Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

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This Blog is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and memories of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, its legendary ballet dancers, choreographers, scenery artists, musicians and composers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Colonel Wassily de Basil Died July 27, 1951

Colonel Wassily de Basil was born Vassily Grigorievich Voskresensky in Kaunas, Lithuania. He is said to have been a colonel in the Cossack army although his claim to the title "Colonel" is disputed. De Basil was demobilised from the army in 1919 and worked as an entrepreneur in Paris.
Following the death of
Sergei Diaghilev in 1929, the members of his Ballets Russes went in many directions. De Basil and René Blum, ballet director at the Monte Carlo Opera, founded the Ballets Russes de Monte-Carlo in 1931. The ballet gave its first performance in Monte Carlo in 1932. Blum and de Basil did not agree artistically, leading to a split, after which Col. Basil renamed his company initially Ballets Russes de Colonel W. de Basil.

When Massine discovered his ballets belonged to Colonel de Basil, he brought a law suit in London that captured the imagination of the press. They reported the events of the trial daily. Finally, the courts decided Colonel de Basil did own the ballets. Both companies could use the name Ballet Russe, but de Basil had to drop "de Monte Carlo." Sol Hurok also severed his connection with Colonel de Basil's company and became manager for Leonide Massine and Rene Blum. Sol Hurok was sure the American public could not support two companies, so he tried to get the companies back together.

Meanwhile, Col. W. de Basil's company called themselves Covent Garden Ballet Russe, and finally Original Ballet Russe. In 1938, the two companies were performing in London at the same time. Col. de Basil was at Covent Garden and Blum was two blocks away at the Drury Lane. Ballet lovers could run back and forth, from one theater to the other, and see the ballets of their choice.

Through an all-night session, the management of the two companies got together and ironed out their differences. But at the last moment Colonel W. de Basil said no to the offer. Once Hurok was managing both companies at the same time, and he booked the Ballet Russe to play four weeks at the Hollywood Theatre (now called the Mark Hellinger), immediately followed by the Original Ballet Russe. It was the longest ballet season to hit New York -- a solid fifteen weeks. For years, dancers would perform in one company one season and in another company the next.

Vera Karalli's Birthday! July 27, 1889

Vera was born in Moscow and graduated from the Moscow Theatre School in 1906 under the direction of the prominent Russian instructor Alexander Gorsky. She performed with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the premier season in Paris in 1909, as well as 1919 and 1920. She became a soloist at the Bolshoi Theatre after two years and became a Ballerina in 1915. Vera was often paired with danseur Mikhail Mordkin.

In 1914, Vera Karalli also embarked on a successful acting career, and became one of Russia's first celebrated film actresses. Her first role was in the 1914 Pyotr Chardynin directed drama Ty pomnish' li? opposite the successful actor Ivan Mozzhukhin. From 1914 to 1919, Vera Karalli would appear in approximately sixteen Russian silent films, including the 1915 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace entitled Voyna i mir.

Her last film appearance was in a German dramatic release entitled Die Reiche einer Frau in 1921. Often chosen as a leading lady by the notable director Yevgeni Bauer, Karalli is possibly best recalled for her performances in the Bauer directed adaptations of novelist Ivan Turgenev's Posle smerti in 1915 and her role as Gizella in the 1917 melodrama Umirayushchii Lebed.

In 1920, Karalli participated in a large a charity concert at the Paris Opéra along with opera singer and dancer Maria Kuznetsova amongst others, to raise funds to aid impoverished fellow Russian émigrés.

Vera Karalli also taught dance in Kaunas, Lithuania and from 1930 until 1935, Vera was the Ballet Mistress of the Romanian Opera in the capital city of Bucharest. From 1938 until 1941 Karalli lived in Paris, France. Later, she settled in Vienna, Austria and taught ballet there until her death in Baden, Austria in 1972.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sir Anton Dolin - Born July 27, 1904

Sir Anton Dolin was born in Slinfold in Sussex, England. Dolin was trained by the notable Russian teachers Serafima Astafieva and Bronislava Nijinska. Anton joined the Corps de Ballet of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1921. As a soloist with Diaghilev’s company, he created the leading role in Nijinska’s Train Bleu (1924) and an important role (one of two Servants) in George Balanchine’s Prodigal Son (1929). Dolin was also noted for such creations as Satan in Ninette de Valois’s Job (1931) and the title role in Michel Fokine’s Bluebeard (1941).

Dolin joined the Ballet Theatre, (now American Ballet Theatre) at its inception in 1940, remaining until 1946 as a dancer and choreographer.

Dolin was a Principal danseur with the Vic-Wells Ballet (now Royal Ballet) in the 1930s where he danced with Alicia Markova. Later, Dolin and Markova went on to found the Markova-Dolin Ballet. In 1949, he and Markova founded another company that in 1950 became London’s Festival Ballet; Dolin was premier danseur and artistic director until 1961. He then organized and toured with the troupe Stars of the Ballet, worked as choreographer and director of the Rome Opera Ballet, and served as artistic adviser to Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

As a Choreographer, Dolin's original ballets include Capriccioso (1940), The Romantic Age (1942), and Variations for Four (1957), a popular all-male divertissement. Dolin is particularly noted for his reconstruction (1941) of Jules Perrot’s classical divertissement, Pas de Quatre.

Dolin wrote several books, including the autobiography Ballet Go Round (1938) and Alicia Markova: Her Life and Art (1953). He was knighted in 1981, and died in Paris, France in 1983.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Choreographer Marius Petipa's Passing - July 14, 1910

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.(Petipa's funeral - photo above)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Olga Alexandrovna Spessivtzeva's B-day July 18, 1895

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, Olga joined the Mariinsky Theater, where she was promoted to a Soloist in 1916. Olga was 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 Maryinsky, and was promoted to Ballerina. In 1921, Olga performed again 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. Olga 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'.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mia Slavenska - Retired From Stage July 17, 1961

Mia Slavenska was a famous Croatian-born Prima Ballerina. A dancer since the age of four, she became the Prima Ballerina with the Zagreb Opera. Mia Slavenska was born in what was Austria-Hungary, later to become the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Born as Mia Čorak, she changed her name soon after permanently leaving the country in 1937.

She studied in Zagreb under Josephine Weiss and made her debut in the Croatian National Theatre. Mia became Prima Ballerina in Zagreb by the age of 17. At the 1936 Berlin Dance Olympics, she won both the Choreography and Dance Award. She left Zagreb to study in Paris with former Ballets Russes principal dancer Olga Preobrazenska. Mia completed her ballet training in the Cecchetti Method under his protégé Maestro Vincenzo Celli.

For many years, Mia danced with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She moved to U.S. in the outset of the World War II, gaining her American citizenship in 1947. Also in 1947, she gave birth to her daughter Maria. In 1950, she co-founded the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet Company, with Freddie Franklin. In 1954, she became the Prima Ballerina of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

Mia opened a ballet studio in New York in 1960. In 1961, Mia danced at Brooklyn College, New York, partnered by Igor Youskevitch. She retired from the stage on July 17th, 1961 at the American Dance Festival held at the Metropolitan Arts Center.

Later, Mia moved to California where she taught at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1969 to 1983 and concurrently at California Institute for the Arts (CalArts) from 1970 to 1983. Mia died in a California retirement home on October 5, 2002. On April 18, 2005, Mia's ashes were interred in the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia. A biography on Mia's life was published in Croatia in 2004.

See more photos of Mia, and read a March 1973 Dance Magazine article about Mia, in our Photo Album of her.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mikhail Mordkin Passed Away July 15, 1944

Mikhail Mikhailovich Mordkin, Russian dancer and teacher was born in Moscow, on December 9, 1880, into the family of the violinist of the Imperial Theatres. At the age of nine he entered Moscow Imperial Ballet School. Mikhail Mordkin was one of two of the male stars of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909. Mordkin was trained at the Bolshoi, in Moscow, graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet School in 1899. In the same year, he was appointed soloist and then premier danseur. He joined Diaghilev for his Paris season as a leading dancer, ranking above Nijinsky. On the opening night of Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909, Mordkin danced the leading role in Michael Fokine's Le Pavillon d'Armide.

After the first season, he remained in Paris to dance with Anna Pavlova, going on to form his own company, All Star Imperial Russian Ballet, which toured America in 1911 and 1912. Mikhail returned to the Bolshoi and was appointed its Director in 1917.

He left Russia after the October Revolution, first working in Lithuania, and finally settling in the United States in 1924. He founded the Mordkin Ballet in 1926. His company included such distinguished artists as Hilda Butsova, Felia Doubrovska, Pierre Vladimiroff, and Nicholas Zvereff. But after a European tour, the company disbanded in the same year. From among his students in America, he formed a new Mordkin Ballet in 1937, now American Ballet Theatre. His student, Lucia Chase, helped to initially finance the company and after the first season, she took over the management from Mordkin.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alexandra Danilova Passed Away July 13, 1997

Alexandra Danilova, or Choura, was born in Peterhorf, Russia on November 20,1903. She trained at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersberg, Russia. After her graduation, she was asked to join the Corps de Ballet of the Soviet State Ballet at the Maryinsky Theatre. Danilova left Russian with the Soviet State Dancers, a company formed by fellow dancer Vladimir Dimitriev. During summer vacation from performances at the Maryinsky, the company toured Berlin, Germany and the dancers defected, never to return to Russia again. The company left Berlin, heading to London, where Danilova joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1924. When Danilova was asked to audition for Diaghilev, she refused, telling him, "If I am good enough for the Maryinsky, then I am good enough for you." That same year, George Balanchine joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as choreographer.

When Diaghilev died suddenly in 1929, his company was disbanded. Dancers were left to find other companies to dance for, but Danilova was 28 and considered too old for most companies. She was eventually offered a position with the new Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe , by her friend Leonide Massine.

Quickly, as one of the most popular dancers of her time, many theatre's would not book Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe without Danilova! She danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1938 - 1945 where she was often partnered by Freddie Franklin. Danilova also guested with Sadler Wells in 1949, London Festival Ballet in 1952 and created her own "Great Moments of Ballet" tour dancing from 1954-1956.

Her last ballet performance was in 1957, but she appreared in a Broadway comedy/musical in 1958 called Oh, Captain!. She appeared in a single scene, a dance with the show's star, Tony Randall, which stole the show. Danilova was never good at handling her finances and found herself broke and unemployed again when ran into her friend George Balanchine on the streets of New York City in 1964. She told him of her plight and he instantly hired her to teach at the School of American Ballet. She remained with SAB until her retirement in 1989.

During her career, Danilova danced all the major ballerina roles and created principal roles in Balanchine works like The Triumph of Neptune (1926), Le Bal (1928), Dances Concertantes (1944) and La Sonnambula (1946). and she Choreographed Coppelia for NYCB in 1974. Danilova was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989. Danilova did make an appearance in the movie "The Turning Point" as a ballet teacher and coach.

Her autobiography, Choura, was published in 1986. There is a fabulous little documentary on Felia Doubrovska, that Danilova appears in. She and Felia are restaging a variation for Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Vera Trefilova Passed Away July 11, 1943

Vera Trefilova was born in Vladikavkaz, Russia on October 8, 1875. She studied at the Imperial Ballet School and graduated in 1894. She joined the Mariinsky Theatre in 1894 and was promoted to soloist in 1901. Vera became prima ballerina in 1906 at the Maryinsky, known for her 32 fouettés. She created roles in Lev Ivanov's Acis and Galatea (1896), N. and S. Legat's The Fairy Doll (1903), N. Legat's The Blood-Red Flower (1907), and Mikhail Fokine's The Night of Terpsichore (1907). She was triumphant as Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, but resigned in 1910 due to a rivalry with ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska.

In 1917 Vera left Russia during the revolution and opened a school in Paris. In 192,1 Diaghilev invited her to dance Princess Aurora in the London performances of his Ballets Russes’ Sleeping Princess, she alternated the role with Olga Spessivtseva. She danced Odette-Odile with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1924 when she was almost 50 years old, but she still amazed the audience.

She gave her final performance at His Majesty's Theatre in London in 1926. She was married to the dance critic Valerian Svetlov. Vera passed away in Paris July 11, 1943.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jean Cocteau's B-day 7/5/1889 - Ballets Russes Artist

Jean Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, a small village near Paris. Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright and filmmaker. At the age of fifteen, Cocteau left home. During the Great War, he served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, artist Pablo Picasso, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated.

Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet which resulted in Parade and was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917. Jean Cocteau published articles, interviewed its principal dancers, and created posters that featured the dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. Between 1912 and 1927, Cocteau provided libretti or scenarios for the ballets Le Dieu Bleu, Parade, Le Train Bleu, and the opera Oedipus Rex. Jean Cocteau and Serge Diaghilev on opening night of Le Train Bleu, June 20, 1924.

The Russian ballet-master Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet which resulted in Parade and was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917. After his friend and fellow poet Radiguet's sudden death in 1923, he left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les Noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlo.