The Mariinsky Ballet is closely linked with the entire history of the development of Russian choreographic art which began more than two and a half centuries ago. The history of the St Petersburg ballet in the 19th century was associated with the activities of Charles Didelot, Jules Perrot, and Arthur Saint-Léon. In 1869, the position of principal ballet master was entrusted to Marius Petipa who markedly raised the professional standards of the company.
The peak accomplishments of this famous choreographer were ballets staged in the period of his collaboration with the composers Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Alexander Glazunov. The talents of many generations of ballerinas have been revealed over the years – from Yekaterina Vyazem, Marina Semenova and Galina Ulanova to younger dancers who are just starting their careers at the Mariinsky Theatre.
At the turn of the 19th century, the Mariinsky Ballet produced such great dancers as Anna Pavlova, Mathilde Kschessinska, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, Olga Spesivtseva, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Nikolai and Sergei Legat. Many of them brought glory to Russian ballet during the legendary Saisons Russes in Paris which brought the pioneering works of Mikhail Fokine to Europe.
From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, the company’s dancers included Irina Kolpakova, Natalia Makarova, Alla Osipenko, Irina Gensler, Alla Sizova, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Valery Panov, Yuri Soloviev and Anatoly Sapogov. La Sylphide and Napoli by August Bournonville appeared in the repertoire towards the end of the 70's, as did fragments of old choreography by Perrot, Saint-Léon and Coralli. Roland Petit and Maurice Béjart came to work with the company for some time.
The present-day repertoire of the Mariinsky Ballet includes, along with Petipa’s legacy – Swan Lake, Raymonda, Le Corsaire, La Bayadére and The Sleeping Beauty – ballets staged by Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, Frederic Ashton, William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Angelin Preljocaj and Wayne McGregor.
Since 2001, the Mariinsky Theatre has hosted the annual International Ballet Festival Mariinsky, its participants are among the greatest soloists from the best international ballet companies.