The Polovtsian Dances ballet

The Polovtsian Dances

Music by Alexander Borodin
Choreography by
Anatoly Emelianov

“Polovtsian Dances” – a choreographic fragment in the opera of A.P. Borodin “Prince Igor” (2nd act). The idea of the creation of the large-scale work in a new for the composer genre was given to him by V.V. Stasov, an authority in the musical and artistic world of St. Petersburg, who had written by this time some romances and a symphony. He also created the first sketches for the libretto, inspired by the “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign”, an epic and piercing Old Russian literary monument.

History of creation

Alexander Borodin

Stasov was not mistaken in Borodin: the subject of the future work captured the composer for a long 18 years – he did not have the opportunity to devote too much time to it, being busy with science, teaching, work in the magazine “Knowledge”.

In addition to music, Alexander Borodin was fascinated by science, and in a scientific way he managed the composition of a work on a historical basis. Following the outline – Stasov’s sketch – he began studying available sources on the subject: annals, historical studies, preserved monuments of literature, epics. He visited the ancient town of Putivl, where Igor Svyatoslavich, Prince of Novgorod-Seversky, began his tragic campaign in order to more brightly imagine the scene of the action. He studied the musical traditions of the descendants of the formidable Polovtsy – Hungarians, Bashkirs, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs, Crimean Tatars.

A ballet fragment with dances in the Polovtsian camp was composed by Borodin, who had a vacation in summer in Moscow, in 1875, which he at the same time introduced to a circle of friends. The combination of lyrics and bright oriental motifs made a splash.

Borodin did not see his creation on stage – the premiere of the opera, completed by Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov after the death of the author, took place on the stage of the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Theater in 1890 (October 23). The choreography of the perfomance was created by Lev Ivanov, one of the Mariinsky choreographers – this was his first work with a serious piece of music. Ivanov gave a great importance to the music, and the wild dances of the steppes had a huge emotional impact on the audience.

The rehearsals of Ivanov were often attended by  young Mikhail Fokin. In 1909 he was already an experienced choreographer-innovator and decided to complete the Russian seasons of Diaghilev in Paris with the Polovtsian Dances.

He will completely get away from Ivanov’s opera production (although the idea of ​​creating an independent one-act ballet belonged to Ivanov, but is inseparable from the opera performance) and will actually give Polovtsian Dances an independent ballet life. The premiere took place at the Chatelet Theater (Paris), in May 1909. The Russian seasons received another spectacular production in their repertoire.

On September 22, the production of the opera in the Mariinka was resumed – and the St. Petersburg audience saw the Polovtsy by Fokin. The audience was tremendously impressed – the smooth and languid dance of the girls at the beginning seemed to be swept away by the fierce, like a whirlwind, dance of men, shaggy, grimy, in colorful striped trousers. The overall dance charmed with a wild shamanistic rhythm to the choir praising Konchak, and in the finale the nomad’s avalanche threateningly flew straight to the hall, as if trying to break through its “fourth wall” with pressure. And the curtain fell … Both the venomous criticism and the discerning theater-goers of St. Petersburg were delighted.

Further, eminent choreographers turned to the Polovtsian Dances in their work. Outstanding performances belong to Alexander Gorsky and Kasyan Goleizovsky on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater, Igor Moiseyev with the famous Folk Dance Ensemble of the USSR.

Anatoly Emelyanov turned to the Polovtsian Dances ballet, this masterpiece of opera and ballet synthesis, in 2011 (with the troupe «Crown of Russian Ballet»). And he first showed it in Nairobi (Kenya) on the stage of the Safari Park Hotel, May 22 of that year.

Today they are included in the repertoire of Modern Russian Ballet – “the Emelyanov Dance Troupe”.

The content of the Polovtsian Dances ballet

Evening in the camp of the Polovtsians. Young Polovtsian girls dance and sing a girl’s song about a flower, thirsty for water just like a girl for meeting with her lover. The conversation of the winner – Khan Konchak – with the defeated. The leader of the nomads offers the captive freedom for a fee: peace with the Polovtsy. But the prince is unshakable: he admits that in freedom he will immediately gather warriors again and go to the enemies of Russia. Khan regrets his tenacity.

The dances of the Polovtsians begin. These are four diverse scenes combined by continuous action.

The flowing, graceful girl’s dance to the choir and arias of the nameless Polovka and the khan’s daughter soon “drowns” in a wave of unbridled, ferocious man’s, young men easily and swiftly dance, and as a result, all the dancers merge in a single, whirlwind-like movement to the glory of the great Khan Konchak.

Then the Polovtsian Dances begin. At first, the choreographic and vocal part is performed by women (the chorus “Fly away on the wings of the wind”). The choreography in this part of the production is based on an unusually beautiful and melodic aria performed by dancing girls. Then there is a large-scale dance of the Polovtsy, in which everyone participates.

About performance Carmen.