Sacred Stage: The Mariinsky Theater (2005)

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Set against the backdrop of the magical White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Sacred Stage features the best in Russian symphonic music, ballet and opera at Russia's premier theater--the Mariinsky, also known as the Kirov.



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Credited cast:
Valery Gergiev
Yulia Makhalina
Evgeniy Nikitin ...
(as Yevgeny Nikitin)
George Tsypin


Set against the backdrop of the magical White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Sacred Stage features the best in Russian symphonic music, ballet and opera at Russia's premier theater--the Mariinsky, also known as the Kirov.

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7 October 2005 (USA)  »

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How The Kirov's Rooted Amalgam Of Skill And Myth At Its Nonpareil Home Theatre Continues To Avoid Checkmate.
27 November 2009 | by (Mountain Mesa, California) – See all my reviews

One of the world's most enduring and admired cultural hubs, Russia's Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre complex in Saint Petersburg, is the subject of this highly satisfactory documentary. Originally opened in 1860 and named as homage to Czar Alexander's wife Maria, the breathtakingly beautiful structure, while constructed for a ruler's court, has yet during a quarter of a millennium provided, for the pleasure of all types of citizens, equal shares of limelight for ballet, opera, and other theatric art forms, with aesthetically gratifying national and universal content that competing venues can but seldom match. The documentary is narrated in part by actor Richard Thomas, who describes how Alexander's jewel box of a theatre and its ancillary buildings continued to exist, even after the elaborate political and social alterations that convulsed Russia during the 20th century. This is, as Thomas reads, "...a story of artistic and creative survival". A New York based ballet journalist, Elizabeth Kendall, recounts the manner by which Lenin's first Commissar of Education, Anatoly Lunacharskiy, a champion of dance, convinced the Communist leader that ballet was not decadent activity, but in fact was an art that was vested in the Russian people, thereby saving the Czar's theatre from despoilment and ensuring that the nation's distinguished musical practices and protocols would not be swept away by the red régime's new broom. The film employs portions of the Tchaikowsky/Petipa ballet Sleeping Beauty, along with Moussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov as narrative casing for the Mariinsky/Kirov's symbolic interposition between those who have opposed its continued existence, and its devotees, who are legion, and who have more than once successfully opposed its planned destruction. Upon display are a number of splendid performers, including bass/baritone Yevgeny Nikitin, singing as Boris, and ballerina Zuanna Ayupova who dances as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. The future of the Mariinsky was tellingly improved after Valery Gergiev became theatre director and principal conductor in 1988 for, as Russian President Vladimir Putin is cited upon the film's DVD case "...I will serve my term and disappear, but Gergiev will last forever". It is, indeed, Gergiev who is primarily responsible for keeping the Theatre's bravura offerings in existence. He is interviewed frequently throughout the film, and his significance is the focus of comments by many seen here, such as Kendall, Thomas, Placido Domingo, the Theatre's opera set designer George Tsypin, and Sergei Roldugin, who heads the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. The latter speaks of Gergiev's importance for his achievement in combining the Theatre's sundry artists into "one united organism" despite, as Gergiev himself says: pressure from the "evil side" of the institution, i.e., budgetary hindrances, et alia. It is ballet, and the special skills of this artistic discipline's choreographers and dancers that have ever been most causative for the success of the Mariinsky, and a decision to export the Leningrad Kirov dance troupe for American and European tours during the 1960s cinched a secure future for the Theatre. Watching Ayupova as she performs in a passage from the Rose Adagio sequence in Act I of Sleeping Beauty is an especial pleasure because this Russian based production is not to be found on film elsewhere. A point is made by this documentary that Kirov artists have nurtured their pride, abetted by the fact that they are each trained at the same school. Their high level of self-esteem is clear to viewers during the prologue and act one from Beauty as shown here. An exceptionally absorbing part of the work concentrates upon ballerina Yulia Makhalina as she trains with her coach, and later as she in turn coaches a young dancer, thereby following a long-standing policy held by the Kirov that ballerinas begin to teach while at the pinnacle of their fame (and powers). The flowing style and marked muscular control of Makhalina is representative of Kirov principal dancers. In the words of Kendall, "...without Kirov, ballet would lack a compass --- no true north". A palpable attraction of substantial salaries tendered from nations of the West has in recent times lost a great deal of its appeal to the Kirov ballet, opera and orchestra members, largely as a result of the famed company's emphasis upon the provision for a well-balanced repertory rather than the diffusion caused by specialisation. This, in union with the alluded to pride, has strongly contributed to the Mariinsky's continuing achievement at facing down its disbandment as it had in, most markedly, 1918 and 1989.

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