• Julia Sumzina

Apollo: from Serge Lifar to nowadays

Dedicated to the outstanding dancer, choreographer, and ballet teacher of XX century

Serge Lifar, who was born on 15 April 1905.


The Apollon Musagète (1928), a neoclassical ballet in two tableaux, was choreographed by George Balanchine with a score by Igor Stravinsky. It was premiered on 12 June 1928 in Théâtre Sarah Bernhart, Paris by Serge Lifar (Apollo), Alice Nikitina (Terpsichore), Lubov Tchernicheva (Polyhymnia), Felia Dubrovska (Calliope).



According to the libretto Apollo, the son of Leto, achieves stunning levels of brilliance in dance and citherplaying, being followed by the three beautiful and inspiring muses – Calliope (the muse of epic poetry), Polyhymnia (the muse of sacred hymns) and Terpsichore (the muse of dance). When Apollo, accompanied by his muses, appears on Mount Olympus everything around him falls silent in adoration of his divine art.

Apollo was one of the iconic roles for Serge Lifar.

When Lifar was 17, he studied in Bronislava Nijinska’s school in Kiev, in 1921 he left the Soviet Union and then was noticed by Sergei Diaghilev, who sent him to Turin in order to improve his technique with Enrico Cecchetti.

Lifar made his debut at the Ballets Russes in 1923, where he became the principal dancer in 1925. Despite he danced a lot of roles in various pieces, his dancer´s career is mostly associated with Apollo in which he danced the premiere in June 1928.


Igor Stravinsky thought of "Apollon musagète" as a ballet blanc, that is, costumed in traditional minimal white and the style of dancing was essentially classical for him. Balanchine later said that when he heard Stravinsky's music all he could see was pristine white.


Nowadays we can see this white ballet performed by the companies around the world, it has been danced by such dancers as Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Laurent Hilaire, Roberto Bolle, Mathieu Ganio.


The performing of Apollo by Xander Parish became emblematic for Mariinsky ballet. He has been dancing Apollo for years since his debut in 2013 in Trieste, Italy with different partners, including the triple debut of Vaganova Academy graduates Maria Khoreva, Daria Ionova and Anastasia Nuikina in 2018.

Parish makes his Apollo athletic and technically clear, also his Apollo is absolutely charming, we can feel the sense of humour and very delicate behaviour with the muses. The recent performance on 13th April on the stage of Mariinsky II was fully in the atmosphere of Balanchine´s ballets: accurate dancing by Xander Parish, Maria Khoreva, Yana Selina and Renata Shakirova and the Stravinsky’s score by the Mariinsky orchestra and Gavriel Heine gave the audience the perfect chance to feel that the epoch when this ballet was created was very similar to nowadays in aesthetic sense.


Apollo is one of the ballet treasures of XX century’s choreography and let’s conclude this little reflection with the words of Jean Giraudoux about Serge Lifar:

  • “It is probably you, Lifar, who is the closest to what the original dance of the Greeks may have been…”

Because the dance of the Greeks is continuing by the modern generation of stunning dancers and we have the opportunity to see them by our own eyes.


Text and photos of Xander Parish: Julia Sumzina

Photos of Serge Lifar are from the open sourses.

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