The Polovtsian Dances, or Polovetsian Dances (Russian: Половецкие пляски, Polovetskie plyaski from the Russian name of 'Polovtsy' - the name given to the Cumans by the people of Rus') form an exotic scene in Alexander Borodin's long opera Prince Igor.
The work remained unfinished when the composer died in 1887, although he had worked on it for more than a decade. A performing version was prepared by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov, appearing in 1890. Several other versions, or "completions," of the opera have been made. The dances are performed with chorus and last between 11 and 14 minutes. They occur in Act I or Act II, depending on which version of the opera is being used. Their music is popular and sometimes given in concert. At such performances the choral parts are often omitted. The opera also has a "Polovtsian March," which opens Act III, and an overture at the start. When the dances are given in concert, a suite may be formed: Overture, Polovtsian Dances and March from "Prince Igor."
- Ballets Russes performances
As part of his first "Saison Russe" at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Sergei Diaghilev presented Polovtsian Scenes and Dances, consisting of Act II of Prince Igor, with full orchestra and singers. The premiere took place on 18 May 1909. The choreography was by Michel Fokine and the sets and costumes were designed by Nicholas Roerich. In later seasons, without singers, the work was given as The Polovtsian Dances. For the 1923 season, it was partly re-choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska.
The first dance, which uses no chorus and is sometimes omitted in concerts, is No. 8, entitled "Dance of the Polovtsian Maidens" ["Пляска половецких девушек"]: presto, 6/8, F major; it is placed directly after the "Chorus of the Polovtsian Maidens," which opens the act and is followed by "Konchakovna's Cavatina". The dances proper appear at the end of the Act as an uninterrupted single number in several contrasting sections listed as follows (basic themes are indicated with letters in brackets and notated in the accompanying illustration)
- No. 17, "Polovtsian Dance with Chorus" ["Половецкая пляска с хором"]
- [a] Introduction: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
- [b] Gliding Dance of the Maidens [Пляска девушек плавная]: Andantino, 4/4, A Major
- [c + a] Wild Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин дикая]: Allegro vivo, 4/4, F Major
- [d] General Dance [Общая пляска]: Allegro, 3/4, D Major
- [e] Dance of the Boys [Пляска мальчиков] and 2nd Dance of the Men [Пляска мужчин]: Presto, 6/8, D Minor
- [b’ + e’] Gliding Dance of the Maidens (reprise, soon combined with the faster dancing of the boys): Moderato alla breve, 2/2, A Major
- [e’’] Dance of the Boys and 2nd Dance of the Men (reprise): Presto, 6/8, D Minor
- [c’ + a’’] General Dance: Allegro con spirito, 4/4, A Major
As an orchestral showpiece by an important nineteenth-century Russian composer, notable instrumental solos include the clarinet (in No. 8 and the Men's Dance [c]) and the oboe and English horn (in the Women's Dance [b]).
The text of the first stanza of this particular section in the opera is given below.
Улетай на крыльях ветра
Fly away on wings of wind
References in popular culture
Some Polovtsian Dances performed by Daniel Bautista (fragment).
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Most of the themes from No. 17 were incorporated into the 1953 musical Kismet, best known of which is the women's dance ("Gliding Dance of the Maidens"), adapted for the song "Stranger in Paradise". Thirteen years earlier, in 1940, Artie Shaw recorded "My Fantasy" (credited to composers Paul Whiteman, Jack Meskill, and Leo Edwards), which has a tune virtually identical to this dance. Paul Whiteman adapted the music from the Polovtsian Dances theme from Prince Igor (1890). The Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded "My Fantasy" in 1939.
The heavy metal song Lonely Winds of War by Masterplan also uses the melody in the chorus.
More recent adaptations of the music include the following: 2014 Opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympic games in Sochi.
- Julio Iglesias recorded the Polovtsian Dances under the title Quiéreme in his album Emociones, a Spanish homage to Borodin's masterpiece.
- British string quartet bond recorded an instrumental version of the women's dance in their album Shine, renamed "Strange Paradise" to fit with Kismet's use of the melody.
- Different adaptations of No. 17 "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" have been featured as background music in several Japanese animated TV series, including Princess Tutu, Noir, and Kare Kano, while it is given a special significance in RahXephon. The track "The Garden of Everything" on the top 10 Maaya Sakamoto single "Tune the Rainbow" uses it as a sub-melody.
- An arranged version of the song was used in the Nintendo DS game Magician's Quest: Mysterious Times and played on clear summer evenings.
- An arranged version of the song was created and used as the opening theme to the PlayStation 2 video game, The Sword of Etheria. The vocals are performed by Martha Matsuda. This arrangement was adapted for 'Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2.'
- An arranged version of the song was used as one of the themes for the puzzle stages in the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 video game, Catherine.
- The opening theme of the 2012 Japanese anime series "Appleseed XIII" is an adaptation of the original melody.
- A piano version of Polovtsian Dance #2 is used in the Burial at Sea, episode 1 expansion for Bioshock: Infinite.
- In the 1970s there was a television commercial for a classical music compilation set that tried to hook viewers by arguing that many of their favorite tunes were actually classical pieces. The narrator (British actor John Williams) speaks at one point, with "Stranger in Paradise" playing in the background, and says, "You may think of this as 'Stranger in Paradise,' but did you know it was from the Polovtsian Dance Number 2 by Borodin?"
- Polovtsian Dances was used a large number of times throughout the film Fire Maidens of Outer Space
- The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" section is played, to suggest loneliness and despair, during the pilot episode of the cartoon series "Ren and Stimpy" when Ren and Stimpy are jailed at the dog pound.
- The "Gliding Dance of the Maidens" was performed at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
- Cumans - the Cumans were called Polovtsy by the Rus'
- Garofala, Lynn. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. (New York, NY: DaCapo Press, 1998). p. 384.
- Borodin, A. Le Prince Igor. Partition pour chant et piano. Edition M.P. Belaieff. (Russian, French, and German text.)