Party like a Russian on the eve of the 1917 Revolution

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We've already met some young Russians who are truly keen on historical reconstruction. Not only do they sew dresses and do their hair as their ancestors did, they re-enact historical traditions.

The “Ball in the Russian Mansion” historical society arranges costume balls devoted to different epochs. Participants dress up like Russian nobles, and in advance they rehearse classical dances that were all the rage back in the 1830s, 1890s, or whatever period. There are no random people at such get-togethers; everyone approaches the event with the same mindset. “The atmosphere of the ball depends on who comes,” says the organizer Alexey Semiletkin. It’s not just about being able to dance the mazurka, but about knowing how to behave and communicate in between dances according to the etiquette of the period.”

The history of balls in Russia dates back to the era of Peter the Great in the early 18th century, says Yulia Uvarova, a historian and methodologist of the Moscow Kremlin Museums. The heyday of ballroom culture is the 19th century. It was the era of Nicholas I that established the format of court balls, which were traditionally held in winter from mid-January until Lent. There were summer balls too, but winter was rightly considered the ballroom season. In the words of one contemporary: “We have frost and we have balls. The culmination is Shrovetide Week before Lent, when dances last right until midnight the day before the official start of Lent and the onset of a more austere lifestyle.”

This time the chosen period is 1900-1914, the epoch of Russian Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau is pan-aestheticism, an echo of the Golden Age of Russian culture, the beau monde period of its development. Despite being aware of its imminent demise, it charts the birth and evolution of democratic and bourgeois culture, the relationship between which is quite different in Russia than in Western Europe. As stated by the era’s preeminent Kulturträger, Sergei Diaghilev, creator of the Ballets Russes, which showcased Russian ballet around the world: “It is not people who are nearing the end, but life as we know it.

This epoch can be described with the words "anxious" and "unstable". On the other hand, it was also a cultural Renaissance. Not many periods can boast so much genius: Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Kandinsky, Malevich, Rozanov, Shekhtel, just to name a handful. They aspired to greatness despite the premonition of doom in the shape of the Revolution.


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