Maria Sergeyevna Surovshchikova was a Prima Ballerina of the Imperial Ballet and the first wife of Petipa. She was born on the 27th February 1836 in Saint Petersburg. The illegitimate daughter of a milliner, she studied at the Imperial Ballet School, graduated in 1854 and was accepted into the Imperial Ballet. That same year, she married Petipa, who was Premier Danseur of the Imperial Theatres at the time, and took the name Surovshchikova-Petipa.
A woman of great beauty, svelte and slender, with slim ankles and arrow-like pointes, she had little in common with the typical buxom, sturdy ballerinas of the 1860s. She had an extraordinary flair for mime and demi-caractère dancing, which enabled her to shine in a variety of roles in spite of the fragility that prevented her from mastering spectacular tours de force. In his memoirs, Petipa describes her as “a very graceful dancer, whose figure equalled that of Venus.”
Mme. Surovshchikova-Petipa became Prima Ballerina of the Imperial Ballet and it was for her that Petipa created the majority of his Russian ballets between the 1850s and 1860s. These ballets included Le Marché de parisien (1859), The Blue Dahlia (1860), The Beauty of Lebanon, or The Mountain Spirit (1863), Titania (1866) and Florida (1866). By the 1860s, Mme. Surovshchikova-Petipa was one of the most popular ballerinas in Saint Petersburg, becoming a rival of her colleague and fellow Prima Ballerina Marfa Muravieva.
Petipa and Mme. Surovshchikova-Petipa had two children together: the celebrated danseuse Marie Mariusovna Petipa and a son, Jean Mariusovich Petipa, who tragically died at the age of 12. After twenty-one years of marriage, the couple separated in 1875, but remained on speaking terms and Petipa married his second wife the following year.
Maria Surovshchikova-Petipa died of smallpox on the 16th March 1882 in the city of Pyatigorsk, aged 46.
Maria Surovshchikova-Petipa’s Imperial Ballet repertoire
- The Rose in La Rose, la Violette et le Papillon (1857)
- Lizetta in Le Marché de parisien (1859)
- The Blue Dahlia in The Blue Dahlia (1860)
- Terpsichore in Terpsichore (1861)
- Princess Aspicia in The Pharaoh’s Daughter (*1862)
- Medora in Le Corsaire (*1863)
- Mirana in The Beauty of Lebanon, or The Mountain Spirit (1863)
- Alma in The Travelling Dancer (1865)
- Florida in Florida (1866)
- Titania in Titania (1866)
- Marguerite in Faust (*1867)
(* – original cast member of role in revival)
- Petipa, Marius, Russian Ballet Master: The Memoirs of Marius Petipa. Translated ed. by Helen Whittaker, introduction and edited by Lillian Moore. London, UK: Dance Books Ltd (1958)