Music and Dance

Mikhail Baryshnikov was born in 1948 in Riga, Lativa. He began dancing at the late age of 15 but was allowed to begin because of his incredible leg strength. He studied ballet at the Vaganova school before joining the Kirov Ballet of Leningrad in 1967. After becoming very famous in the Soviet Union, he defected in 1974 and managed to gain political asylum in Canada. He soon came to America and joined the American Ballet Theater in 1974. He moved to the New York City Ballet in 1978 to work under George Balanchine. Baryshnikov loved American musicals and wanted to act, and so he became an actor as well as dancer in films like "The Turning Point" and "White Nights". He also became artistic director for the American Ballet Theater and choreographed for them. Most recently he co-founded White Oak, a modern dance company. He is still a professional dancer and is considered by many to have been the best male dancer of the 20th century.


Russian Ballerinas

Ballet has long been associated with the Russians, and when one pictures a typical ballet, naturally Tchaikovsky’s "The Nutcracker" is the first thing to come to mind. The first school of ballet was established in Russia in 1738, and from it came the first Russian ballet company. Some of the greatest ballerinas of all time have come from Russia, and the Russian style (Vaganova) is one of the three most important schools of dance. Perhaps the most famous Russian dancers are Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Makarova, Pavlova, and Nijinsky. Nureyev, who studied ballet against his father’s wishes, escaped the KGB and defected to France in 1961. Baryshnikov, every modern ballerina’s dream partner, is actually a Latvian who only spent ten years in Russia, and defected to the West in 1974. Makarova and Pavlova are perhaps the two most famous ballerinas of all time, though Pavlova’s feet were so weak, she had to adapt her own style of dance, and though Makarova may be famous in the West more for her work with ABT than with the Kirov Theater. Nijinsky, another of Russia’s most famous ballet dancers, lived a life out of a novel - with elements such as forbidden liaisons and insanity.


The Bolshoi Theater was founded in 1776 and moved to its current site in 1780. Originally called the Petrovsky Theater, after the street it is located on, it was the first professional music theater in Moscow. Its drama, opera and ballet productions were very connected with the folk art of Russia–during the early years only Russian writers and composers were performed. In 1806 the theater became a national one, and it started to stage the works of Italian and French composers.

The modern-day Bolshoi Theater was built in 1825 (after the former building burnt down). It is white with an eight-columned portico and has the carriage of Apollo on the roof. With 2,000 seats in its main theater and another 900 for a smaller stage that opened in 2002, it is the second largest theater in Europe.


Alexander Porfirevich Borodin (1833 — 1887) was born in 1833 in Georgia, but grew up and studied in St. Petersburg at the academy of medicine. He was a very open-minded and progressive chemist, physician and science professor; his laboratory was the first place where women could finally legally study medicine.

Borodin was more than a scientist though, he was also a very famous composer. He composed his first piano duet when he was just 9 years old. He was later deeply influenced by Mily Balakirev. Together they became part of the "Five", which was one of the most important groups of Russian nationalist composers in the 19th century. Two of Borodin’s most famous works are the orchestral poem "In the Steppes of Central Asia" and the opera "Prince Igor", which he left unfinished, but was later completed by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov.

Borodin died of a stroke in 1887.



Piotr Tchaikovsky was born on May 7, 1840 in Kamsko-Votkinsk to a mine inspector. From an early age, he showed a genuine interest and capacity for music (specifically piano) and a deep sensitivity that was uncommon for children of his age. His mother died when he was 14. This may very well have stimulated his decision to compose. At the age of 19, he took a job at the Ministry of Justice, but he was always more interested in composing music. In 1863, he entered the Conservatory where he also taught privately.

Throughout his life, he wrote many influential and beautiful pieces of music in the romantic tradition. Of the most famous are Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin, and the Nutcracker with themes as far-reaching as characters from Pushkin's novels, depression, toys, and fate. In 1893, he died in Saint Petersburg from either cholera or suicide; it is yet to be determined.


The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of the most famous ballet’s in the world that is based on a novel called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," written by E.T.A. Hoffman. When brought to a choreographer named Marius Petipa in 1891, the ballet proved a lot of potential. Tchaikovsky wrote the music and in 1892 the show opened in the famous Mariinsky Theater in Russia. The show appeared and flourished in America in the 1940’s. The Nutcracker takes place on Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house where Herr Drosselmeyer, the children’s godfather, brings two dancing dolls to the party. Fritz, one of the children, breaks her sister’s nutcracker that seemed to be the highlight of the party. In the middle of the night, her sister Clara, awakes to check on the broken doll and finds an army of mice in the living room. The nutcracker comes to life and begins battling them. He loses and the Mouse King captures Clara and the Nutcracker. Clara gives a final blow and defeats the mouse. The Nutcracker turns into a prince that takes her away to a land of snow and enchanted forests. The story ends with Clara waking up from her dream next to her Christmas tree with the Nutcracker in her hand.

Basic information about the Nutcracker: Story, history, actors etc music from the nutcracker: making of nutcrackers: photos from the Nutcracker in Russian- information


Swan Lake premiered first at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1877. It was a ballet in four acts on a German fairy tale, about a princess and her friends who were turned into swans by an evil magician. This was Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky's first ballet score and became the first of the Russian Ballet's "Big Three" but its first premieres were not successful. Over the years, a number of people reworked Swan Lake. But the most important work on Swan Lake was by Marius Petipa in 1895, with help from Lev Ivanov. On January 15, 1895 Petipa restaged Swan Lake, with the new changes and having cut Tchaikovsky's original music by a third, at Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This was a historic day, and since then, Swan Lake is a performance that has influenced the development of ballet.

--This is a Russian site that has history of Swan Lake. Swan Lake has over 125 years and was first premiered in Moscow and Bolshoi Theater. This site has many other ballets in Moscow.

--This is an English site that gives the history of the Swan Lake production.

--This site also describes the beginnings of Swan Lake.

--this is a Ballet history site, which has information on when the Swam Lake premiered in Russia in the days of Petipa. Petipa was a dancer and was the ballet master to the Chief of the Imperial Tsar in 1800. He reworked the Swan Lake.

--this is a link to a site for History of Ballet in Russia. Provides articles on the Swan Lake Ballet.


The Mariinski Theater is one of Russia's most famous theaters. Located in St. Petersburg, the theater was opened in 1783 as the Bolshoi Theater. It was originally used for a circus, large parties and, of course, a theater. The theater's "magnificence and splendor surpassed even that of the leading European theatres of the day." In 1859, however, the theater burned down. It was reconstructed and in 1860 the first performance was given at the renamed Mariinski Theater-named after Alexander II's wife Maria. It has long be a theater for famous Russian and international productions. During World War II it was hit by several bombs, but was rebuilt by the fall of 1944. Under the Soviet Union, the name was changed to the "Kirov Theater," but in 1992 the original name of "The Mariinski Theater" was restored. The ballet and plays can now be seen at the theater for anywhere from $16 for a student to $120 for Exclusive VIP seats.

One of the coolest websites I have ever seen-check it out and click on the picture!!!


Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881) learned how to play the piano at an early age and attempted his first compositions before knowing some of the most basic music theory. He came under the influence of the Russian composer Balakirev, but he was an outsider in their social circle. Mussorgsky worked first in the military and then later in the civil service, but he was constantly in difficult times and out of work due to his alcoholism and family problems. Many of his major works, including the famous opera Boris Gadunov, were left artistically rough (and some were never even finished), but composer Rimsky-Korsakov cleaned up many of Mussorgsky's works posthumously. Mussorgsky died young from an alcohol-related illness.

In English. This site gives a good biography of Mussorgsky with notes on his personal and professional life.

In English. This is another short but relatively complete biography of Mussorgsky's troubled life.

In English. This site has some good information but it has a pretty annoying .midi file of Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain in the background.

In English. This page has a good deal of Mussorgsky's music published online in .rm format (real player).

In Russian. This site gives a biography of Mussorgsky in Russian.

In Russian. This last site gives a more in-depth Russian biography and a couple of photographs of Modest.


Boris Godunov

Boris Godunov was originally written as a screenplay by Pushkin, but was later turned into a full opera by Russian composer Mussorgsky. The story starts with Boris taking power of the Russian throne by killing the czar’s youngest brother who was the official heir. Despite Boris’ confidence that no one would ever learn the truth of his actions, rumors spread widely that he had taken power through murder. These rumors even stretched as far as Poland, where a young monk named Gregory learned of the heir’s (Dmitri) fate. Gregory then devised a plot to pretend to be Dmitri, and gain control of the Polish army and attack Russia. Gregory proved to be successful in his feign of being the true heir, and began to lead the Polish army for battle with Russia. Meanwhile, in Russia Boris had become plagued with domestic problems such as famine and nobles plotting against him. His gradual decent into old age coupled with his ruling problems had taken a severe toll on his health, and as soon as he learned that Gregory was prepared to attack Boris fell into death.

A summary of the story, with a link to purchase the book by Pushkin.

A link providing information to purchase the opera on CD, but it also includes samples of some of the various performances that free to listen for listening.

A page that has photos of various performance and photos related to Boris Godunov.

A promotion endorsing a recent presentation of Boris Godunov. It lists all of the actors and information on showings.

A Russian site providing information on the history and structure of the opera.


Vaslav Njinski, was born to Polish parents in Kiev in 1888. He made his debut in the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet in 1907, and joined the Ballet Russe in its first season under Sergei Diaghilev. Diaghlev became both his lover and agent, directing almost every aspect of Njinski’s life as the dancer became a legend. Njinski was known and loved for both his personality and technical skill; for his animated characterizations and his amazing but seemingly effortless leaps. He was also famous for his controversial choreography, which was considered harsh and obscene, but daring and creative. In 1913, while on a tour in South America, he married Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian dancer. His relationship with Dhiaghilev ended bitterly, and his career declined do to personal problems. By about 1919 his dementia/ schizophrenia had caused him to stop dancing, and in 1950 he died in London.

Nureyev was born on trans-Siberian, near Irkoutsk in 1938. His parents were Tartars, but he quickly moved to Moscow and then to Ufa. He started learning dance there. He was then accepted to the Bolshoi and to the Kirov (Leningrad Choreographic School). He chose the Kirov and studied with an excellent professor, Alexander Pushkin. In 1961, he appeared in Paris for a European tour; and he never came back to USSR. Instead, he began dancing in Paris.

He made many appearances in the occidental world, in the most famous opera. He danced in Romeo and Juliet, the Sleeping beauty, Giselle…

In 1982, he took Austrian citizenship, but he mainly worked in Paris, as the director of l'Opéra Ballet de Paris. He continued dancing in his fifties and only stopped because of AIDS, of which he died in 1993, in Paris.

a biography of the master, with pictures (in Russian)

an very complete resource on Nureyev. (in Russian)

the site of the Nureyev Fundation: a long biography and a medical database.

key-dates of Nureyev's life.

short biography


Operas began in Russia in the 1800s. At first they were only patriotic and national. They began to be change to "non-national romanticism" with the work of Tchaikovsy in 1879. Tchaikovsky wrote eleven operas. The most famous opera theatres in Russia are Moscow's Bolshoy Theatre and St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre. In the early 1800s, all of the operas had to be approved by the Emperor, who at that point was Alexander I because he bought the actors. A majority of the Russian operas were derived from Pushkin's works, especially his poems. Two men of the 20th century, Vasnetsov and Korovin, influenced Russian operas by decorating the stage and the actors nationalistically.


Alla Pugacheva, one of the most recognizable names in Russian pop history was born in 1949. She attended the Ippolitov-Ivanov school of Music and the Lunacharsky School of Theatrical Arts for several years and began to first appear on the radio at age sixteen. She did work with different small Russian pop bands but began to be widely discovered through various musical competitions. By 1978 she was a full blown star. She has sold over 200 million albums, she is the winner of countless awards (including the last Peoples Honor Singer awarded by the Soviet Union), and she is Russia's number one newsmaker. She is Russia's pop star.


Nikolai Alexandrevich Rimski-Korsakov was born outside of St. Petersburg, in Tikhvin, on March 18, 1844.  His town was full of fields and forests, which from an early age instilled him with a great love and respect for nature.  He began piano lessons when he was six.  Although his parents noticed that he learned quickly and had a perfect ear, they discouraged a career in music because they worried it would not be as lucrative as the multi-generational family profession in the military.  Rimski-Korsakov became a naval officer and traveled the world on ship.  During this time, his love of music and opera became more apparent as he was deprived of it, and he returned to Russia to begin composing.  Meeting the leader in the St. Petersburg music circle, Balakirev, he became inspired to compose and perform after being exposed to other famous composers at the time.  He was mostly self-trained and taught himself the theory of harmony and counterpoint.  Inspired by the natural world, his music reflected wonders he had seen, like the ebbing of ocean waves and the many beautiful scenes from his homeland.  He composed folksongs, chants, and orchestral pieces, but is most famous for his twelve operas.  His operas were based on Russian history, customs, and poetry and his characters and scenery were motivated by fairy tales and folklore as well as Gogol’s scenic descriptions.  Broadening his musical career, he became a professor at the St. Petersburg Conservatory for many years, served as an inspector of naval bands from 1873 to 1883, and was Director of the Free Music School from 1874 to 1881.  He died peacefully on June 21, 1908, at his home. — This site gives a good overview of his most important works and how he entered the music scene. — This site is wonderful, including the story of his personal relationship with music and his CV. — This site tells more about the aspects of Russian culture and history that appear in his work. [Note: This is provided by the same site as in English, but the content is different.]  This site has a lengthy description of where he lived throughout his life and how that affected his music. — This site is more specific about certain operas and details personal inspiration for his work.


Russkoe Radio began broadcasting on August 2, 1995 as Russia’s first nationally- broadcast radio station. At its conception, it hoped to reach over 120 million listeners. Also, the station only broadcasts Russian music, ironically enough.

Although I couldn’t decipher much of the Russian, I was able to learn that this is the homepage for Russkoe Radio Nijhnem Novgorod, 102,9 FM (I assume they use commas in place of periods). The station began airing in 1997, and many of its sponsors are listed.

This site is also in Russia, but it describes the conception of Russkoe Radio and its impact on Russia today. Different segments of the homepage include O Radio, Programi, and Nasha Istoria (About Radio, Programs, and Our History).


Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Born in St. Petersburg just 11 years before the revolution, Shostakovich lived his entire adult life in the USSR. This was both a blessing and a curse, as it was for many artists and composers; arts were often well funded in the soviet union, but they were also stringently scrutinized and regulated by the government. There is still controversy to this day about what Shostakovich’s opinion about communism was, and the nature of his patriotism. What can be said is that he was a quiet and pensive, if not tortured, man, and his music has continued to gather acclaim the world over, 28 years after his death.

Most of Shostakovich’s productive years as a composer were during the reign of Stalin. Shostakovich, like so many others, lived in terror during this time. He would win a prize for one composition, and then be publicly denounced and slandered for the next. It was dangerous tightrope walk. In 1936 his widely performed opera, Lady Mac Beth of Mtsensk, was blasted in Pravda in an article that included a threat to his life. It said, "This is playing with nonsensical things, which could end very badly." In this year and the following one, many people close to Shostakovich, including his own sister, disappeared, and his house was destroyed by a hired mob.

Remarkably Shostakovich managed to live a long life and have a prolific career as a composer. His compositions utilized some folk idioms, as was the style in the USSR at the time, but were very forward looking and unique at the same time. In a period when most composers were advocating atonal and other more abstract forms of art music, Shostakovich clung to an earnest drama and emotionalism that was distinctly Russian.

The controversy concerning Shostakovich stems from several reputedly false memoirs of his life published by soviet émigrés made him out to be anti-communist. While it is clear that Shostakovich was anti-Stalin, some scholars feel that western bias on the part of writers have made him out to be against communism, which cannot be corroborated.

A huge collection of articles, quotations from books, documents and pictures relating to Shostakovich

A complete catalogue of his works and guide to recordings

A very interesting site displaying the ongoing controversy in scholarship concerning Shostakovich

Stars of today

Russia has had a lot of talented singers, most of whom have had an impact even on western pop culture or have served the opposite way- ‘translating’ western culture to Russians. Without any doubt the biggest name among them is Alla Pugacheva. She is the embodiment of success in the true Russian style. That is, success against all odds. And in that sense, she is the true Russian national legend in the full meaning of the word. She achieved everything with hard work and struggle with all her flaws and numerous complexes, with her, maybe even physical, shortcomings, which gradually ceased to be so to her millions of fans.

On a silver platter she was handed, for once in her life, her only chance - to participate in the competition "The Golden Orpheus" in place of Georgy Movsesyan, who was dropped due to his amoral conduct. It was the victory at Varna in 1975 with the song "Arlekino" that gave us the great singer and actress. In the twenty years that followed that event Alla Pugacheva reached everything one could wish for in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Another star form the Alla Pugacheva generation, who is actually her husband is Filip Kirkorov. He has received two "Monte-Carlo World Music Awards" as a Best Selling Russian Artist in 1996 and 1999. Dozens of times he has been honored as a "Singer of the Year" by all major Russian Award Ceremonies. He is also in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most sold out shows performed in a row - a 32 concert marathon at the same venue (4 000 seats). Philip is the first Russian Singer to be given a FAMA Award for the Contribution to the Latin music and Culture. January 20, 2001 Philip Kirkorov was honored as "The Distinguished Artist of Russian Federation" - the first such honor given in the new milleniumby the law signed by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. He is a brilliant creative personality, that combines the talents of a singer, a dancer, a choreographer, a director and a producer.

The old generation gradually gave way to the new one represented by Alsou Tenisheva. Not a trained singer, nor necessarily one looking to get into the business, she was encouraged by her mother’s friends to try out at a recording studio where her voice impressed a music producer. With European success in the hand, the next logical step was to take on the picky American market. Her ability to sing in English will definitely enhance her chances to do so.

Trying to answer the demand of the market for something radically new, the producer Ivan Shopopavlov brought Julia Volkova and Elena Katina together in the new Russian pop-lesbian group Taty. Before the band was made, he never had anything to do with music business. He used to make TV commercials and do all kinds of advertising activities. Elena and Julia used to sing together in a kids-band called "Neposedi". Later Julia Volkova, was asked to leave the band for "misbehaving and molesting other band members". They met again during the audition at MOSFILM studios, when Ivan Shapovalov was looking for girls for his new band. He’s chosen them and they were happy because he promised to make them huge stars. They always wanted to sing together, and now their dream has come true. After having given a number of concerts it remains to be seen whether the group is really talented or they are just the new version of the Russian word ‘poshlost’.