Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Adolph Bolm Birthday September 25, 1884

Adolph Bolm was a student at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg, Russia.  Bolm joined the Corps de Ballet of the Maryinsky Theater in 1903.  From 1908 to 1909, he partnered legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova.  He joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes for their 1909 Paris season as a leading dancer.  Bolm was an outstanding character dancer and scored great successes as the chief warrior in Mikhail Fokine's Polovtsian Dances and Pierrot in his Le Carnaval.  He did not join the Ballets Russes on their 1910 tour, but in 1911 he left the Maryinsky to become a regular member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

 After the company's second half of the American tour in the Fall of 1916, he decided to stay in the United States. In 1918, he was the choreographer for the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Civic Opera in 1920. Adolph Bolm toured South America in 1928 and took up residence in Hollywood where he choreographed many movies. He was the guest choreographer for the first season of the San Francisco Ballet in 1933.  In 1940, Adolph Bolm choreographed Peter and the Wolf for Ballet Theatre in New York City. 

Bolm passed away on April 16, 1951 in Hollywood California.

Ida Rubinstein Dies September 20, 1960

Born into a wealthy Jewish family but sadly orphaned at an early age. Ida had, by the standard of Russian ballet, little formal training until she was under the private tutelage of Mikhail Fokine. In 1909, Diaghilev hired her to dance with his Ballets Russes and she danced the title role of "Cléopâtre" in the innaugural Paris season.  The costumes were designed by Leon Bakst, and the finale inspired Kees van Dongen's Souvenir of the Russian Opera Season 1909.

Ida Rubinstein danced with Diaghilev's Ballet Russe again in the 1910 season, performing in Scheherazade.  The ballet is based on the story of the Thousand and One Nights, choreographed by Fokine and written by him and Léon Bakst.

In 1911, she performed in Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien. Gabriele d'Annunzio wrote the part for her and it was scored by Claude Debussy. This was both a triumph for its stylized modernism and a scandal; the Archbishop of Paris requested Catholics not attend because St. Sebastian was being played by a woman and a Jew.

Felia Doubrovska (February 13, 1896 – September 18, 1981)

Felia Doubrovska was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. She trained at the Imperial Ballet School and was accepted into the Maryinsky Ballet in 1913. She joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1920, creating roles in Bronislava Nijinska's Les Noces in 1923, Balanchine's Apollon Musagète, and Prodigal Son in 1928 and 1929. Felia danced with Serge Diaghilev during the final 1929 tour.

Felia married acclaimed Russian dancer, Pierre Vladimiroff in 1921. They moved to the United States in 1934. Felia was guest ballerina with Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1937 and later joined the ballet at New York's Metropolitan Opera from 1938 to 1939.

Felia retired from performing and became a distinguished teacher at the School of American Ballet, until her death at the age of 84. Felia died September 18, 1981 in New York City.

Lubov Tchernicheva Birthday September 17, 1890

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.

Alexandre Volinine Birthday September 16, 1882

Alexandre Volinine was born in Moscow on September 16, 1882.  He was a Russian-French dancer and teacher. Volinine studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School, with Tikhomirov and Gorsky and he graduated in 1901. After graduating, Alexandre Volinine was invited to join the Bolshoi Ballet and was quickly promoted to principal danseur in 1903. Volinine created roles in Gorsky's Robert and Bertram (1906) and Nur and Anitra (1907), and danced all the leading male roles in the classical repertoire. 

He left the Bolshoi in 1910, first dancing with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the 1910 Paris season.  It was here that he danced a principal role in Fokine's Les Orientales, and then toured with Lydia Lopokova (1910-11) in America. He appeared with Gertrude Hoffmann's so-called Ballets Russes at the Winter Garden Theater in New York in 1911 and with Mordkin's All-Star Imperial Russian Ballet (1911-12). Later Volinine partnered Adeline Genée on tour to America, Australia, and New Zealand (1912-13); also partnered Lydia Kyasht at the Empire Theatre in London in 1913.

Volinine most famous partner was Anna Pavlova.  He danced with Anna Pavlova's company on its various world tours from 1914 to 1925, partnering Anna Pavlova and creating the role of the Young Poet in her Autumn Leaves (1919). In 1926, having retired from the stage, he opened a famous school in Paris, where his students included Babilée, Eglevsky, Jeanmaire, and Lichine. In 1946 he staged Giselle for the Royal Danish Ballet.

Olga Spessivtseva Died September 16, 1991

Olga was born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. She was the daughter of an opera singer. After her father's death, she was sent to an orphanage in St. Petersburg with theatrical connections. She entered St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet Academy in 1906, where she was a student of Klavdia Kulichevskaya and later of Agrippina Vaganova. After graduating in 1913, she joined the Mariinsky Theater, where she was promoted to soloist in 1916. An exquisite romantic dancer with perfect technique, ideally suited for roles such as Giselle and Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, she quickly became one of the most admired dancers in the company.

In 1916, Diaghilev invited her to tour with his Ballets Russes in the United States.  Olga  danced with Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose, Les Sylphides and the Bluebird pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. In 1918 she returned to the Mariinsky, and was promoted to ballerina. In 1921, Olga performed with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as Aurora, in his revived The Sleeping Princess in London.  She continued to perform with the Ballets Russes abroad, at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1923. With the aid of her ex-husband Boris Kaplun, a Bolshevik functionary and lover of the arts, she left Russia for the last time in 1924, accepting an invitation to dance as an étoile (prima ballerina) at the Paris Opera Ballet, where she remained until 1932.

In 1932, Olga made another memorable guest appearance in London, dancing Giselle with Anton Dolin. From 1932 to 1937, Olga toured with a number of companies throughout the world, performing roles from both the classical repertoire and contemporary ballets by choreographers such as Michel Fokine and Bronislava Nijinska.   In 1939, Olga moved to the United States where she taught and served as an advisor to the Ballet Theatre Foundation.

Olga suffered a nervous breakdown in 1943, and she was hospitalized. She remained institutionalized until 1963 when, with the help of her friends Anton Dolin and Felia Doubrovska, Olga was discharged and settled in Valley Cottage on the Tolstoy Farm.  The Tolstoy Farm is a Russian community run by the Tolstoy Foundation in New York's Rockland County.  It was founded by Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of the novelist, as a rest home for Russians. Recovered, she lived there in peaceful retirement for nearly three decades, dying at the age of 96. 

The BBC put out a short programme about her life in 1964, and two years later Anton Dolin wrote a book about her. The title of both was 'The Sleeping Ballerina'.

Andre Derain Artist Dies September 8, 1954

Derain was a French painter and co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse.  André Derain was born June 10th in 1880 in Île-de-France, just outside Paris. In 1898, while studying to be an engineer at the Académie Camillo, he attended painting classes under Eugène Carrière, and there met Matisse. Matisse persuaded Derain's parents to allow him to abandon his engineering career and devote himself solely to painting; subsequently Derain attended the Académie Julian.  Derain and Matisse worked together through the summer of 1905 in the Mediterranean.

In 1919, Andre designed the ballet La Boutique Fantasque for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. A major success, it would lead to his creating many ballet designs.  He died in Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France in 1954 when he was struck by a moving vehicle.

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