Monday, March 2, 2009

Ballets Russes

Léonide Massine as the Peruvian in Gaîté Parisienne, with members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1942.

In 1907 Mikhail Folkine, (1880-1942), started to push the rules of costume in the imperial theatre. He felt that the "open parasol" look that all of the ladies wore was getting boring and pornographic, so with his Greek style ballet, Eunice, he made it look like the dancers were in bare feet, (to have bare feet or legs was against the rules of the imperial theatre), by having toes painted on the dancers' shoes. He also chose to use serious music, rather than dance music.

In 1909 Sergei, (or Serge), Diaghilev, (1872-1929), created the Ballets Russes. This dance company started with strong Russian Character works. However, Le Pavillon d'Armide was the first ballet to be shown and it had a strong French influence. One of the dancers who performed in Le Pavillon d'Armide in both St. Petersburg and Paris was Vaslav Nijinsky, (1889-1950), who is known as one of the better jumpers of all time. Also presented in Paris by the Ballets Russes was a ballet formerly known as Chopiniana, because all of its music was by Chopin, but rechristened Les Sylphides, (different from La Sylphide but given a similar name because the Paris audience had recently seen La Sylphide), for the French public. Over the next several years, the Ballets Russes performed many ballets that have since become famous including Scheherazade, (1910), Firebird, (1910), and Petroucha, (1911). 4
One of the performers in Petroucha, playing a pantomime part because he was far past his dancing prime, was Enrico Checchetti, (1850-1928). Checchetti had also been known for dancing the roles of the wicked fairy Carbosse and of the Bluebird in Petipa's 1890 The Sleeping Beauty and later became famous as the creator of the Cecchetti method of teaching ballet. In 1913, Nijinsky created a new ballet called Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring. This ballet, set to Stravinsky's score of the same name actually had the audience fighting it was so dark in its mood.
The last major production of the Ballets Russes in Paris was in 1921 and 1922, when Diaghilev restaged Petipa's 1890 version of The Sleeping Beauty. The four month run of the show did not recoup the financial outlay of the show, and as a result it was dubbed a failure. However, The Sleeping Beauty rekindled the European audience's interest in the evening-length ballet. One young dancer and choreographer with the Ballets Russes was Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze, (1904-1983), whose name was later Frenchified to George Balanchine. He choreographed several works for the Ballets Russes, the most famous of which being Apollon Musagète in 1928, which has become a classic of the neo-classical ballets. Apollon Musagète, which later became Apollo, is a one-act ballet with a Greek look to it. After Diaghilev died Balanchine left the Ballets Russes and set out on his own for a while before ending up directing the dance company Ballets 1933. When that company folded he was invited to come to America by Lincoln Kirstein, (1907-1995). Kirstein knew almost nothing about ballet, and Balanchine know almost nothing about America, (except that it produced women like Ginger Rogers), and decided to take the offer and establish ballet in America. At this time Kirstein started his wish list of ballets he wanted to see in America; leading the list was Pocahantas.
In 1934 Balanchine established the School of American Ballet, which gave its first performance, a new piece called Serenade that same year.

After the Russian Revolution ballet was saved by Anatoli Lunacharsky, the first ever People's Commissar for Enlightenment when he stated that art "creates human types and situations, which we live on from century to century and which are real to millions of people." After Lunacharsky, the Commissars allowed ballet as long as it was light and uplifting.
During the 1930s in Leningrad a ballerina made artistic director of the former Imperial Ballet, Agrippina Vaganova, (1879-1951), started to make her mark. It was in 1935 that the ballet became the Kirov Ballet. During her time as artistic director Vaganova had to deal with state regulations and do such things as change the ending of Swan Lake from tragic to uplifting. By the time the Kirov Ballet began to tour the west, Vaganova had died, however, we know her methods through her book, Fundementals of the Classic Dance, and once it was translated into English it became a "bible" of dance. In 1951, five years after her death, the Soviet government named the Leningrad Choreographic Institute after her.

In 1961 the world spotlight moved to Rudolf Nureyev, (1938-1993). After Nureyev graduated from the Kirov academy he danced with the Kirov ballet, and made news around the world as the "next Nijinsky." However, when the Kirov began to organize a Paris and London tour, his offstage disregard for Soviet ideals almost kept him from going on the tour. Then, when he was the government recalled him to the Soviet Union in the middle of the tour, he instead sought political asylum in France. After defecting, Nureyev danced with Margot Fonteyn as a partner with many companies around the world, including the National Ballet of Canada and the Australian Ballet, becoming known with Fonteyn as "Rudi and Margot." Unfortunately for Nureyev, his hoped for association with Balanchine never materialized.

After 50's

Beginning in 1956, Russian ballet companies such as Bolshoi and Kirv (now the Saint Petersburg Ballet)performend in the West for the first time after the Russian revlutin. The intense dramatic feeling and technical virtuosity of the Russians made a great impact. Russian influence on ballet continues today, both through visits frm Russian companies and the activities of defecting Soviet dancers such as Rudlf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Barishnikov.

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