Dance Teacher Tips

Meet Marius Petipa—His Ballets are the Core of Company Repertoires

Petipa choreographed Swan Lake in 1895, near the end of his career. (Photo by Natasha Razina, courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre)

When Marius Petipa began his career as a choreographer with Russia's Imperial Theaters in 1847, he forever changed the face of ballet. He made more than 50 ballets, and many are still part of the classical repertory of ballet companies all over the world. His far-reaching influence includes a reimagining of the corps de ballet, which was until then little more than background decoration for the featured dancers. He also pioneered a new structural model for the pas de deux and demanded a higher technical standard from dancers.


Petipa (1818–1910) was born in Marseille, France, into a dance family: His father, Jean, was a renowned dance teacher. Though Petipa danced as a principal with the Comédie-Française and St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Theatre, he didn't gain significant attention until 1847, when he accepted a contract to choreograph for St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet (now the Mariinsky). After the great success of his first ballet, Daughter of the Pharaoh, he was promoted to chief choreographer in 1862. Seven years later, when he became the chief ballet master, he was in the unique position to train the dancers specifically for his choreography. He remained with the company for his entire career.

Petipa's new vision for the corps de ballet—formerly just a picture frame for solos—is well-illustrated in the “Dance of the Wilis" in Giselle, where the corps enters in crisscrossing lines, traveling their arabesques with small hops. Petipa also revamped the pas de deux, formerly a side-by-side duet for the man and woman. He divided it into three sections—the opening adagio, separate solo variations and the coda—and placed the woman in front of and supported by the man for balances, turns and lifts. Petipa married twice—both times to ballerinas. Toward the end of his career, he had a strained relationship with newly appointed Imperial Theaters director Vladimir Telyakovsky. Within a year of the ill-received premiere of The Magic Mirror, Petipa retired at the age of 85. He later published his memoirs. —Rachel Rizzuto

The Work

Petipa's works were beloved by the balletomanes of his generation, and his ballets have stood the test of time. The following three pieces demonstrate his attention to research, his revolutionizing of the corps and his unique collaborative style, respectively.

Daughter of the Pharaoh (1862) In Petipa's first evening-length ballet for Imperial Theaters, the heroine drowns herself in the Nile rather than marry against her will. Petipa visited Paris museums in order to research the customs and lifestyle of ancient Egyptians.

La Bayadère (1877) This ballet contains the famous “Kingdom of Shades" scene, in which corps members enter the stage one at a time, repeating simple, hypnotic arabesques—giving the effect of an infinity of dancers. It requires complete synchronicity and is the litmus test of a corps de ballet.

The Sleeping Beauty (1890) Petipa boldly gave Tchaikovsky a detailed map of what he needed the music to be, including the number of dances, how many bars to each dance, the tempo and the style of music. Though it received a lukewarm reception from the critics, the ballet became a box-office success.

Fun Fact: Because entire seasons of the Imperial Ballet would be comprised solely of Petipa ballets, the demand for seats was unusually high, forcing even distinguished patrons of the ballet to write for reservations—and thus the concept of season subscriptions was born.

Style

The Petipa ballet was a multi-act spectacle, elaborately staged and maximizing the scenic potential of the proscenium stage. The typical Petipa work has a mad scene, a vision scene and a scene of reconciliation or resolution between the male protagonist and heroine. The ballet blanc, or “white act," was also a standard element—a divertissement for the female corps de ballet.

The Legacy Lives On

Many Mariinsky Ballet graduates, influenced by Petipa, went on to change the look and sound of ballet in their own ways, including Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova and George Balanchine.

Photos from top: courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre; by Natasha Razina, courtesy of the Mariinsky Theatre

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox