Listed in The Times 2019 best cultural trips.
For the dance-lover, St Petersburg is a city synonymous with ballet at its best. It was there that the training of dancers reached a peak, and for over half a century the master choreographer, Marius Petipa, worked to create ballets such as La Bayadère and The Sleeping Beauty, which have become the cornerstones of the international repertoire. To visit St Petersburg - a city with a rich, layered history - is to walk in the footsteps of Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, and almost feel you are within the setting of the Stravinsky-Fokine masterpiece, Petrushka.
This tour takes place during the long days of White Nights when the whole city comes alive. Performances include the great romantic ballet, Giselle, in which the Mariinsky excel, and George Balanchine’s neo-classical A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Balanchine himself was a product of the Imperial Ballet School and his Dream updates many of the traditions of the nineteenth-century classics.
The programme includes a visit to the legendary Vaganova Academy where star dancers including Pavlova, Nureyev and Baryshnikov trained, and a backstage visit to the Mariinsky, on whose historic stage The Nutcracker was first performed. In addition, we will watch ballet at the revitalised Mikhailovsky and discover the unique dance treasures of the St Petersburg Theatre Museum.
Visits to art galleries and imperial palaces also feature, as well as the magnificent art nouveau home of prima ballerina assoluta Matilde Kschesinskaya, from the balcony of which Lenin made one of his historic speeches. It is now the Museum of Political History of Russia, but incorporates a display on the ballerina, who is now the subject of a controversial film.
Fly at c. 9.15am from London Heathrow to St Petersburg (British Airways; time in the air: c. 3 hours 15 minutes). There is time to settle in before dinner.
In the morning visit the Hermitage, one of the world’s greatest art collections, housed in Rastrelli’s Winter Palace, and the Menshikov Palace, an early-18th-century residence with impressive Petrine decoration. An early-evening lecture precedes afternoon tea and an evening ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography by George Balanchine to music by Mendelssohn, featuring the Mariinsky Theatre Children’s Choir.
Early access to the Hermitage by special arrangement is subject to confirmation two weeks before the visit.
Explore the north bank of the Neva and Vasilyevsky Island which, as the original intended site of the city, has some of St Petersburg’s earliest buildings, including the Twelve Colleges and the Peter-Paul Fortress. Visit by special arrangement the Vaganova Academy, established in 1738 as the Imperial Ballet School, and in the afternoon, a curator-led tour at the Museum of Political History of Russia, with an exhibition dedicated to Matilda Kshesinskaya. The evening is spent in the company of a soloist of the Mikhailovsky theatre and graduate of the Vaganova Academy.
A morning excursion to Peterhof (by hydrofoil, weather permitting), the magnificent palace on the Gulf of Finland with cascades and fountains. Some free time for independent exploration. Evening ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre: Giselle. Choreography by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa to music by Adolphe Adam.
In the morning, visit the Russian Museum in the imposing Mikhailovsky Palace, which houses Russian painting from mediaeval icons to the vast canvases of the Romantics and Realists of the 19th century. The Samoilov Family Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the history of Russian ballet; in the afternoon, a private backstage tour of the Mariinsky theatre. Evening ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre to be confirmed.
The date and time of the backstage tour at the Mariinksy Theatre can only be confirmed one week prior to the tour and is dependent on rehearsal schedules. There is a chance we may not be able to include this visit, or that it may be substituted with a backstage tour of the Mikhailovsky theatre.
A free morning; perhaps the Hermitage again, or places not yet visited such as the Dostoyevsky Museum, Academy of Arts, or Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Fly to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 5.00pm.
If combining this tour with Moscow & the Golden Ring, additional night in St Petersburg at Hotel Angleterre, take the train from St Petersburg to Moscow on 24th May and transfer by taxi to the Hotel National. Overnight in Moscow.
Jane Pritchard MBE
Curator of Dance for the Victoria & Albert Museum and co-curator of the exhibition Diaghilev & the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909–1929 (2010). She was Archivist for Rambert Dance Company and English National Ballet. She has contributed to journals, books, dictionaries and catalogues and curated seasons of dance films for the BFI Southbank and the British Council. Her latest book is entitled Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina (2012).
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,970 or £2,710 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,390 or £3,130 without flights.
Ballet in St Petersburg and Moscow & the Golden Ring combined
Two sharing: £7,120 or £6,800 without flights. Single occupancy: £8,250 or £7,930 without flights. This includes extra accommodation at Hotel Angleterre in St Petersburg (1 night) and Hotel National in Moscow (1 night), and train (business class) and car transfers between the two. These arrangements are pre-booked and escorted by a tour manager.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A320); travel by private coach throughout; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 dinners and 1 afternoon tea with wine; all admissions; all tips for drivers, restaurant staff, guides; all state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and a national guide. Ballet: tickets to 3 performances are included, costing c. £315 in total. Tickets are confirmed early spring 2019.
British citizens and most other foreign nationals require a tourist visa. The current cost for UK nationals is around £141, including service charge. This is not included in the price of the tour because you have to procure it yourself. You will need to complete an online application in the two-month period before departure, and submit this along with your passport. As of 10th December 2014, it is obligatory for UK residents of all nationalities to attend one of three application centres, in London, Manchester or Edinburgh, in order to submit biometric data (fingerprints) as part of the visa application process. Visa issuing times vary from country to country but UK residents should expect to be without their passport for approximately one week.
Hotel Angleterre: an excellently located 5-star hotel in the city centre, within easy walking distance of the Hermitage. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is a fair amount of walking on this tour. Traffic congestion means coach journeys can be long and frustrating. Average coach travel per day: 12 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.