A RUSSIAN TRADITIONAL PUPPET THEATRE “PETRUSHKA” was founded in Moscow in 1989 by a ballet soloist Andrei Shavel and his wife, a theater artist Valentina Smirnova.
The Russian folk puppet comedy “Petrushka” has always enjoyed great success. The high rattling voice of Petrushka in former times was heard at all the fairs and folk festivals. People knew and loved him not only in Moscow and in St. Petersburg, but all around Russia. This comedy of the 19th century, in spite of its outward unpretentiousness and simplicity, did not know its equal in popularity in Russia!
The actions and words of Petrushka contradicted all accepted norms of morality and behavior, but ridiculing and overcoming abominations of the world, Petrushka was the personification of festive freedom and the joy of life.
The more sham this comedy seemed to be, the sharper and more truthful was its essence.
After the Revolution of 1917, the street comedy “Petrushka” was removed from theatrical life of the Russians for more than 70 years, which caused irreparable harm to the cultural life of the country and the harmony of theatrical genres was disturbed.
In April 1988 Andrei Shavel, who had been performing with the Carlson puppet for a number of years (made by Valentina Smirnova in the manner of a friendly caricature on her husband and almost having a portrait resemblance), together with his wife in search of opportunities to perform came to the USSR Children's Fund, where the fate brought them together with Alexander Eremeev and Alexei Belsky, two young people who came up with a proposal to create an All-Union Center for Traditional Culture.
Opening the bag and holding the wag Andrei presented them the famous puppet. Carlson took off, made a turn then stood up, hugging his knee ...
After that the following dialogue took place:
Sasha Yeremeyev: “ What is there in your briefcase? ” * The phrase was pronounced figuratively. He meant the repertoire, «briefcase» so to speak, a creative baggage.
Andrei Shavel turned to Sasha and said, pointing to Valentina Smirnova, “The briefcase is Here!”. Sasha asked Valentina the same question.

Valentina Smirnova, stepping from one foot to the other, twitching her shoulders, said: “Here, I want to make Petrushka to see how it was in reality!”.
Sasha Yeremeyev: “Can you do it?”, Valya answered “Of course!”
Thanks to those people, Valentina Smirnova and Andrei Shavel joined the Russian folk song ensemble of Dmitry Pokrovsky, where they actively began to search and reflect on the play "Petrushka".
It was Pokrovsky who negotiated about the possibility of a scientific research in the Theater Museum of A. Bakhrushin and received permission for admission of Shavel and Smirnova to the storerooms of the museum. And now – what a luck! At the end of January 1989 on the entresols of the house-museum of M. Yermolova (in the Tverskoy Boulevard in Moscow) - a branch of the Theater Museum of A. Bakhrushin, in dower chests covered with newspapers of the 1940s, Smirnova and Shavel found beautiful dolls of the 19th century from the fairy “Petrushka” Comedy.
Nothing is known about the creator of these dolls, his name remains a Secret for the Museum and for researchers. But in one of the receipt books of the museum there is a record: “a very old arrival”.
From this note it can be assumed that the founder of the museum, Alexey Bakhrushin, purchased these dolls at the beginning of the twentieth century on the “Suhharevka” (the Sukhorevsky market in Moscow) or from “Zatsepa” (the Zatsepsky market, known since 1732, located between the Paveletsky railway station and the house of Bakhrushin ).
Immediately after this discovery, the painstaking work on making the exact copies began. At first Valentina modeled Petrushkas, and then sewed them. Thus the Corporal, the Gypsy, Katya, Sultan and other puppets joined Petrushka. Impressed by this discovery, Valentina Smirnova came up with other characters for this show - the Doctor, the Death, the Horse and Petrushka's friend - Polichinel. And so after some active research, findings and making dolls, 14 months later on June 11, 1989, the first performance of the Petrushka Theater was revived after decades of prohibitions and persecutions. It took place in the park of the Grebnevo estate near the town of Fryazino. I must say, the debut was a success! At the wedding of Petrushka, the public threw 5 rubles and 50 kopeks the “cap”! It was enough for a bottle and a snack! 

Since then, the interest for Petrushka has increased. The theater was warmly and enthusiastically received in Dubna and Apatity, Ryazan and Nizhny Novgorod, Tver and Barnaul, Kuznetsk-Penzensky and Velikiy Novgorod! “The Russian traditional puppet theater “Petrushka” took part in more than 30 international festivals. In Russia and abroad he represented his beloved city Moscow and Russia in its traditional, fair genre! They stared at Petrushka in Sweden, Italy, Spain, France, Slovenia, Lithuania, Belgium and other countries.
In 2004 the theater initiated and held the International Festival "A Russian Balagan" (together with the district council of Pokrovskoe-Streshnevo, Moscow).

A ballet soloist. The first Petrushka in the USSR and in the modern Russia. In 1952, he graduated from the Moscow Choreographic College (now the Moscow Ballet Academy) under the State Academic Bolshoi Theater of the USSR, the same year he joined the ballet company of the Moscow Musical Theater named after K. Stanislavsky and V. Nemirovich-Danchenko where from 1946 (while still a second-grade student of the ballet school) took part in ballet productions of the theater. During his theater career he danced in the ballets of Fyodor Lopukhov, Vladimir Burmeister, Alexei Chichinadze, Igor Belsky, Nikolai Holfin. After serving in the theater for 31 years and having retired, from October 1977 to June 1978 he worked at the Philharmonic of the Moscow region as a teacher of classical dance and a coach of ballet pieces. In June, 1978 he was invited to the Tula Circus to create a dance and acrobatic attraction «Maslenitsa» as a choreographer and a stage director. The premiere of the performance took place on August 25, 1978 and remained in the repertoire for 27 years!

Since 1982 he has been working as a master in the mechanics of theatre puppets. Since 1986 he began working as a puppeteer. His first doll was Carlson. In 1988 he became interested in the theme of the Russian traditional festive show “Petrushka”. In 1989, he became the founder, an artist and the director of the «Russian traditional puppet theater «Petrushka» ;, which was recreated with his wife, a theater artist Valentina Smirnova. In 2005 (at the age of 73!) he graduated from the Russian Academy of Theater Arts (GITIS), a faculty of management, the course of Gennady Dadamyan.

A Member of the Union of Theater Workers of Russia since 1953.


In the year of the 75th anniversary of the Victory, the Petrushka Theater for the first time publishes Andrei Shavel’s recollection of the premiere of the ballet Straussian, which he personally attended, and which took place on October 26, 1941 at the Moscow Musical Theater. People’s Artists of the USSR K.S. Stanislavsky and Vl. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko.

The essay was written by October 2001, to the 60th anniversary of the ballet’s premiere, at the request of Natalya Vladimirovna Burmeister, daughter of Vladimir Pavlovich Burmeister.​

Dedicated to the 60th anniversary the “Straussiana” premiere.

If for my more than half a century stage life I was lucky to relive a “theatre miracle”, the first and never fading miracle still lives in my memory — the premiere of “Straussiana”, held at noon on October 26, 1941 at the Moscow Musical theatre named fater K. Stanislavsky and V. Nemirovich-Danchenko.

The time then was just horrendous: in 4 months of the war the Wehrmacht had reached right up to Moscow …. shame to recall… On October 16 a terrible panic happened in Moscow… people were leaving as best they could … air alarms became more frequent in the day time, and then sometimes the bombs fell without declaring a threat of an air attack – people stood silently in line for bread — almost no talking at all — life went on in constant suspense … But one day after an ’all-clear” from another raid, my mother said: «We go to a ballet premiere.»

— And what is ballet?

— Get dressed, you’ll see soon!

It’s a stone’s throw from the entrance yard of the Prince Gorchakov’s apartment building to the theater and in about 15 minutes before the start of the ballet we enter the theatre lobby. At the control they offer: “The program, please!” and in the wardrobe, holding out the number, they
ask: “Would you need binoculars?”

At a little distance, standing in front of a huge mirror, Mom corrects her hair, and I am covered by a state of strict solemnity of the moment and expectations of something else, not yet known, yet only forthcoming, mixed with the general anxiety and the festive bustle of the premiere.
From the entryway I can see a crowd entering the auditorium from the lobby: the Red Army soldiers and the command staff … In the 5th box where our seats were Mom puts me in the last chair on the left in the front row and I begin to stare around. All military … everywhere … few
civilians … well, very few!!​

In the next box #6, a young guy sits alone, also a military man in snow-white sheepskin coat wide open. From the guns dumped under his feet in different directions, blued barrels sticking out with chilling glare, over which the Degtyarev machine gun is anxiously blackening.

The number of people in the audience increased, the orchestra stalls and the amphitheater are full! A lot of military … Quite unexpectedly for me the house sighed and fell silent … Slowly — slowly getting dark, the chandelier is fading and the music begins. Here it is, that same unknown,
reveals itself with the beauty of an ingenuous sight that captivated me then … for all my remaining life and, I forgot, forgot about everything in the world!

The Miracle is happening on stage! Johann Strauss, charming ladies and gentlemen communicate in mutual pleasure, smile, joke, and the ladies are flirting!!! Breathtaking: they are drinking wine and having fun without any scuffle! … I’m already there, with them, in some summer Cafe … The plot is being unfolded by new characters: Junker, then Military man with a Lady, the governess with pupils … A young Girl came to a date … a wallet was stolen from the governess, topsy- turvy, all after the rogue, quickly catch up the thief …And, as I remember now, then I watched what was happening on stage with great pleasure: laughed heartily, looking at incomparable performers and inwardly shuddered, anxiously waiting to see how the acuity between the ballet characters would be resolved? The qualities of that performance, on that day, have been warming up the delights of my memories from my distant and anxious childhood for many decades … how sorry I felt for that sweetheart … and how then I sympathized with her in my childish soul! Finally, the curtain closes, applause … in my delight I beat off my hands and with chilling goose bumps my numbing body responds to the blued trunks in the next box! How could I? … watch the ballet and ….. Forget about the war?

Then for a very long time, for many, many years it was not at all clear for me: why? How could I watch the ballet and forget about the war! And thus the nine-year-old witness of that unfading Theatre Miracle still lives in my memory together with my unfading gratefulness to the most modest Moscow Ballet Masters of the Musical Theater who created the premiere of “Straussiana” in the besieged Moscow in the frightening fall of 1941.
Andrey Shavel, a Soloist of the Moscow Musical Ballet Academic Theater named after K. Stanislavsky and V. Nemirovich — Danchenko.

Moscow, February – October, 2001.


A ballet school at the Moscow Musical Theatre was established in 1945 and by fate or by coincidence but it so happened that I was accepted there as a student and the participants and creators of “Straussiana” ballet became my teachers. My memories are the evidence of their hard work invested in the defense of Moscow.

Andrey Shavel
March. 2013​

In 1968, she brilliantly graduated from the School of Industrial Toys in Zagorsk, Moscow region (now Sergiev Posad). Having received a diploma of an artist-designer of a children’s toy, she chose the Tashigrushka factory to start her work. A year later, her career as a theater artist began at the Russian Drama Theater of Uzbekistan, which successfully continued at the State Finnish Drama Theater (now the National Theater of the Republic of Karelia in Petrozavodsk).

At the very beginning of her career, Valentina Smirnova received the «blessing» of such a famous theater artist as Tatiana Bruni, who noted the inherent ability of a young artist to «see space and the accuracy of drawing an image.» In different years, she participated in zonal exhibitions and worked in many theaters of the country.

Since 1972, she has designed more than 30 performances, created puppets and scenography for performances in Izhevsk, Orel, Kursk, Khabarovsk, Moscow, made sketches for costumes for the ballet «The Nutcracker» in the GABT of the Uzbek SSR. Valentina Ivanovna was the main artist of puppet theaters in Petrozavodsk, Ufa, Tver, Vologda, Vladivostok, Rostov-on-Don. Collaborated with the drama theater «Participation» and the musical theater «Composer» in Moscow. She was repeatedly awarded diplomas for the design of puppet shows. By order of the Ministry of Culture of the RSFSR, she was awarded the highest rating «Chief Artist».

Since 1982 in VTMEI (All-Union Workshop of Pop Art) under the leadership of Leonid Semenovich Maslyukov) realized her talent in a new genre for herself: she created costumes, many of which she painted by hand, ventrological dolls and stunt puppets with complex mechanics, illusionary and variety programs, dance shows created by outstanding masters of the variety. In 1989, she became the founder, chief artist and organ grinder of the «Russian Traditional Puppet Theater «Petrushka» recreated together with her husband, ballet soloist Andrei Shavel.

In 1994, Irina Slutskaya, a future multiple Olympic champion of Europe and the world, a member of the Russian national figure skating team, performed her free program in costumes created according to sketches by Valentina Smirnova, having won gold and her first championship title.
Member of the Union of Theatrical Figures of Russia since 1977.