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The Mariinsky Theatre

Better known in the west as the Kirov Ballet (the name it received during the Soviet era), this historic theater recently returned to its original designation (which honored Alexander II's wife Maria). The Mariinsky was built in 1860 as an opera house, but its reputation rests largely on the ballet that was added to its repetoire two decades later.

The apex of its fame was during the earliest days of modern ballet, just after the turn of the century. In fact, the choreographer of the Mariinsky at the time, Michel Fokine (1880-1942) is widely considered to have been the founder of modern ballet. Fokine's choreography marked a departure from many of the rigid rules and forms of the earlier tradition and inaugurated the freer styles of expressionism. Fokine was the choreographer for Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets-Russe from 1909-14, and several of the Mariinsky's finest dancers were also members of Diaghilev's company.

The most prominent of these included Vasily Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, and Tamara Karsarvina. During the Cold War era, the Mariinsky (then known as the Kirov) maintained its traditions despite numerous difficulties, including the defection of a number of its finest dancers--Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov--to the West. Almost all of the Mariinsky's finest dancers were trained at St. Petersburg's Vaganova School of Choreography, still the world's premier ballet school in the classical tradition. Catching a performance at the Mariinsky is an integral part of any visit to St. Petersburg, and tickets are best obtained as far in advance as possible.

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