Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” are beloved ballets that have been performed around the world for well over a century.
What many outside of the dance world may not know is that the scenic plans for both were created by Marius Petipa, considered to be the father of classical ballet, said Stanislav Fečo, dancer, choreographer and director and co-founder of the Petipa Heritage Foundation.
“In every single classical ballet company around the world, there’s this domination of his repertoire,” Fečo said. “Every company has at least one ballet from his choreography.”
This is why Fečo, along with fellow choreographer Vasily Medvedev, established the Petipa Heritage Foundation in 2016. Their aim was to honor Petipa’s vision and to preserve, restore and continue to develop his work. The foundation moved from Europe to the Bay Area in 2022. As a California nonprofit public benefit corporation, it has expanded its goals to support performing arts programs, nurture artistic potential and give annual awards recognizing talent and dedication to Petipa’s vision.
“(Petipa) was an absolute genius who made these great ballets and a source of inspiration for contemporary choreographers — even modern,” Fečo said. “Everything starts from there. You can connect it.”
Fečo added that even choreographer George Balanchine, who later inspired other choreographers such as William Forsythe and David Dawson, knew all Petipa’s ballets.
“He invented his own style, but still you can understand and feel that it goes all from there,” Fečo said.
Choreographers add modern touches to Petipa’s works to make them fresh for audiences and capitalize on the skills of today’s dancers, Fečo said. For example, in the past, male dancers didn’t jump; they were on stage to act and to partner with ballerinas. Over time, their roles have moved to center stage.
Additionally, today’s dancers are athletes.
“You have to have this athleticism but still be an artist -- express emotions, express something on the stage, create the character,” Fečo said.
To showcase these abilities, choreographers create steps using Petipa’s style. Petipa Heritage Foundation co-founder Medvedev is such a choreographer.
“It’s like the spirit of Petipa is in him,” Fečo said. “He’s so genius, he can create the ballet’s steps, the new choreography, which most people in the ballet field would think it’s something old, not that someone did it now.”
Costumes made with material that allows dancers to move more freely than before are also a modern twist, Fečo said. But they are patterned after historical costumes.
“It looks like going to a museum, but not boring,” Fečo said. “It’s not something with the dust on it. It looks very fresh and contemporary.”
As part of its work to honor Petipa’s legacy, the foundation is throwing a big gala, and the public is invited. The Petipa Awards Gala will feature performances by a number of big names in ballet and give awards to four individuals and a ballet company.
In addition to the awards ceremony, the gala will include performances by guest dancers including 12 principal dancers from the world's top ballet companies, such as the Paris Opera Ballet, Teatro alla Scala, Dutch National Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin, Astana Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet
The program will highlight various aspects of ballet and present five U.S. premieres. Special guests in attendance will include iconic ballerina and choreographer Natalia Makarova as well as Ted Brandsen, the Director of the Dutch National Ballet.
Tickets are available to buy at four levels, from regular to all-inclusive VIP, which will include a red carpet entrance and a reception with ballet stars and legends. All tickets include the chance to see the awards and show.
“We’re organizing this amazing event,” Fečo said. “To see all these amazing dancers, all at the same time on stage, it’s a very unique chance to put all these people together.”
The Petipa Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, established to honor Marius Petipa, the father of classical ballet, and preserve and further develop his choreographic legacy. The organization also recognizes individuals within the ballet community for outstanding contributions to the arts and supports aspiring ballet dancers.