Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Rene Blum's Birthday March 13, 1878

Rene Blum was a former art critic, publisher, theatre director, choreographer and the founder of the Ballet de l'Opéra at Monte Carlo. In 1931, Blum was hired to form the Ballet of the Opera of Monte-Carlo by Prince Louis II of Monaco. Also in 1931, Blum joined forces with Colonel de Basil to found the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Blum contributed the artistic vision and de Basil the business acumen. Balanchine and Massine were hired, Diaghilev's old ballets were restaged. In 1935, after quarrelling with Colonel W. de Basil, Blum left the company to form his own group. The company was called the René Blum Ballets de Monte-Carlo. Mikhail Fokine was ballet master. It eventually became the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, that was co-directed by Leonide Massine.

René Blum was arrested on December 12, 1941 in his Parisian home. He wasamong the first Jews to be arrested in Paris by the French Police. He was held in the Beaune-la-Rolande camp, then in the Drancy internment camp. On September 23, 1942, Blum was shipped to the Auschwitz concentration camp. where he was later killed by the Nazis.

Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa's Birthday March 11,1818 

Marius Petipa was a French ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer who is noted for his long career as Premier Maître de Ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, a position he held from 1871 until 1903. Marius Petipa created over fifty ballets and is considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer of ballet that has ever lived.

Petipa revived a substantial number of works created by other Ballet Masters. Many of these revivals would go on to become the definitive editions from which all subsequent productions would be based. The most famous of these revivals are Le Corsaire, Giselle, La Esmeralda, Coppélia, La Fille Mal Gardée (with Lev Ivanov), The Little Humpbacked Horse and Swan Lake (with Lev Ivanov).

Marius Petipa was born in Marseilles, France on March 11,1818. His mother Victorine Grasseau was an actress and drama, teacher, while his father, Jean Antoine Petipa was a renowned Ballet Master and teacher. At the time of Marius's birth, Jean Petipa was a Premier danseur to the the Opéra de Marseille, and in 1819 he was appointed Maître de Ballet to that theatre.

Petipa spent his early childhood travelling throughout Europe as his parents' professional engagements took them from city to city. By the time Marius was 6 years old his family had settled in Brussels, where his father was appointed Maître de Ballet and Premier danseur to the Théâtre de la Monnaie. Petipa received his general education at the Grand College in Brussels, while also attending the Brussels Conservatory where he studied music and learned to play the violin. Jean Petipa began giving Marius ballet lessons at the age of seven. At first the young boy resisted, caring very little for dance. But Marius soon came to love dance so much, and he excelled quickly. In 1827, at the age of 9, Marius performed for the first time in a ballet production in his father's staging of Pierre Gardel's 1800 ballet La Dansomani.

In 1834 the Petipa family relocated to Bordeaux, France. While in Bordeaux, Marius completed his ballet training under the great Auguste Vestris. By 1838 he was appointed Premier danseur to the Ballet de Nantes in Nantes, France. During his time in Nantes the young Petipa began to try his hand at choreography by creating a number of one-act ballets and divertissements.

By 1840, Petipa had made his début as a dancer with the famous Comédie Française in Paris, and during his first performance with the troupe he partnered the legendary Ballerina Carlotta Grisi in a benefit performance. In 1847, Petipa accepted the position of Premier danseur to the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg. The position was available due to the departure of the French danseur Emile Gredlu.

For Petipa's début, the director of the Imperial Theatres Alexander Gedeonov commissioned Petipa and the Ballet Master Pierre-Frédéric Malevergne to mount the first Russian production of Joseph Mazilier's ballet Paquita, first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1846. The ballet was given for the first time in St. Petersburg on October 8, 1847 with the Prima ballerina Yelena Andreyonova as Paquita and Petipa in the role of Lucien d’Hervilly.

The following season Petipa and his father staged a revival of Mazilier's 1840 ballet Le Diable amoureux which premiered as Satanella on February 22, 1848. The Prima Ballerina Andreyonova performed the title role, with Petipa as Fabio.

During his career, Petipa choreographed ballets and revivals including:

*Paquita (1847, *1881),*Le Corsaire (1858, 1863, 1868, 1885, 1899),The Pharaoh's Daughter (1862, *1885, *1898), Le Roi Candaule (1868, *1891, *1903), Don Quixote (1869, *1871), La Bayadère (1877, *1900), *Giselle (1884, 1899, 1903), *Coppélia (1884), *La fille mal gardée (1885), *La Esmeralda (1886, 1899), The Talisman (1889), The Sleeping Beauty (1890)
The Nutcracker (1892), Cinderella (1893), The Awakening of Flora (1894),*Swan Lake (1895)
*The Little Humpbacked Horse (1895), Raymonda (1898), The Seasons (1900), Harlequinade (1900).

Marius Petipa died on July 14, 1910 at the age of ninety-two, and was interred three days later in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.

Vaslav Nijinsky's Birthday- March 12, 1888

Nijinsky is one of, if not the most, famous male dancers of the twentieth century. Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev, Russia, March 12, 1888, while his parents, dancers Eleonora Bereda and Foma Nijinsky were on tour. He entered the Imperial School in St. Petersburg in 1898, and upon graduation in 1907 became a soloist with the Maryinsky Theatre. During a vacation, Nijinsky went to Paris with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and danced the leading roles in Le Pavillion d'Armida and Les Sylphides with Pavlova in 1909. The next year he danced the golden slave in Scheherazade. He continued to dance with the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes after 1909, even though Anna Pavlova left. Although Vaslav danced with many great ballerinas he was most associated with Tamara Karsavina, with whom he danced in 1911 in one of the most famous ballets of the time, Le Spectre de la Rose.

His ballets were controversial: in L'Apres-midi d'un Faune the dancers suggested a two-dimensional bas relief, were barefoot and the closing scene simulated masturbation. His Jeux made headlines in the morning press, and Le Sacre du Printemps had the audiences shouting obscenities in the theater and on the streets of Paris.   In 1913, the Ballets Russes toured South America, and because of his fear of ocean voyages Diaghilev did not accompany them. Without his mentor's supervision Nijinsky fell in love with Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian dancer. They were married in Buenos Aires: when the company returned to Europe, Diaghilev, in a jealous rage, fired them both. During World War I Nijinsky, a Russian citizen, was interned in Hungary. Diaghilev succeeded in getting him out for a North American tour in 1916, during which he choreographed and danced the leading role in Till Eulenspiegel. Signs of his dementia praecox were becoming apparent to members of the company. Nijinsky spent many years in and out of mental hospitals. In 1947 he moved to London, where he was cared for by his loving wife, Romola, until his death in 1950. He is buried in Paris at the Sacre Coeur cemetery.

Tamara Karsavina's Birthday-March 9, 1885

Tamara Karsavina was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. After graduating from the Imperial Ballet School, she was a leading ballerina of Tsar's Imperial Ballet, dancing the whole of the Marius Petipa repertory. Her most famous roles were Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée, Medora in Le Corsaire, and the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse. She was the first ballerina to dance in the so-called Le Corsaire Pas de Deux in 1915.

It was during the late 1910s that she began traveling regularly to Paris to dance with the Ballet Russe of Sergei Diaghilev. It was during her years with the company that she created many of her most famous roles in the ballets of Mikhail Fokine, including Petrushka, and Le Spectre de la Rose. She was perhaps most famous for creating the title role in Fokine's The Firebird (a role originally offered to Anna Pavlova, who could not come to terms with Stravinsky's score) with her occasional partner Vaslav Nijinsky.

She left Russia in 1919 after the revolution, and subsequently continued her association with the Ballet Russe as a leading Ballerina. In 1917 she married diplomat Henry James Bruce and moved to London. After settling in London, England, she began teaching ballet professionally and would become recognized as one of the founders of modern British ballet. She assisted in the establishment of The Royal Ballet and was a founder member of the Royal Academy of Dance, which is now the world's largest dance teaching organization.

Among her pupils were two prima ballerinas abssoluta, Dame Alicia Markova (the first British dancer to hold the rank of Prima Ballerina) and Dame Margot Fonteyn. She  occasionally assisted with the revival of the ballets in which she danced, notably Spectre de la Rose, in which she coached Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. In 1959 she advised Sir Frederick Ashton on his important revival of La Fille Mal Gardée for The Royal Ballet, in which she taught him Petipa's original mimed dialogue for the celebrated scene When I'm Married, as well as his choreography for the Pas de Ruban - two passages which are still retained in Ashton's production.

Composer Joseph-Maurice Ravel Birthday March 7, 1875

Ravel was a French composer, perhaps best known for his orchestral work, Bolero. Ravel was born in Ciboure, France close to the border with Spain, in 1875.

Ravel began work with Diaghliev during 1909 for the ballet Daphnis et Chloe commissioned by Diaghilev with the lead danced by Nijinsky. Daphnis et Chloé took three years to complete, with conflicts constantly arising among the principal artists, including Leon Bakst (sets and costumes), Michel Fokine (libretto), and Ravel (music). In frustration, Diaghilev nearly cancelled the project. The ballet had an unenthusiastic reception and lasted only two performances, only to be revived to acclaim a year later. Stravinsky called Daphnis et Chloé "one of the most beautiful products of all French music". So exhausting was the effort to score the ballet that Ravel's health deteriorated, soon forcing him to rest for several months.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is a modern ballet choreographed by New York City Ballet's co-founder George Balanchine to Maurice Ravel's 1919 music of the same title and orchestrated by the composer 1920. The premiere took place as part of New York City Ballet's Ravel Festival held on May 29, 1975, in the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center.

Composer Prokofiev Died March 5, 1953

Prokofiev was born in Ukraine. He composed his first opera by the age of nine. Later he applied, and was accepted into the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

He continued at the Conservatory, studying piano conducting under Nikolai Tcherepnin. He journeyed to London where he made contact with Diaghilev who commissioned Prokofiev's first ballet, Ala and Lolli. Diaghilev rejected the work when Prokofiev brought it to him in Italy in 1915. Diaghilev gave him another chance and commissioned Prokofiev to compose the ballet Chout. The ballet premiered in Paris on May 17, 1921 and was a huge success.

In 1928-1929, Prokofiev composed what was to be the last ballet for Diaghilev, The Prodigal Son, which was staged on May 21, 1929 in Paris with Serge Lifar in the title role. Diaghilev died only months later.

In 1930, Prokofiev began his first non-Diaghilev ballet On the Dnieper, Op. 51, a work commissioned by Serge Lifar who had been appointed maitre de ballet at the Paris Opera.

Another ballet commission came from the Kirov Theatre, it was the ballet Romeo and Juliet. Today, Romeo and Juliet is one of Prokofiev's best-known works. However, the ballet's original happy ending caused the premiere to be postponed for several years.

In 1943 Prokofiev composed the ballet Cinderella (Op. 87), one of his most melodious and celebrated composition.


Sol Hurock Died-March 5, 1974

Hurok was born Solomon Gurkov in 1888 in the Ukrainian village of Pogar.  When Sol was 18 years old, his father gave him money to go to Kiev, but he kept going until he reached America.  He had borrowed enough money to get to Philadelphia to live with his brother. He delivered newspapers to earn money.  Once he visited New York City and there he saw his future and moved there in 1906.

Hurok often spent time at the Hippodrome Theatre in Manhattan standing in the back.  When Anna Pavlova was performing he never missed a show, he
became such a fixture at the Hippodrome that one day Anna Pavlova's manager asked him if he would like to meet her. This meeting began a friendship and professional association that would last until Pavlova's death.  It was Pavlova who introduced Hurok to the dance world. Because of financial difficulties in 1927 Hurok was evicted from his apartment.  Even though he kept his office, he slept in Central Park rather than let anyone know of his hardships.  From the 1920's on, almost every program for a dance performance carried the heading, "S. Hurok Presents." As his success increased he finally was able to manage his idol, Fyodor Chaliapin.

Sol Hurok made ballet part of America's entertainment world. After Pavlova's last performance here in 1926, Hurok took over the management of the René Blum and Col. V. de Basil Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He brought them to the St. James Theatre in New York City in 1934. In 1935 when Rene Blum and Col. de Basil had a falling out, Blum left and started a new company. Hurok, a shrewd businessman, ended up managing both companies.

When Ballet Theatre, now ABT, founded by Lucia Chase and Anton Dolin, made its debut in 1940, many dancers left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to dance with this new company. Sol Hurok took over its management, with Chase after the first year, but that arrangement only lasted two years. During World War II, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Ballet Theatre continued to tour America. The “S. Hurok Presents” always appeared over the name of the performer or organization.

Aleksandr Golovin's Birthday March 1, 1863

Aleksandr Yakovlevich Golovin was born March 1,1863, in Moscow, Russia.  Golovin was a Russian artist and stage designer. He designed The Firebird in 1910 for Sergei Diaghilev.

In 1901, Aleksandr moved to the Saint Petersburg region from Moscow. It was here that he came into his own as a stage designer, combining symbolism and modernism on operatic and dramatic productions for Diaghilev, Meyerhold and others. After the Revolution of 1917, Golovin found work in theatre less and less often, and so delved into painting and graphic illustration. 

Amongst his many works, Aleksandr Golovin designed the image curtain for the Maryinsky Theatre.


Lubov Tchernicheva Passed Away March 1, 1976

Lubov studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg with Fokine and later with Enrico Cecchetti. She graduated in 1908, and was asked to join the Maryinsky Theatre. In 1909, Lubov married the Maryinsky Ballet Regisseur, Serge Grigoriev. Both of them Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company in 1911. Lubov became a principal dancer with Diaghilev and stayed with his company until it folded due to Diaghilev's death in 1929. Lubov garnered great success dancing Fokine roles of Zobeide, Thamar, and Cleopatra. She also danced new roles in Leonide Massine's ballets; The Good-Humoured Ladies (1917), La Boutique fantasque (1919), Pulcinella (1920), Zéphire et Flore (1925), and Le Pas d'acier (1927), Nijinska's Les Noces (1923) and Les Fâcheux (1924), and Balanchine's Jack-in-the-Box (1926), The Triumph of Neptune (1926), Apollon musagète (Calliope, 1928), and The Gods Go a-Begging (1928). In 1926 she was appointed Ballet Mistress to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company.

Three years after Diaghilev's death, in 1932 she and her husband joined Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Lubov was Ballet Mistress. She remained with the Col. de Basil's company, until it folded in 1952. Lubov came out of retirement to create the title role in Davide Lichine's Francesca da Rimini (1937). In 1952 she settled in England. Thereafter she and her husband staged productions of the Diaghilev repertoire, including Firebird for Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1954 and Petrushka for The Royal Ballet in 1957. She worked as a teacher for both Sadler's Wells Ballet and London Festival Ballet. She made her last stage appearance in 1957 as Juliet's mother in Cranko's Romeo and Juliet.

Tamara Toumanova's Birthday-March 2, 1919

Tamara was born to Georgian parents, on a train while her mother was trying to flee during the Russian Revolution.  The family eventually settled in Paris. She studied ballet with Olga Preobrajenska. Tamara made her debut at the Paris Opera at the age of nine in L'Eventail de Jeanne.  Tamara was one of the three “Baby Ballerinas”. George Balanchine saw her in ballet class and signed her to the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo at the age of 13.  Balanchine choreographed the part of the Young Girl for Tamara in his ballet Cotillon, Concurrence and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Palais de Cristal (now Symphony in C). 

Tamara was a guest artist with the American Ballet Theatre 1944-45, the Paris Opéra Ballet 1947 and 1950, De Cuevas Company 1949, La Scala 1951 and 1952, London Festival Ballet 1952 and 1954.  She passed away in Santa Monica, California, on May 29, 1996.

Lydia Sokolova's Birthday-March 4, 1886

Lydia Sokolova born Hilda Munnings, was Diaghilev's first English ballerina. Lydia received much of her training from London's Stedman Ballet Academy, Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Mordkin, and Enrico Cecchetti.  She joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company in 1913 and remained until Diaghilev died in 1929. Lydia danced every sort of role from classical to comedy. Her most famous role was that of the Chosen Maiden in Leonide Massine's revival of Le Sacre du Printemps in 1920. She also danced the lead in Massine's Le Tricorne.

When Diaghilev died many dancers had to find other employment. Lydia choreographed some London musicals and in 1935 she danced in Leon Woizikovsky's Company. She also danced in the Royal Ballet production of Massine's The Good-Humoured Ladies in 1962.

Suggested reading, book by Lydia Sokolova. Dancing for Diaghilev.

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