Monday, March 2, 2009

Classical Period I

But by the late 19th century ballet in Russia was a stagnant form where the virtuoso demonstration of classical technique had become an end in itself while the narrative was enlivened only by character dances. It was Frenchman, Marius Petipa (1818-1910), who decisively refashioned this failing art form, structuring the haphazard tradition he had inherited, making a virtue of what would later be seen as its weakness - the deliberate lack of dramatic unity. It was the lack of quality symphonic music that had hitherto prevented a complete unification with the increasing complexities of ballet movement. It was Petipa who introduced the strict proportions between mime and dance, and established the ensembles of the corps de ballet and the precise rules for the order of dancing in a pas de deux.
Marius Petipa was still a leading dancer with the St. Petersburg ballet in 1862 when he created his first multi-act ballet for the tsar's imperial theatre, The Pharoh's Daughter, an incredible fantasy that included such Egyptian happenings as mummies awakening and poisonous snakes, much like an Indiana Jones movie. This ballet led to other ballets and eventually to what the world considers Classical Ballet.
In 1869 Petipa took over the position of Ballet Master in Chief to the Imperial Tsar. In his role of leadership Petipa created many multi- and single-act ballets for presentation on the imperial stages of Russia. In 1869 he went to Moscow and created Don Quixote for the ballet of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Then in 1877 he created La Bayadère for the Bolshoi Theatre in St. Petersburg, (There was a Bolshoi in both Moscow and in St. Petersburg - the word Bolshoi meaning "big").
In earlier years Petipa had choreographed the dances of les wilis in the second act of Giselle while acting as an assistant to Perrot and this form of female corps dancing representing shadows or spirits became known as ballet blanc and is common to Giselle, La Bayadère, and many other ballets.
Also in 1877 a ballet so popular its name and image represents classical ballet premiered in Moscow. Swan Lake, set to Tchaikovsky's first ballet score was the first of the "Big Three" of Russian Ballet. Originally set by Austrian Wenzel Reisinger, (1827-1892), Swan Lake has been reworked by many people including Joseph Hansen, (1842-1907), and then again by Petipa in 1895.
During the 1880s Petipa restaged in Russia two ballets that had been very successful in Paris. The first was Giselle which he had been involved in the first time, and the second was Saint-Léon's Coppelia, (originally presented in 1870). Interestingly enough, it was the music to Coppelia which inspired Tchaikovsky to write music for the ballet. With Petipa as the chief ballet master, many more Russian born and trained ballerinas danced on the imperial stages at this time than did at the beginning of Russian ballet. Now the Russians are known the world over as ballet dancers of extreme quality.
In 1890 the Italian ballerina Carlotta Brianza, (1867-1930), was chosen by Petipa to dance the title role in a new ballet called Spyashchaya Krasavitsa in Russian, La belle au Bois Dormant by the Francophile Russian Court, and The Sleeping Beauty in English. With music by Tchaikovsky composed "to spec" for Petipa, this ballet is the second of the Russian "Big Three" and is one of the great classical ballet masterpieces.
Then, continuing on their roll of success, in 1892 Petipa, Tchaikovsky, designer Ivan Vsevolozhsky, and assistant ballet master Lev Ivanov, (1834-1901), created The Nutcracker. This third of the Russian "Big Three" was based on a sweetened French retelling of the story by E.T.A. Hoffman. The Nutcracker has enjoyed huge popularity in hundreds of different versions as a "Christmas ballet."
In 1895 Petipa restaged Swan Lake including major choreographic additions. One of these was as the thirty two fouetté turns in the coda of the pas de deux from the ballroom scene. In 1898 Petipa choreographed his last ballet with any staying power. Raymonda is a three-act ballet with music by Alexander Glazunov. Similar in style to the three Tchaikovsky ballets Raymonda is very difficult to follow because it showcases an impressive variety of dancing more than it portrays its plot line.

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