St Petersburg ballet lives through legends. They are remembered, they are things to be proud of and things to try to bring them back to life. The Stone Flower is one of them, a legend with a history dating back almost sixty years.
For the creators of this ballet, staged in 1957, The Stone Flower has remained in the mind as a beam of light, the light of first serious artistic triumphs. For Yuri Grigorovich it was his first major theatre production, and on a Russian theme, too, set to music by his much-admired Prokofiev. Moreover, it was in this opus that the creative duo with Simon Virsaladze was established, a tandem that would unsure the success of both for many years to come. For the first performers, very young and then known only in ballet circles – Irina Kolpakova, Alla Osipenko, Alexander Gribov and Anatoly Gridin – The Stone Flower made their names famous. They became the creators of roles for the first time rather than mere interpreters of long-existing choreographic texts, they created images. The characters that were conceived revealed their individual natures and the dancers came to be spoken of regularly. And in the context of the history of Russian ballet The Stone Flower was a ray of light – a step forwards from the undanceable nature of the genre of the drama ballet. Today, looking back through the years that much is evident. But back then in 1957 no-one was deliberately preparing any revolutions, it was just that a young choreographer and young dancers did something that they found interesting, and their interests differed from the preferences of the generation of the 1930s and 1940s.
"I remember those hours with great fondness, when together with the lead performers we almost never left the rehearsal hall," wrote Tatiana Vecheslova, the coach of the new ballet, "and all our free time was taken up with thoughts about the production. ‹…› There was never enough time – for work, for talks, for arguments."1 For Vecheslova who had only just stopped dancing, The Stone Flower was her first work as a coach, and this ballet opened up new doors to her. For the designer Virsaladze, the production after tales by Bazhov turned a new page in his artistic life. When preparing for the production, Grigorovich and he travelled to the Urals, and the Georgian Virsaladze discovered not the familiar Leningrad Russia but the village and folk Russia.
This general engagement with a search for the new, in addition to the talent of each creator, became a component part of the legend. And The Stone Flower very soon made his success a legend.
There was the inspiring praise for “the symphonic narrative” from the wise old mentor, the authoritative choreographer Fyodor Lopukhov, who had once sought this symphonism in dance in his own productions. The response about "the concord, harmonious blending of the music, the choreography and the set designs" from the composer Dmitry Shostakovich, who knew himself what working on a ballet was. The general collection of praise was added to by the impressions of stage director Yuri Zavadsky. High praise is never awarded to every newcomer in the profession, but Grigorovich's The Stone Flower was taken to the Bolshoi Theatre – already in 1959 the production had been transferred to the country's main theatre. In Leningrad, if one believes the bare figures of theatre statistics, over thirty years The Stone Flower was one of the most attended productions, between 1957 and 1991 being performed one hundred and ninety-one times. Up until the early 1990s the legend inspired ever more new performers.
And for dancers of the generation of the 2010s who only know The Stone Flower through stories and beautiful old photographs on the walls at school, today the very name of Grigorovich is a legend, a synonym for the spectacular glory of Soviet ballet. The comments, indeed the very presence in the auditorium of a man who knew Stravinsky personally, who saw Balanchine dance on-stage and who heard the tales of Lifar about the production of Prodigal Son – these afford an opportunity to approach the legend. Olga Makarova
1 T. Vecheslova. I Am a Ballerina. Leningrad — Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1964. P. 239.