Classical ballet was perhaps the most visible symbol of aristocratic
culture and its isolation from the rest of Russian society under the tsars. In the wake of the October Revolution, ballet, like all of the arts, fell under the auspices of the Soviet authorities, and many feared that the imperial ballet troupes would be disbanded. Instead, as Christina Ezrahi explains in Swans of the Kremlin, the Soviets attempted to mold the former imperial ballet to suit their revolutionary cultural agenda and employ it to re-educate the masses.
Ezrahi’s groundbreaking study reveals they were far from successful.
Swans of the Kremlin offers a fascinating glimpse at the collision of art and politics
during the volatile first 50 years of the Soviet period. Ezrahi shows how the producers
and performers of Russia’s two major troupes, the Mariinsky (later Kirov) and the
Bolshoi, quietly but effectively resisted Soviet sway. Despite all controls put on them,
they managed to maintain the classical forms and traditions of their artistic past and
to further develop their art form. These aesthetic and professional standards proved
to be the power behind the ballet’s worldwide appeal.
Ezrahi follows the struggles of these famed dance troupes during the post revolutionary
period, their peak during the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, and concludes
with the elaborate productions staged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the revolution
“Ezrahi’s study addresses the basic questions surrounding the mysteries of the production
of art in the Soviet Union: Who called the shots, and how did they do it,” said
Tim Scholl, Oberlin College. “Her meticulous archival research finally answers questions
regarding the autonomy of the artist and institution, with analyses that are
thoughtful, provocative, and illuminating.”