Category Imperial Russian Ballet

Three generations of Fokine’s Dying Swan and Costume Design by Karl Lagerfeld.

Karl Lagerfeld designs a costume for The Dying Swan.

Fokine’s ‘The Dying Swan’ to solo cello ‘Le Cygne’ from Saint-Saens’s ‘Carrnival of Animals’. The idea for the dance originated with Palova’s reading of Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Dying Swan’. It was first performed by Pavlova in St. Petersburg (1905).

Fokine remarked in Dance Magazine (August 1931):

It was almost an improvisation. I danced in front of her [Pavlova], she directly behind me. Then she danced and I walked alongside her, curving her arms and correcting details of poses. Prior to this composition, I was accused of barefooted tendencies and of rejecting toe dancing in general. The Dying Swan was my answer to such criticism. This dance became the symbol of the New Russian Ballet. It was a combination of masterful technique with expressiveness. It was like a proof that the dance could and should satisfy not only the eye, but through the medium of the eye should penetrate the soul.

The dance is technically more difficult than it may appear. The dancer moves constantly using  different bourrees. The feet must be beautiful, expressing a trembling. All pauses in sus-sous must show legs brought to one point. The arms and the back work independently of the feet which continue to move regularly.

Here is Anna Pavlova, 1905 Kirov ballet:

Each ballerina has a personal interpretation. I have chosen films I especially love. I could not find one for Fonteyn which was a great disappointment. So I used this clip from Fonteyn and Nureyev in ‘Swan Lake’:

An extraordinary version with Nina Ananiashivili ballerina of the Gerogia State Ballet:

Svetlana Zakharova dancing:

Zakharova in class:

A simple elegance and sense of design with Uliana Lopatkina:

Finally, Nuria Moreno from The Lindsay Kemp Company performing choreography by Marco Berriel:

Mikhail Fokine’s Firebird and Petruchka- ‘We did stagger the world’.

I particularly like Nina Ananiashvilli as The Firebird  because she  is a wild bird- like creature.

On this site I have shown the exotic pas de deux from Fokine’s Sheherazade. Fokine’s ability to contribute ballets about the Russian soul leaves us with arguably ballets richest legacy. While Petipa borrowed ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from the Brothers Grimm, who collected folklore and did research into cultural history from the turn of the Eighteenth Century, Fokine  was to look closer to home. in keeping with the Romantic period, of which they were part, the Grimm brothers tales were dark and violent. Fokine’s later explorations were part of a Russian movement at the turn of the Nineteenth Century to establish a national identity.

Fokine is often considered Romantic but this is a mistake. ‘Here was a new dance drama of the twentieth century, shorn of the automatic trappings of the old ballet of Imperial Russia, reaching out directly to the public in movement that told the story through the actions of the dance rather than the gestures of conventional mime. The choreography spoke, and created a world through collaboration with its music and design. This new expressivity was owed to Mikhail Fokine.’ [Clement Crisp in ‘Mariinsky Ballet, 50th Anniversary Season’ in London]

Designer Alexandre Benois and choreographer Fokine wrote the scenario for ‘The Firebird’ which was an adaptation of two old Russian fairytales, ‘The Firebird’ and ‘Kostchei the Immortal’ . Stravinsky put aside other work between September 1909 and March 1910 to work on the score. The premier choreographed by Fokine with designs by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Golovine  premiered at the Paris Opera on 25 June 1910. Karsavina and Fokine danced the original roles.

Margot Fonteyn  captures the spirit of the Firebird:

Ekaterina Kondaurova is technically beautiful but doesn’t seem a firebird. I think the music may be played more slowly which reduces the impact of Stravinsky:

In 1911, Fokine, Benois and Stravinsky jointly created ‘Petrushka’ for Diaghilev. In this ballet , they sought to recreate the Petersburg Butterweek Fairs. I will show you the versions I prefer.

Nureyev and Pontois in 1976:

Petipa creates Le Corsaire, Sergeyev invents Choreographic Notation and lifts develop in breathtaking Anyuta.

“Louis Merante and Marfa Muravieva in  Paris in 1863.”

Arthur St. Leon in 1865.

Although Saint-Leon was Petipa’s superior, they were treated as equals by the critics and by balletomanes, and the Imperial Ballet flourished through their rival efforts in the 1860s.The  two Ballet Masters (Petipa was the ‘Second Maitre de Ballet’ ) each had his audience following and worked with specific ballerinas. Petipa mounted most of his works for his wife, while Saint-Leon choreographed for Marfa Muravieva. Despite their rivalry, they both set their ballets to music by Cesare Pugni. I (n 1868 Petipa revived ‘ Le Corsaire’ for the visiting ballerina, Adele Grantzow, for which he included the famous scene, ‘La Jardin Anime’.

Joseph Mazilier in 1860.

‘Le Corsaire’ had first been staged in St. Petersburg in 1858 by Jules Perrot, the ballet master of Romantic Ballet. The male lead had been danced by a young Petipa. Joseph Mazilier (1801-1868) French dancer, ballet master and choreograher, who had originally created the ballet in 1856, had come out of retirement to mount a revival for the 1867 Exposition Universelle. Adele Grantow had performed in that production before her guest appearance in the same role in St. Petersburg.

In 1894 the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres began a project to document the ballet. A method of choreographic notation was devised by Vladimir Sergeyev (1866-1896). Petipa’s most important revival was in 1899.

 ‘A page of the Stepanov choreographic notation from the Sergeyev Collection for the Petipa/Minkus ‘La Bayadere’ circa 1900′.

Today the ballet is performed in two different versions of the old:

1.A version staged by Pyotr Gusev for the Kirov’s 1977 production.

2. A version staged by the ballet master, Konstantin Sergeyev for the Kirov in 1973, and later for the Bolshoi in 1992.

The word to describe the first film of ‘Le Corsaire’ is ‘beautiful’ in choreography, costumes and Zakharova’s  feet. The music is by Delibes.

My next offering I stumbled upon by mistake and I do not want to lose it. So here is the pas de deux from ‘Anyuta’. It is based on a story by Chekhov  (1860-1904), ‘Anna On the Neck’. The choreographer is Vladimir Vasiliev, designer, Bella Manevich,composer, Valery Gavrilin. Yekaterina Maximova and Vasiliev dance. It brought tears to my eyes- Maximova’s performance. This piece is modern; it had its premier at the Bolshoi in May 1982. It is interesting to compare the choreography with Petipa’s, especially look how lifts have developed.

Tanaquil Leclercq: ‘Anyuta: Pas de Deux’ with Maximova and Vasiliev  dancing.

To finish today, we have Karsavina in ballet class. Many of the ballerinas seen here have been brought up on such exercises.

Tamara Kasavina of course wrote her autobiography, ‘Theatre Street’. I was most impressed by the fact that malaria was rampant in St. Petersburg, and she had to hide the fact that she had caught it from the ballet school. She looks abit chubby but that may just be old cameras.