On 24 May 1847, I reached St Petersburg by ship, and since that time have been employed by the Imperial Theatre. Sixty years of service in one place, in one institution, is quite rare, and a destiny not granted to many mortals.1
MARIUS PETIPA’S DESTINY, it is true, was exceptional, even if he was only one of many French artists and other foreigners who flocked to Russia because their services were in high demand. For more than a century and a half, Russia had been turning its gaze to the West, seeking to acquire the cultural apparatus that would help transform it into a modern world power. When Petipa arrived in St Petersburg he had the promise of a contract and the hope that he would make a career, if not a fortune, although foreign dancers were rewarded with higher pay than native Russians. He was twenty-nine, not so young for a dancer. In his suitcase were three scarves, packed by his anxious mother. ‘She was,’ he wrote, ‘very disturbed about the fate of my nose, which would have to bear the onslaught of frosts so severe that even the bears could hardly stand them.’...
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