petipa’s life and work through the social and political contexts in which he created and opens the door to questions about how and why those works resonate with contemporary audiences.”Lauren Warnecke, Arts Intercept

“A quick and enlightening dive into ballet history, and the dancing is worth rewinding for." —Amy Brandt, Point Magazine

“More relevant than ever, Marius Petipa, who has been gaining renewed interest, remains a bedrock and a driving force.”
—Rosita Boisseau, Le Monde

“A very good compilation, full of visual interest.”Rodney Edgecombe, Ph.D., University of Cape Town


Main credits

Sneguirev, Denis, 1976- (filmmaker)
Goupil, Sophie (film producer)
Legrand, Xavier, 1979- (narrator)

Other credits

Image, Mathias Rozpendowski [and 3 others]; montage, Marie Marchand.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects



; "Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet"; Icarus Films; Russia; France; dance; ballet; Tsar; Sleeping Beauty; Swan Lake; classical music; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; ; "Marius Petipa: The French Master of Russian Ballet"; Icarus Films

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