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The conservative revolution: the Bolshoi archives

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One of the great cultural mysteries of the twentieth century is how a radical new form of government would come to be represented in cultural terms by an art form so associated with its conservative predecessor. From Imperial Russia to the Soviet Union, ballet managed to survive a transition that was both creative and political. In this essay the reinvention of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow from Tsarist to Bolshevik is discovered through the archive materials of the Bolshoi itself. What were the dynamics that encouraged experimentation that of itself was then defined as failure precisely because of its experimental nature? What was the formula that enabled the Bolshoi to represent the Soviet Union despite its representation of an aristocratic past that the Revolution had swept away? In a society where everything is politicized, how does ballet contribute to the polity? From the threat of closure in the new regime's first days, through radical attempts to depict the proletariat in ballet action, to the descent into the creative stasis of socialist realism, we trace the path of ballet in the early Soviet period and its struggle to reform itself and represent the new society around it.
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Keywords: Bolshoi; Soviet Union; ballet; socialist realism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2012-12-15

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  • Scene is dedicated to a critical examination of space and scenic production. The journal provides an opportunity for dynamic debate, reflection and criticism. With a strong interdisciplinary focus, we welcome articles, interviews, visual essays, reports from conferences and festivals. We want to explore new critical frameworks for the scholarship of creating a scene.
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