THE POLOVTSIAN DANCES
FROM PRINCE IGOR
DANSES POLOVTSIENNES DU PRINCE IGOR*

PREMIERE
PARIS, 19 MAY 1909

SCENERY & COSTUMES

PARIS, 19 MAY 1909

MUSIC
ALEXANDER BORODIN, COMPLETED AND ORCHESTRATED BY
NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV AND ALEXANDER GLAZUNOV

CHOREOGRAPHY
MICHEL FOKINE

* ACT II FROM THE OPERA PRINCE IGOR

The Polovstian Dances was the great hit of the Russian Ballet's first season in Paris in 1909. It was presented immediately after Armida's Pavilion, and there was a stark contrast between the delicate sophistication of 18th-century France and the wild exuberance of this Russian, tribal dance.

Audiences revelled in the exuberant music by Alexander Borodin, with its stirring choruses, quickening pace, pounding drums and clashing cymbals. The energetic movements corresponded with the popular image of Russia as a wild place, still untamed and primitive at heart. Choreographed by Michel Fokine, the dance steps were more imaginary than authentic, but the costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich demonstrated his research into early Russian history and folk art.

The ballet, Polovtsian Dances, is an excerpt from the second act of the opera Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin, set in the camp of the Polovtsi, who have just gained a victory over a Tartar tribe, taking Prince Igor and his son prisoner. Wild warriors surge onto the stage, which was designed as an empty, desolate landscape. Their faces were smeared with soot and mud, their coats green and mottled and their pants striped in bright colours.

At its premiere, the effect on the audience was cataclysmic. In a spontaneous outburst they stormed the stage, wrenching off the orchestra rail of the theatre in the process.