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San Diego Enjoys Extraordinary Ballet from Russia; Short History of Ballet and Local Ballet Venues

….time to dress up, put a dap of perfume on a temple and off we go to the Copley Hall to see the Moscow Ballet performance of Gisele, and next day Chopeniana (choreography M. Folkine!) and Romeo and Juliet. I love to hunt culture in the midweek and to see two extraordinary performances in one week leaves me happy!!

If you have never visited San Diego Copley Hall (downtown, crossroad of Seventh and B Street), I almost envy you as you are up for some treat. This is what will happen: You are approaching the Hall and you enter not very noteworthy highrise (Symphony Towers and a Sheraton Hotel), the foyer is ordinary, nice, but certainly not memorable or unique. But once you pass the door where an usher in a white jacket will welcome you with a smile while checking your ticket, you will gasp! Spanish Baroque and French Renaissance elaborate ecclectic style will dazzle you with white, gold, maroon, silver and blue colors along with endless whimsical stacco and murals details. Is it too much? Is it on the border of posh kitch? It is up to you to decide, I let my aesthetic reasoning what is a pure style and what is a mish-mash of styles behind. I prefer it over the unimaginative marble hall as the foyer suggests you may experience.

After you mingle, eye the wardrobes, hairdoes, after you sip some champagne, you are to step to the 2,248 seat hall. A different gold art-deco/Roccoco opulance of decoration awaits you. Look at your right, look at your left and make sure to look up! You will get into the mood for a ballet or symphony, I promise, just by eyeing the interior that sets a tantalizing expectation of a special evening!

The ballet performances are extraordinary, I enjoye the most Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Julliet. (I did not do my homework and was expecting Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, my favorite, but did not regret at all to hear Tchaikovsky's score, just fabulous!) I was taken aback by the modern choreography including jerky unisono movements, unusual and abrupt bends and twists. Done by Marius Petipa (1883-1910) — it looked much more comtemporary than being over 100 years old production and more modern than Petita's Cinderela, Gissele or Snow White. The finesse of the moves, the incredible physical fitness, grace, expressiveness, eagerness to deliver every move with perfection and the sincere emotions of the performers made for an incredible, truly extraordinary spectacle. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire evening.

Fruits of culture reflect who we are, why we are here and what we are capable of; it extends us beyond our intellectual capacity. It amazes me how much of emotions we can express with pure movements, how the movement is carrying with ease a story, conflict, how it can arouse feelings of compassion or disappointment, disdain, eagerness or longing; how it can make you think, analyze. Just amazing. I only wish we had more ballets around and schools did justice to them. I regret that for many children and perhaps many adults in America (or at least in San Diego) — ballet is reduced to an experience of a Nutcracker. Yet, it is such an important category of art as it helps effectively develop our emotional congnition.

The hall I described has a fascinating history — it used to be one of the fancy Fox movie palaces. When built in 1929 by the architect Weeks, it spread between A, B and Seventh and Eighth blocks, it had a parking garage (not so common in 1920's), office building and a department store. It would cost $30 mil. to build today! The opening featured many celebrities including Bustor Keaton.

I am happy that loyal Sandiegans did not allow the planned complete demolition of the Fox.

The exterior (an attractive opulent building on the left) had to give way to a very average uninteresting looking above mentioned Sheraton Hotel and Symphony Towers in the 1980's, but the interior was saved to stay. The interior is work of Anthony T. Heinsberger who designed close to 800 quite unique theatres and movie theatres. I am always fascinated by the immegrees who make fascinating career in their new country. Heinsberger was Dutch who came to America in 1906 and in 1922 established a successful firm Heinsberger Decorating Company. It was Heinsberger's son who made in 1984 all of the extensive restoration of his father's 1929 interior design.

If you are interested in an architecture tour of the hall, you may join the once-a-month free tour:

Ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century. Noblemen and women danced at their lavish events, especially wedding celebrations. Dancing masters taught the steps to the nobility, and the court participated in the performances.

In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman, wife of King Henry II of France, was a great patron of the arts and she began to fund ballet in the French court.

A century later, King Louis XIV helped to popularize and standardize the ballet art form. A passionate dancer, he danced many ballet roles himself. One of the most important choreographer and inventor of some formal ballet steps was Pierre Beauchamp. (Standard ballet shoes of the era on the left!)

1661 - a dance academy had opened in Paris.

1681 ballet moved from the courts to the stage. It became an inseparable part of opera.

1750’s - French ballet master Jean Georges Noverre rebelled against ballet being only a supplement for opera, believing that ballet could stand on its own as an art form. Ballet should reveal a story, Noverre noted. Thus he established the ballet d’action,

1850’s - early classical ballets were created during the Romantic Movement. Dancing on the tips of the toes, known as pointe work, became the norm for the ballerina.

Ballet as we know it today came from Russia. Two most important men (both working in Russia) are – Frenchman Marius Petipa (1883-1910) created choreography we use till today: Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Romelo and Juliet, Gisele are some of them. Lev Ivanov (1834 – 1901) was his assistant – he is attributed Nutcracker among many other.

In the early part of the 20th century, Russian choreographers Sergei Diaghilev and Michel Fokine began to experiment with movement and costume, moving beyond the confines of classical ballet form and story. Diaghilev collaborated with composer Igor Stravinsky on the ballet The Rite of Spring, a work so different —with its dissonant music, its story of human sacrifice and its unfamiliar movements — that it caused the audience to riot. It became a milestone of modern ballet.

Choreographer and New York City Ballet founder George Balanchine (1904-1983), a Russian who emigrated to America, changed ballet even further. He is the greatest innovator of the contemporary “plotless” ballet. With no definite story line, its purpose is to use movement to express the music and to illuminate human emotion and endeavor.

And an interesting piece of info at the end: Do you know where the word "leotard", the training ballet outfit, came from? It is eponym meaning it is named after its inventor, Jules Leotard, a French acrobat (1838–1870) who found this one piece suit convenient for practicing. Today, every gymnast, ballet dancer or an acrobat uses it and a Leotard's name resonates in various gyms and ballet studios till today!

Interested visiting a ballet performance in San Diego?

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