“In the ballet the whole meaning of the story can be expressed by the dance.… The dance should explain the spirit of the actors in the spectacle. More than that, it should express the whole epoch to which the subject of the ballet belongs.” (Mikhail Fokine)
In the 19th century, the art of dance developed into a combination of virtuosity and dramatic storytelling. The influence of Romanticism and the European fascination for the “Orient” were expressed in the choice of “Oriental” themes that included the Orientalist elements of the mystical, exotic and the irrational. The French ballet dancer Marius Petipa (1818‒1910), who was chief ballet master of the Imperial Theatre at St. Petersburg from 1869 to 1903, created a series of ballets in the Orientalist style that included The Daughter of the Pharaoh
(Egypt), Le Roi Candaule
and Le Corsaire
(Turkey) and La Bayadère
(India). The Russian choreographer Mikhail Fokine (1880‒1942) and his ballets for the Ballet Russes Cleopatre
, Les Orientales
are further examples of “story ballets” in this vein. Needless to say, however, none of these works reflect any desire to relate ethnographic knowledge; rather they are the result of Western imagination and stereotyping.