The Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg has a special place in the history of ballet. It was where the art developed and from where it spread to Paris, London, America and the rest of the world. For those who don't know that history "The History of the Theatre" on the Mariinsky's website is a good place to start. Those who want to learn more should read Tamara Karsavina's "Theatre Street".
The title of Karsavina's book is the theatre's address and now it has a neighbour, Mariinsky II. This is a massive new opera house beside the existing one and according to the pictures on the BBC website it is very impressive. It opened this week to a special performance on May Day for "the Mariinsky Theatre’s older members of staff, WW II veterans and respected figures from St Petersburg’s artistic and research intelligentsia." According to a report on the BBC website there has been some criticism of the expense and also of the building's aesthetics but if I were Russian I'd be as proud as Punch.
Thinking of Karsavina I am reminded of this passage from Arnold Haskell's Balletomania. Her brother, Platon Karsavin, a distinguished scholar, was arrested and interrogated by the secret police. On being asked his name the interrogator enquired whether he was related to the dancer. When he said that she was his sister the interrogator exclaimed:
"Your sister! That is wonderful! Absolutely my favourite ballerina. I find her Giselle unsurpassed."
Karsavin then asked what the interrogator thought of her performance in Swan Lake and the two spent the rest of the evening discussing the ballet. Haskell speculates that Kasavin owed his life to the fact that he came before a balletomane because "what balletomane could sentence La Karsavina's brother?" Quite so! As one who grew up during the cold war I could not imagine that the nation that continued to nurture the Kirov (the Soviet name for the Mariinsky) and the Bolshoi could be all bad - even if its missiles were trained on London.