Category Imperial Russian Ballet

Marius Alphonse Petipa (1818-1910). Part I

“This is Marius Petipa at about fifteen years of age. Circa 1833″

Marius Alphonse Petipa (1818-1910).

b. Marseilles, France. His father, Jean Antoine was a prominent ballet master and teacher. When Marius was born, his father was premier danseur at the Salle Bauveau (today’s Opera de Marseille) . His mother Victorine Grasseau was a  tragic actress and drama teacher. Marius spent his childhood travelling throughout Europe on tour with his parents. At six, he finally was settled in Brussels, receiving his general education at the Grand College in Brussels and at the Brussels  Conservatory, where he learned to play the violin.

His father began instructing him in dance at the age of seven. On the 25th August 1830, at the Theatre de la Monnaie, Brussels (where Marius’s Father was ballet master) after a performance of  Daniel Auber’s opera, ‘La muette de Portici’ (the mute girl of Portici) a riot broke out which became the signal for the Belgian Revolution of  independence. This same opera had been revived in Paris after the July Revolution of 1830. R. Wagner in his 1871 ‘Reminiscences of Auber’, said that the opera,  “whose very representation had brought [revolutions] about, was recognised as an obvious precusor of the July Revolution and seldom has an artistic product stood in closer connection with a world-event.” In the event, the Theatre de la Monnaie was closed, and Jean had no work. There was another famous performance, 229 years earlier, which was meant to serve as a rallying cry for rebellion against Elizabeth I: Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II': Shakespeare’s play appears to have played a minor role in the events surrounding the final downfall of Essex. On 7 February 1601, just before the uprising, supporters of the Earl of Essex, among them Charles and Joscelyn Percy (younger brothers of the Earl of Northumberland), paid for a performance at the Globe Theatre on the eve of their armed rebellion. By this agreement, reported at the trial of Essex by the Chamberlain’s Men actor Augustine Phillips, the conspirators paid the company forty shillings “above the ordinary” (i. e., above their usual rate) to stage this play, which the players felt was too old and “out of use” to attract a large audience.[10] Eleven of Essex’s supporters attended the Saturday performance. Elizabeth was aware of the political ramifications of the story of Richard II: according to a well-known but dubious anecdote, in August 1601 she was reviewing historical documents relating to the reign of Richard II when she supposedly remarked to her archivist William Lambarde, “I am Richard II, know ye not that?” In the same historical report the Queen is said to have complained that the play was performed forty times in “open streets and houses” but there is no extant evidence to corroborate this tale. At any rate, the Chamberlain’s Men do not appear to have suffered at all for their association with the Essex group; they performed for the Queen on Shrove Tuesday in 1601, the day before Essex’s execution.[10] ^ a b c d Bate, Jonathan (2008). Soul of the Age. London: Penguin. pp. 256-286. ISBN 978-0-670-91482-1 Richard II speaking: (III sc.ii) ‘Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings; how some have been deposed; […]

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The year is 1834 and Marius’s family have relocated to Bordeaux, France. While in Bordeaux, Marius completed his dance training with Auguste Vestris. In 1838 he became premier danseur to the Ballets de Nante in Nante. During his time in Nante, he began creating one-act ballets, divertissements. Marius accompanied a group of French dancers, including his father, to New York City in July 1839 . They performed Jean Coralli’s ballet  ‘La taratule’ at the National Theater on Broadway, and this is claimed to be the first ballet performance in New York. The visit was a fiasco and Marius managed to return to Paris. In 1840, Marius made his debut with the Comedie Francaise in that city. During his first performance with the troupe, he partnered Carlotta Grisi.

In 1841 he became premier danseur at the Grand Theatre in Bordeaux. This enabled him to carry on his training with Vestris. While in Bordeaux, he began mounting his own full-length productions. Marius spent 1843-46 as premier danseur in the King’s Theatre in Madrid where he developed a knowledge of traditional Spanish dancing and created ballets on a Spanish theme, such as ‘Carmen et son torero’. He also dallied with the wife of the Marquis de Chateaubriand and found himself challenged to a duel, which to escape, he fled to Paris, to remain for a short time. In 1847 he was offered the position of premier danseur in the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg, Russia. Marius’s father, Jean, relocated to St. Petersburg in 1848, where he taught the classe de perfection at the Imperial Ballet School until his death in 1855. For his debut in St. Petersburg in 1847, Marius danced the male lead in Joseph Mazillier’s ballet, ‘Paquita’, with Yelena Andreyanova in the title role.

This seems to be a Kirov performance. The ballet has an antique look, although I cannot confirm that this is original choreography. By antique look, I mean carefully forming and holding body positions especially arabesques a terre, intricate footwork, more use of strength in releve and balance en pointe than emphasis upon extension, use of tour jete, much porte de bras, the little initial beats of two heels, the uncomplicated pas de deux work, which emphasizes the ballerina.

Most beautiful and expressive arms and torso. A very musical dancer. Nuance of foot work.

Alexandre Benois , an historic footnote to costume design:

From 1901, Alexandre Benois was scenic director at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. This was the performance space for the Imperial Russian Ballet. He was to work with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and to design the sets and costumes for

‘Les Sylphides’ (1909) ‘Giselle’ (1910)  and ‘Petrushka’(1911).


 In Charles Nicoll’s scholarly book, ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, Nicoll recounts

a story:

[ The whereabouts of a Leonardo Madonna and Child]… ‘until the early nineteenth century are uncertain, though it may be the Madonna and Child described in 1591as a ‘small panel in oils from the hand of Leonardo’, which was then in the house of the Botti family in Florence. In the 1820s it unexpectedly surfaced in the Crimean province of Astrakhan. According to one account, it arrived there in the baggage of an itinerant Italian musician. By 1824 it was in the possession of the Sapojnikov family of Astrakhan; it was on this date, according to family records, that it was transferred to canvas by a restorer named  Korotkov.’


Leon Benois, a brother of Alexandre, was a famous architect and artist, as well. He was married to a Sapojnikov and lived in France. He was also the grandfather of Peter Ustinov, the actor.

The Leonardo Madonna hung in their home in France. There Alexandre and his   other brother, Albert, must have been able to gaze upon it. When Leon died, his wife returned to St. Petersburg and exhibited the Madonna for the first time in 1908. It became known as Leonardo’s ‘Benois Madonna’ and was purchased by Tsar Nicolas II in 1914 for the Hermitage. Wikipedia gives a different version of the story. Regardless, The Benois family owned a Leonardo which was, according to Wikipedia, sold to the Astrakhan merchant Sapojnikov sometime after 1790 for 1400 roubles .

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