Spotlight Saturday: Marie Petipa

This week's Spotlight Saturday features famed Russian ballerina Marie Petipa.

In costume for the Czardas in 'Coppelia', revival by Petipa, 1884

Marie Mariusovna Petipa was born on October 17 1857 in St. Petersburg, the daughter of prolific Russian ballet master Marius Petipa and his first wife, ballerina Maria Surovshchikova-Petipa.

With Pavel Gerdt in the Bacchanal of the 'The Seasons', 1900

Marie trained under her father and made her debut aged 18 at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1875; her father revived the first act of his ballet The Blue Dahlia for her. She went on to dance in many of her father's ballets. She was the Lilac Fairy in the original premiere of Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty in 1890.

Above: As Lilac Fairy in the original 'The Sleeping Beauty', 1890; below: as Lilac Fairy with Lyubov Vishnevskaya as an Attendant, 1890

She was one of the most well-known ballerinas at the Imperial Ballet during this period, though her strength lay mostly in character dancing, for example the Panaderos in Raymonda. Her dancing career lasted until 1907, though she appeared sporadically until 1911.

Above: dressed for the Panaderos dance in 'Raymonda' 1898; Below: as the lead couple of the Hungarian Dance in 'Swan Lake' with Alfred Bekefi

At the height of her career, Marie posed for artists (a portrait by Konstantin Makovsky survives), and her private life was the subject of gossip columns in the newspapers, and on the occasion of her 25th anniversary with the Imperial Ballet in 1901 (the subject of widespread celebration), she was the focus of Vlas Doroshevich's article Goddess of Joy and Merriment. Marie also spent much time on tour abroad, and was awarded the Ordre des Palmes Academiques in France.

As Medora with Sergei Legat as Conrad in 'Le Corsaire', 1900

She was in a civil marriage with the much younger Sergei Legat, the younger brother of Nikolai Legat. The Legat brothers were famed danseurs and many of the most prominent male variations today were created for them (the more virtuoso for Sergei). However, Sergei got into an argument with the authorities during the 1905 October Revolution and committed suicide. Marie left the Imperial Ballet two years later.

With Sergei Legat, date and ballet unknown

Marie lost everything due to the 1917 Revolution. The Soviet authorities stripped her of her house and her pension, believing incorrectly that she had married a businessman in 1910 and received a fortune. Her successive pleas for her pension to be renewed her ignored, even though the Directorate of the Academic Theatres attempted to aid her in 1924. Unable to subsist entirely on the aid of a few old theatre friends and without money even for food, Marie was forced to emigrate to Paris in 1928. She lived there in abject poverty for two years before dying on January 16 1930 (according to Soviet authorities, of a stroke and 'impulsive insanity', though it is difficult to know how trustworthy these sources are). The money which paid for her funeral only lasted five years, after which she was reburied in a common grave.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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