Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

Welcome Balletomanes

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, January 27, 2010

Nathalie Krassovska: February's Remembered Ballerina

Dear Balletomanes,

Nathalie Krassovska passed away February 8, 2005. Nathalie was born in Leningrad, Russia in 1919. She was the third generation of amazing ballerinas. Her mother was a dancer with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and her grandmother was a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet. She studied with Olga Preobrajenska in Paris and Legat in London.

She danced with Nijinska's Company in Paris 1932, with Balanchine's Les Ballets 1933 and with Serge Lifar in South America 1934. She then danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo 1936-1950 and with the London Festival Ballet 1950-1955. Nathalie performed in Warner Brothers movie featuring the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo called Gaite Parisienne.

Jack Anderson, dance critic for the The New York Times, remembers Madame Krassovska as the first ballerina he ever saw perform the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Swan Lake, leaving he said, "an indelible impression."

After her dancing career she settled in Dallas, Texas and worked as a ballet teacher.
Nathalie appeared in the Zeitgeist Film, Ballets Russes film by Dan Geller and Dayna Goldfine, click here. In honor of Nathalie, take a few hours one evening this month and watch it, is fabulous.

Curtsy, Bow, Acknowledge the Orchestra,

Mia Slavenska: February's Glamorous Birthday Girl

Mia was born on February 20, 1914 in Yugoslavia. She studied in Zagreb with Josephine Weiss, then in Vienna with Leo Dubois. When Mia moved to Paris, she continued her studies with Russian ballet legends Lubov Egorova, Mathilda Kschessinska and Olga Preobrajenska.

Mia became ballerina of the Zagreb Opera from 1930-33 and then joined the Paris Opera in 1933, dancing with Serge Lifar. In London she danced with Anton Dolin before joining the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1938 to 1942. Mia later formed her own company, Ballet Variante. Mia also continued to dance as a guest artist for many major ballet companies, and in 1953 she established the Slavenska-Franklin ballet company with Frederic Franklin.

One of the roles she created was Blanche Dubois in Valerie Bettis' A Streetcar Named Desire. Slavenska starred in a wonderful French film, La Mort du Cygne (1938), in which she and Yvette Chauviré, who later became a Prima Ballerina of the Paris Opera Ballet, played rival ballerinas. Janine Charrat, who became one of France's leading choreographers, played a young ballet student.

In her final years, Mia taught ballet in Los Angeles. She passed away on October 5, 2002.

Dancers and Artist:Doubrovska, Vladimiroff and Berard Are February's Features

The Dancers: Felia and Pierre
February 13 marks the birthday of Felia Doubrovska. She was born in 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 Nijinska's Les Noces in 1923, Balanchine's Apollon Musagète, and Prodigal Son in 1928 and 1929.

When she took over a role from Bronislava Nijinska, Diaghilev told her, "You're too tall for the costume, but you have perfect taste, so go to Coco Chanel and order anything you like."

Felia married acclaimed Russian dancer, Pierre Vladimiroff and they emigrated to the West where they joined the Ballets Russes. Later Pierre danced with the Mordkin Ballet and joined Anna Pavlova's company. From 1934 to 1967 Pierre taught at the School of American Ballet, being the first teacher of the newly founded school to teach the male students.

Felia was guest ballerina with Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1937 and later joined New York's Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company from 1938 to 1939. She retired from performing and became a distinguished teacher at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet, until her death at the age of 84.

The Artist: Berard
February 13th also marks the loss of one of the most important scenery artists for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Christian Bérard, also known as Bébé, was a French artist, fashion illustrator and designer. Bérard's lover Boris Kochno, was the Director of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and also the co-founder of the Ballet des Champs-Elysées. Born in Paris in 1902, Bérard studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly as a child. In 1920, he entered the Academie Ranson. Bérard showed his first exhibition in 1925, at the Gallery Pierre.

From the start of his career he had an interest in theatrical scenery and costume designs, and played an important role in the development of theatrical design in the 1930s and 1940s. He also worked as a fashion illustrator for Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Nina Ricci. Bérard's most renowned achievement was probably his designs for Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête. Bérard died suddenly in 1949, on the stage of the Théâtre de Marigny. Francis Poulenc's Stabat Mater was composed in his memory.

Lydia and Leon: February's Featured Dancer Duo

Dear Balletomanes,
February is the month that Leon Woizikowski was born in and the month that he and Lydia Sokolova both died in. Lydia Sokolova and Leon Woizikowski both danced with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes until Diaghilev's death in 1929. Lydia started with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1913 two years before Leon's wife, Helena Antonova (Lena), started with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1915, and one year before Leon joined.

Years later, Leon left Helena for Lydia. Helena and Leon's daughter Sonia also danced with the Ballets Russes, making her stage debut at 3 years old holding Cecchetti's hand.

Leon was born in Poland. He trained with Warsaw Imperial Ballet School and then studied with Enrico Cecchetti. Leon joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1916 and was an outstanding character dancer. After Diaghilev’s death, Leon joined Anna Pavlova’s company from 1929 – 1931. Betweeen 1932 and 1933 he danced with Rene Blum’s Original Ballet Russe Company creating roles in Balanchine's Cotillon and Le Concurrence. In 1935, he formed Leon Woizikowski’s Ballet Russe where is daughter, Sonia, Lydia Sokolova and Igor Youskevitch danced for his company. After the affair was made public Helena and Sonia eventually came to the United States, while Leon remained in Warsaw.

Lydia Sokolova was born, Hilda Munnings. Lydia was Diaghilev’s first English ballerina. She trained at London’s Stedman Ballet Academy. She joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1913 and remained there until his death in August of 1929. Lydia danced with the Savoy Theatre in London in 1910 and with Mikhail Mordkin's ballet company before joining Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
Lydia’s most famous role was Chosen Maiden (seen in photo left) from Leonide Massine’s revival of Le Sacre de Printemps in 1920. Other notable performances include La boutique fantastique (1919), Il tricorno (1919), Les matelots (1925) and Le Bal (1929).
After Diaghilev’s death, Lydia danced with Leon Woizikowski’s Ballet Russe company starting in 1935. Then Sokolova returned to England to teach, coach, work on choreography and occasionally perform. Her last performance was in 1962 when she danced in the Covent Garden Royal Ballet performance of Massine's The Good-humoured Ladies.
Lydia wrote an autobiographical work on her years with the Ballets Russes titled Dancing for Diaghilev (John Murray, London, 1960).

Olga Preobrajenska: February's Featured Ballerina Part I

Olga was born on February 2, 1870 in St.Petersburg and was trained at the Imperial Ballet Academy. She studied with such teachers as Enrico Cecchetti, Christian Johansson, and Nicholas Legat. Olga graduated in 1889 and immediately joined the Maryinsky Theatre. In 1896 she was made a soloist, and four years later, Prima Ballerina. Olga Preobrajenska was one of St. Petersburg's beloved Prima Ballerinas. The audiences loved both her personality and her strong technique. Her extensive repertoire included leading roles in Coppellia, La Fille Mal Gardee, Esmeralda, The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Les Sylphides.

Olga dominated the ballet stage for the first two decades of the twentieth century. She appeared in over 700 productions in addition to participating in several tours.

Later, Olga became very well known as a teacher. She started teaching in 1914 while she continued to dance. After leaving the Soviet Union in 1921, Olga taught in Milan, London, Buenos Aires, and Berlin before she settled permanently in Paris in 1923. Nearly every famous dancer of the time was trained by her at "Salle Wacker," including Irina Baronova, Tamara Toumanova, Tatiana Riabouchinska,Igor Youskevitch, Olga Spessiva, Anna Pavlova and Margot Fonteyn. Agrippina Vaganova was also a student of Olga's. Agrippina Vaganova later created her method of dance taught by the Maryinsky Theatre and other major ballet schools, to this day.

It was also in her Paris studio, Salle Wacker, that Balanchine came when looking for young dancers for the Ballets Russes. This is where he found his “baby ballerinas”: Toumanova, Baronova, and Riabouchinskaya.

For many years, Olga's Paris studio, at 69 Rue de Douai, was the unofficial networking centre for the international dance community until it was demolished in 1974. Olga had continued to teach until she was 90 years old, retiring in 1960. She died two years later.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Passing of Anna Pavlova: The Beauty of a Swan

Dear Balletomanes,

On January 23rd of 1931, the world lost Anna Pavlova. Anna contracted double pneumonia on a train en route to Haage, and her condition deteriorated rapidly. She died in the early hours, in Haage, Netherlands. Her remains were moved to the Novodevichy Convent Cemetery in Moscow, Russia in 2001. (photo right)

Anna was not a typical ballerina of her day. At only five-feet-tall, she was delicate and slender, unlike most of the students in her classes. She was exceptionally strong and had perfect balance. Anna was known to have had very arched feet, which made it hard to dance on the tips of her toes. She discovered that by adding a piece of hard leather to the soles, the shoes provided better support. At that time, many people thought of this as cheating, since a ballerina was to be able to hold her own weight on her toes. Anna’s idea was the precursor to the modern pointe shoe.

Anna Pavlova was born on February 12th in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1881. And at the age of 10 she began to study at the Imperial Ballet School. Her early teachers were Nicolai and Sergei Legat, Yekaterina Vazem, Pavel Gerdt, and her favorite teacher, and mentor until her death, Enrico Cecchetti. Pavlova's style and poetic way of moving attracted attention even as a student. After her graduation in 1902 she joined the Maryinsky Theatre as second soloist and was promoted to first soloist the following year. With Cecchetti's help she was promoted to Ballerina in 1905, and Prima Ballerina in 1906.

In 1907, Anna Pavlova began her first tour, to Moscow. On her second foreign tour in 1909, she joined Diaghilev's Ballet Russes in Paris where she danced The Dying Swan choreographed for her by Fokine with music from Saint-Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Fokine then had her in mind when he choreographed The Firebird, but when she heard Igor Stravinsky's music she pronounced it nonsense and refused to dance to it. The role went to Tamara Karsavina.

On February 28, 1910, after leaving the Ballets Russes, she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. She danced Swanilda in Coppelia, partnered by Mikhail Mordkin. Later that year, Pavlova formed her own company, with eight dancers from St. Petersburg. In the Fall of 1911, she returned to London to take part in Diaghilev's Fall season at Covent Garden. Partnered by Nijinsky, she danced in Giselle, Le Pavillon d'Armide, Cleopatre, Le Carnaval, and a pas de deux billed as L'Oiseau d'Or. The Pavlova/Nijinsky partnership was an amazing one, but short-lived. Pavlova would never again dance with Nijinsky or appear with the Diaghilev company. Immediately after the London season, she undertook her first tour of her English provinces, partnered by Novikoff and supported by a small group of Soloists from the Imperial Ballet. Anna remained a member of the Maryinsky Theatre until 1913, when she made her last appearance in St. Petersburg.

She spent the rest of her life on tour. In 1914, she was traveling through Germany on her way to England when Germany declared war on Russia, her connection to Russia was for all intents broken. Pavlova toured all over the world including Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and Australia. Anna was able to make eight to nine performances per week and had great interest in performing for inexperienced audiences across the world. Her performances in Mexico, India, Japan and Australia were legendary. She was overworked and exhausted by her late 40's, but still danced vigorously. She gave over four thousand ballet performances during the years between 1913-1930 travelling over a total of 300,000 miles.
In 1921 she bought Ivy House in England and opened her own School of Dance. From then on she spent the rest of her career on tour, bringing ballet to millions for the first time. Her last world tour was in 1928-29 and her last performance in England in 1930. Later, Anna Pavlova appeared in a few silent films: one, The Immortal Swan, she shot in 1924 but it was not shown until after her death -- it originally toured theaters in 1935-1936 in special showings, then was released more generally in 1956.

She once said "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." Her final words were, "Get my swan costume ready, then play that last measure softly." In keeping with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been.
Anna's birthday is coming up next month and I will post more information about her, so make sure to check back in February to read more!

Curtsy, Bow and Acknowledge the Orchestra,


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Looking Back on Balanchine on His Birthday January 22, 1904

George Balanchine was born Georgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze, in St. Petersburg, Russia, on January 22, 1904. At the age of 10, he entered the Imperial Ballet School (Vaganova) in St. Petersburg. His teachers were Andreanov, Gerdt, Skiraev and Gavlikovsky. In 1921, he entered the State Academy of Opera and Ballet and used set his earliest choreography on a group of fellow dancers. In 1924, when they were invited to tour Europe as the Soviet State Dancers, Balanchine defected along with Vladimir Dimitriew.

In 1925, just a year later, he was discovered in Paris by Ballets Russes’ Director Serge Diaghilev. When Diaghilev's most famous choreographer, Nijinska, left his ballet company, Balanchine took her place; at the age of 21 he was the Ballet Master and Principal Choreographer of the famed Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. It was Diaghilev who changed George’s name to Balanchine. Balanchine did 10 ballets for Diaghiev's Ballets Russes.

Among his ballets for the Ballets Russes :
Jack in the Box (1926)
Pastorale (1926)
Barabau (1926)
La chatte (1927)
Le Triomphe de Neptune (1927)
Apollo (1928)
The Prodigal Son (1929)
Le Bal (1929)

When Diaghilev died and the company disbanded in 1929, Balanchine moved from one company to another, until in 1933 when he formed his own company, Les Ballets. That same year, he met Lincoln Kirstein, who invited him to head the new School of American Ballet in New York City. Balanchine choreographed Serenade on these students, his first ballet in America.

In 1934, the American Ballet Company became the resident company at the Metropolitan Opera in New York where Balanchine did three new ballets: Apollo, The Card Party, and The Fairy's Kiss. In my own American Ballet Company program dated 1936-1937, the company performed; Errante, Mozartiana, Alma Mater, Transcendence, Serenade, Reminiscence and Dreams, all choreographed by Balanchine. But in the program he is listed as an Instructor along with Vladimiroff, Stuart and Viltzak and Vladimir Dimitriew is listed as the Director of the school. Balanchine's contemporary ballet style and the Metropolitan's conservative artistic policy made this a short lived relationship and was terminated in1938.

In 1941, he choreographed Balustrade, to Stravinsky's violin concerto, for the Original Ballet Russe. He collaborated closely with the composer Igor Stravinsky, who he originally met through Diaghilev when they were in the Ballets Russes together. In total, Balanchine set more than 30 works to Stravinsky’s music. He continued to work with the Original Ballet Russe until 1946. Also in 1941, he joined Ballet Caravan and made a good-will tour of South America for the U. S. State Department.

In 1946, Lincoln Kirstein and Balanchine established a new company, the Ballet Society. The performance of Balanchine's Orpheus was so successful that his company was invited to establish permanent residence at the New York City Center and was renamed the New York City Ballet. Here he created some of his most enduring works, including his Nutcracker and Agon. New York City Ballet moved to Lincoln Center's New York State Theatre in 1964.

Balanchine created more than 150 works for New York City Ballet, including The Nutcracker (1954), Don Quixote (1965), and Jewels (1967), and he also choreographed musicals and operas. Balanchine's work remains in the repertoires of many companies worldwide, and he is widely considered the greatest choreographer of the 20th century. Balanchine died in New York City on April 30, 1983.

Curtsy, Bow, Acknowledge the Orchestra,

(Photos: from 1970 NYC-Ballet Program)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sonia: Picasso Was My Godfather

Dear Balletomanes:

December 17, 2009 marked the birthday of someone truly special, Sonia Wojcikowska. Who is Sonia, you ask? Sonia is the daughter of two of Diaghilev's original Ballets Russes dancers, Helena Antonova (photo with shawl) and Leon Wojcikowski (portrait below), and she was the God-daughter of Picasso. Sonia was an accomplished ballerina, who was a member of the Ballets Russes.

I myself only met Sonia once, and she left quite an impression. I am told that these days, she prefers to watch the New York Yankees, a big fan I understand - good taste. Apparently, due to some difficult times, Sonia chooses not to share her memories of her Ballets Russes years. While I respect that, as they are her stories to tell or not tell, it is a shame for us, as hers are stories that will now never be told, a book we'd like to read, but one she doesn't want to write.

Sonia was born December 17, 1919. Sonia was educated at the Lycee Jules Ferrier school in Paris under Lubov Egorova. Sonia started her career as a little girl in a walk-on part in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Petrouchka holding the hand of Enrico Cecchetti. Sonia’s parents, Helena Antonova and Leon Wojcikowski, were both stars of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company. Sonia’s godfather was Pablo Picasso.

At 9, Sonia sang the part of Chaliapin’s grand-daughter in Opera La Sirene, (The Mermaid) at Paris Opera. Later she sang two Spanish songs off-stage for Leonide Massine’s Three Cornered Hat. When Sonia was thirteen she danced with her mother at the Paris Opera with Les Ballets Ida Rubinstein. Sonia danced many of her mother's roles. (Her father told her once that he could not tell them apart.) By replacing Nathalie Krassovska in Rubinstein's company Sonia danced her first solo in Mikhail Fokine's Diane de Poitiers.

If you scroll down on my Russian Ballet History website Blog page, there is a copy of a Dance Magazine article on Sonia from June, 1963. Click here to read it!

Sonia joined Mme. Egorova’s Ballet de la Jeunesse at 14 years of age. She later became a soloist with the Original Ballet Russse in 1938. Sonia first came to the United States on the Normandie to dance in the World’s Fair in 1939. In 1940 she became a soloist with Ballet Theatre, now American Ballet Theatre in New York City. Sonia also had a part in the original “Oklahoma” and was the “Foxhole Ballerina” for the troops in WWII. Sonia became a US citizen in 1949. She married violinist Joska de Barbary and still resides in New York City. She is 90 years old this year, or more appropriately 90 years young!

Curtsy, Bow, Acknowledge the Orchestra,


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

January Marks Nijinska and Balanchine Birthday-Pavlova's Passing

January is a true example of the “circle of life” for the Ballets Russes. While we will celebrate both Nijinska and Balanchine’s birthday’s this month, we will also recognize the death of Anna Pavlova. Bronislava Nijinska’s birthday will be celebrated January 8th, Balanchine’s on the 22nd. January 23rd marks the loss of Pavlova.

Today, I wanted to remember Bronislava, she is one of my favorites. She was friends with Marie Laurencin, one of my favorite artsts. Marie did scenery for Bronislava's "Les Biches".

Bronislava Nijinska was born in Minsk, the third child of the Polish dancers Tomasz and Eleonora Bereda Niżyńsky. Her brother was Vaslav Nijinsky. She was just 4 years old when she made her theatrical debut in a Christmas pageant with her brothers in Nizhny Novgorod. In 1900 she and her brother were accepted at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg on a 7-year scholarship from the State of Russia. From 1900 - 1907 she studied dance and music at the Imperial School of Ballet, graduating with honors as a ballet dancer. Her first teacher was Enrico Cecchetti. After graduating in 1908, she then joined the Maryinsky Ballet. She and her brother joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909. Some of the roles she created were in Fokine's "Carnaval" 1910, and "Petrushka" in 1911. Vaslav was dismissed from the Maryinsky Ballet in 1911, Nijinska insisted that she also be dismissed, and she was forced to forfeit her title "Artist of the Imperial Theatre." Nijinska danced in her brother's short lived ballet company in London in 1914.

In 1915, she returned to Russia. Nijinska danced in Kiev, opening a school where she trained her most famous student, Serge Lifar. In 1921 Nijinska rejoined the Ballets Russes. While a dancer with the Ballets Russes, she also became the chief choreographer of the company. One of her first pieces was "Three Ivans" for Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty. Her first ballets were Igor Stravinsky's "Renard" in 1922 and Les Noces 1923. The following year she choreographed "Les Biches", "Les Fâcheux" and "Le Train Bleu". Bronislava later choreographed for the Paris Opéra, Opéra Russe à Paris, and her own company.

So, on Friday, January 8th, take a moment and remember a woman well ahead of her time. Read her biography!