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Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Posts Tagged ‘Ballet’

Portrait of Igor Schwezoff, Ballet dancer and choreographer, 1940, Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes Australian Tour

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Igor Schwezoff Russian Ballet Dancer & Choreographer 1940, Photographer Spencer Skier

I am pleased to present this classic and elegant photo of Russian ballet dancer/choreographer Igor Schwezoff taken in 1940 in Australia during Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes Australian Tour.

This beautiful portrait was taken in order to be used as a head shot and publicity promotional photo for Mr. Schwezoff as a dancer/ choreographer and for his ballet Lutte Eternelle which received its professional premier by Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes in Sydney on 29, July, 1940, during the third Australian tour of the company.

Having left Soviet Russia in the late 1920s, Schwezoff travelled widely, briefly running ballet schools in Amsterdam and London. He wrote his acclaimed autobiography, Borzoi, published in London in 1935. He then joined de Basil’s Ballets Russes in 1939 as a soloist and worked with the company for two years. Lutte Eternelle was the first of his works to be danced by the de Basil company. This one act ballet was a revision of an earlier work by Schwezoff that was originally staged in Amsterdam by the performing group from his ballet school. Both the earlier production and Lutte Eternelle were well received by both critics and the public alike.

To my knowledge this photo has not been published before. It is from the private collection of Mr. Ian Bevans who worked in some PR capacity with the Ballets Russes during their 1939 – 40 Australian seasons. He was a dedicated balletomane who befriended members of the ballet company and collected and saved photos of many of the dancers taken during their historic stay in Australia.  Mr. Bevan’s friend, Mr. Kurt Ganzl kindly gave these photos to me. Mr. Bevans collection includes action photos, posed press photos, professional head shots of the dancers, some happy snap shots and some personal Christmas cards from Toumanova and Skibine. Some of the photos are autographed and some are inscribed with personal messages. All of them are fascinating bits of classical ballet history. I am grateful to Mr. Gansl for sharing them with me and delighted to be able to share them with other ballet fans on my blog. I plan to post more of these beautiful and rare ballet pictures on this blog soon.

 

Back side of Igor Schwezoff Portrait, 1940, by Photographer Spencer Skier

The back side of the photo of Igor Schwezoff by Spencer Skier, Collin St. Melb, 1940.

If anyone knows more about this photo or how it was used would you please contact me? I am a former student and friend of Igor Schwezoff and am currently researching details of his life and career.

 

 

Photos of Igor Schwezoff from His Autobiography, Borzoi, and Some Comments About the Book and His Life Afterwards….

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Igor Schwezoff’s book, Borzoi, is illustrated with three photographs of the author.

Igor Schwezoff photographed by Franz Ziegler c.1934

Igor Schwezoff photographed by Franz Ziegler, c.1934

The portrait on the frontispiece and the author as a dancer in costume were taken by Franz Ziegler, A.R.P.S, Court Photographer, The Hague.

Mr. Schwezoff was about 30 years old when these photos were taken.

Borzoi is the story of his life from the time he was born in 1904, through his early life, ballet training and dance career in Russia and his escape on foot through Manchuria into Shanghai and finally via train to Germany. The book covers the first 26 years of his life – from 1904 through 1930. It begins when he was born and ends when he arrives in Europe. Borzoi ends here with the author hoping for success and a new life in the West.

What follows is not in the book. I know these things from personal narrative. Igor Schwezoff was my teacher and wonderful friend for the last 20 years of his life. He lived another 52 years after writing Borzoi and there was certainly enough interesting material and life experience over those next years to fill another book or several of them, but he never wrote one. He told me, several times, when I asked him about it, “You will have to do that…”

After arriving in Europe he continued his itinerate career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and occasional writer working with many well known dancers and ballet companies throughout the world.

He initially arrived in Germany where he had some family members and a small amount of money awaiting him from an inheritance. He acquired immediate work here and there as a ballet dancer in night club acts and in the German film industry, including a role dancing in the prologue of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Das Blaue Licht which was released in 1932. That filming  job only lasted 4 days. It was interesting for the fact that Leni Riefenstahl selected him for the role and she choreographed it herself. It was initially shown as a filmed dance prologue to the story in the film. Leni was a dancer /choreographer herself. She played the lead role in this movie. An actor played the part of the male lead in the actual movie but Igor Schwezoff played him in the danced prologue. This has apparently been cut from currently available releases of this old film. I have not seen it and do not even know if the footage still exists. If it does it is probably the only film footage of Igor Schwezoff dancing, ( I am dying to get my hands on it if anybody knows anything more about it. Please contact me if you do!) Schwezoff is not listed in the film’s credits which is a common situation with dancers to this day. However I have seen mentions of his performance in the film  in several historical dance references. He told me that, when he worked with Leni Riefenstahl, he had no idea who she was or what her alliances were. It was just a small dance job for him at the time and she was just a filmmaker and dancer/choreographer. He was appalled when he later found out how notorious she was and played down the fact that he had appeared in her film not often mentioning it. This film was extremely popular in Germany and catapulted Leni to fame as an actress and film director. And as Adolf Hitler’s ideal of womanhood. It was one of Hitler’s favorite films ever. It was after making it that Leni became strongly affiliated publicly with the Nazi party and it’s official filmmaker.

The film industry and active Berlin night club life assured him employment as a performer, but the political atmosphere made him exceptionally nervous. He was also anxious to join fellow Russian ballet dancers and get back to his real work in the serious ballet theater versus performing pick up work in films and club acts.

This led him to the Netherlands to find Bronislava Nijinska with whom he traveled to Buenos Aires where he became principal dancer at the Teatro de Colon under her direction. When she left he followed her to Paris, then back to the Netherlands where she was working with a group of Russian ballet dancers teaching and choreographing in Amsterdam.  He performed with Nijinska’s group, took her daily classes and set up his own studio in The Hague teaching advanced students and assembling a small company of professional level dancers called Ballet Igor Schwezoff (1934 – 36) on whom he choreographed the initial version of his ballet, La Lutte Eternelle. The first version of this work was initially performed there.

From Amsterdam he and several other Russian expatriate ballet dancers traveled to London as war was too much in the air in the Netherlands and he eventually set up a studio in an old church basement with a piano in it in London, where he conducted daily classes and rehearsals. Some very famous Russian dancers who were in England at this time came to these classes for dancers must take daily class to stay in performing condition and Schwezoff offered the best pure classical ballet technique classes with the perfect amount of philosophical content.

He was a gifted teacher and the best dancers gravitated to his studio. Money was very tight for all of them. Many could not pay him for class, but he accepted them anyway. For the talented he practiced the Proletarian Method of Dance Class Payment: From each according to his ability, To each according to his need.

While on an earlier trip to London in 1934 he saw the notice for the £1000 award being offered by Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd. publishing company for the best autobiography in the English language. He thought people would like to know what the Russians had lived through in the last few years and he thought he had led a rather exceptional life people might like to read about so he decided to try for the prize. He was also driven by the extreme need for money.

Fortunately, although he had a heavy Russian accent, Schwezoff spoke fluent English because he had been taught both English and French by his mother and an English governess while a child in Russia. Over 500 manuscripts were submitted to this competition and his story, Borzoi, actually won the coveted prize!

Here is some of the backstory. The charming decorative designs and endpapers in the book illustrating scenes from Russian life and the day to activities in the life of a ballet dancer are from drawings by David Gray, a ballet loving artist whom Schwezoff befriended in London who also helped him do a preliminary edit of the book before submitting it to the competition. This was an important step in the preparation of the manuscript to be submitted to an English publishing company by a non-native English speaking writer who had only been living in England and speaking to English speaking natives in English for a couple of months. Schwezoff felt that David Grey’s contribution to the manuscript was so important to helping him win the competition that the book is dedicated to him with the inscription, “To David Grey who has helped so much.” David also believed in the book and kept him going writing it so that it would be finished in time to meet the entry deadline when the going got rough as it does for all writers.

Borzoi is also a marvel of a book not only because it is a good story and an exceptional read, but for the the fact that it was conceived of and completely written and illustrated in the course of a single month!

The prize money was much needed by the writer and provided him the motivation he needed to write his amazing story in record time. This was the first real money he had ever made in his life. In those days it was a great deal of money.

Borzoi was published in 1934 and immediately provided a great boost to Igor Schwezoff personally and to his career as a dancer. It was chosen by the London Book Society as a favorite and a sponsored read and enjoyed several reprints and re-editions over the next 20 years. Schwezoff was a notoriously charming guest speaker and enjoyed making appearances as a celebrity author which in turn brought audiences to see him perform as a dancer. And all this got him invited to a lot of delicious dinner parties where there was no shortage of tasty food which he thoroughly enjoyed. He was making up for lost time when he didn’t get enough to eat during his years in Russia.

Quite suddenly, due to the popularity of Borzoi, Igor Schwezoff was a well known writer and a famous dancer and he had more money in his pocket than he had ever had before. He was very appreciative of this. Best of all writing Borzoi opened doors for him socially and made people in the general public who read the book aware of him as a dancer. This book got him noticed.

He was now a famous Russian dancer and choreographer receiving offers of employment in dance companies all over the world. As a result of writing this book about his early life people outside of the immediate professional ballet world knew about him. Consequently, he was never out of work as a dancer, choreographer or ballet teacher again!

He was never out of work as a dinner party guest either! He was always a charming guest with his colorful Russian accent, fluency in several languages, delightful observations, spellbinding real life stories and genuine appreciation of good food!

Writing his autobiography at the early age he did it, instead of at the end of his life,  turned out to be an important career move and wonderful publicity for him as a dancer/choreographer/teacher.  There were many other Russian dancers in Western Europe and the United States at the time he was dancing. In fact the two Ballets Russes companies were full of them! As far as I know none of the others wrote an autobiography of their early years in Russia and about defecting at that time. Borzoi was a first in that genre.

He danced and choreographed in Monte Carlo taking some of the dancers from his London studio with him.  After this, while in Paris, he and some of them, joined Col de Basil’s Original Ballets Russes as a soloist from (1939 – 1941) and traveled with them to Australia. More about this later! There is a fascinating story explaining how it happened in a successful attempt to get the ballet dancers to safety during the war. Initially planned for several weeks the tour to Australia essentially stranded the dancers there for two years due to WWII. That, in itself was quite an adventure ….. I have a collection of previously unpublished photographs of Igor Schwezoff’s work during this period which I intend to post on this blog soon.

After his Down Under  experience , Schwezoff moved to New York ….. and a lot of other traveling and performing and choreographing to other places throughout the world ensued. More about that later, too ….

I knew Mr Schwezoff for the last 20 years of his life and he told me constant stories and life adventures that happened to him during the time that came after his arrival in Western Europe and after the publication of Borzoi, I kept asking him why he didn’t write a sequel to the book. He said he was, at this time, too busy to get to it. He really saw himself primarily as a dancer/teacher/choreographer who had happened to write a book about his early life. He did not really see himself as an author, although he did write the occasional article and treatise on ballet. The most important one is a self published booklet titled ” Quality Versus Quantity” about ballet dancer’s technique and artistry of which I have a copy. It includes reviews from his performances and performances of his ballets as well as the title essay.

Schwezoff was totally dedicated to the dance and in a way it is a shame he did not write more because he was such a good writer. He was extremely intelligent and fluent in Russian, English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. He spoke  enough Japanese to get by in Japan and teach there. He traveled and taught in many countries and was a firm believer in learning and speaking the language of the people with whom he was working so that they could understand, fully, what he wanted of them. He picked up languages easily, initially because it was expected that one speak French in Russia if from an aristocratic family and it was spoken in his home from the time he was born as the day to day life language. As I mentioned earlier his mother and a pretty young English governess employed by his family taught him English and he was extremely motivated to learn English as a youth by his ardent crush on this lady just slightly older than he was, who would reward him with a kiss for every English word well learned. She certainly knew how to motivate her young student!

There were ballet dancers of every nationality in the ballet companies at this time, as there often are today, and it was common to hear them talking to each other in one native language, then turning and chattering with another colleague in another language. Conversations were easily conducted in three languages at once. Dancers picked up each other’s languages as they worked, traveled and lived together. It was an extremely stimulating and colorful environment. Ballet classes and rehearsals are traditionally aught and conducted in French to this day so all ballet people pick up a certain amount of French.

The photo above, in dance costume, with exotic head dress, is not identified as to what ballet it is from in the book and so far I have not been able to identify what role he was performing in it. I failed to ask him when he was alive, I do know the picture was taken during his tenure in Amsterdam where he worked with Bronislava Nijinska, performed and ran a dance studio and began preliminary work on his ballet La Lute Eternelle. If anyone who sees this photo has any further information on it, such as what ballet it is from, could they please contact me with it… Of course it is entirely possible that he threw the costume together for the photo shoot and it isn’t even a costume from a real ballet. That was done from time to time in a pinch. There is even a photo of Bronislava Nijinska wearing one of her brother’s costumes from Papillon for a totally unrelated dance publicity photo shoot.

Also, more photographs of Igor Schwezoff would be most appreciated. As would any other information and documents pertaining to his career and his life. ( Many thanks, here, to the people who have been answering my pleas in this regard and are sending me the photos and other materials they have pertaining the Igor Schwezoff .)

 

This photograph of the author “Taking a Dancing Class” is by Mono of Amsterdam.

Igor Schwezoff photographed by Mono of Amsterdam, c.1934

I put the title in quotes because it is more like the author posing in the ballet studio while taking a cigarette break from a dance class.

It was characteristic of this era to photograph an artist, dancer, or actor, elegantly posed with a cigarette whilst gazing dreamily into space. At this time the cigarette was considered a sophisticated prop.

The sophisticated and fashionable set was not worried about the health hazards associated with smoking in those days, if they even realized they existed.

It was also a characteristic of Mr. Schwezoff’s, throughout his life, to smoke a great deal. Cigarettes were a rare luxury in Communist Russia which he allowed himself to indulge in heavily once he escaped.

Food was a rare luxury too. Good food, especially so, and Schwezoff appreciated it for reasons beyond taste. He had not been properly nourished during his teen and young adult years due to extreme food shortages in Russia.

He was extremely health conscious regarding diet, but the consequences of cigarette smoking were of no concern.

As you will find if you read the book he suffered from extreme food deprivation and sketchy nutrition as a growing teenager and young adult in Russia which caused him nagging physical problems and health difficulties throughout his life. As a result he stressed proper nutrition and getting enough high quality food to eat to his students. The emphasis was on Quality Versus Quantity just as it was in dance technique. He never had a weight problem, nor did his students. I called it Thigh Quality Food meaning high quality necessary nutrition that would provide what a dancer needed but not put extra weight on your thighs.

Schwezoff loved good food and he became an accomplished cook. As a ballet teacher he stressed having a strong healthy body which included eating properly. He even cooked for us on a regular basis. Teaching us that we should work our bodies very hard during the week, but take one full day off each week from dancing to rest them and regain our strength. On that day we were to eat a high protein high calorie dinner. These dinners he often prepared himself. His ideas on diet as a dancer and building and maintaining one’s strength worked for me.

Once, Sol Hurok, the impressario, engaged Schwezoff to travel with the ballerina Tamara Toumanova from New York to Paris to prepare her for an important two week booking he had secured for her at The Paris Opera. Tamara and her Mamon who accompanied her everywhere, (even after she became an adult,) were in California when the arrangements were made. It was conducted by telephone and letter. A contract was signed and the Toumanova’s set out for NYC to sail to Paris.

Schwezoff was engaged to give Tamara daily class on shipboard during the sailing and rehearse her in her roles, especially as Odette/Odile in Swan lake, and get her performance ready during the 2 week sailing. She was to step off the ocean liner in France looking gorgeous for the  paparazzi and ready to perform at the Paris Opera House the very next day. She was to be dressed up in couture and furs, and dripping with pearls when she disembarked for the waiting press. She was expected to play the part of the glamorous ballerina to the hilt – a role she enjoyed immensely!

When Tamara arrived with her mother at Sol Huroks booking offices in NYC to meet him and Igor Schwezoff and pick up her cruise ship tickets, they were in for a surprise. The glamorous dancer who was a one of the famous Baby Ballerinas and a fabulous technician, had changed drastically. She was 5′ 4″ tall and  40 lbs overweight! Her thighs were as big as the columns of the Parthenon! Tamara Toumanova was supposed to be a goddess, not a temple! This was a terrible emergency. Hurok discreetly asked the famous dancer and her mother to wait a few moments and he called a private conference with Scwhezoff in another office. He asked him, in utter desperation, “Can you slim her down to her previous girlish figure and get her Swan Lake performance ready within just two weeks on the cruise ship? ” Schwezoff agreed to try. The two men then went out to continue the conference with Toumanova and her mother in which Hurok very discreetly explained to Tamara that she would have to lose the weight she had gained while vacationing in California before the ship hit France in order to maintain her reputation as a beautiful woman and a ballet star. She understood and agreed to try. This was a grave situation and the careers and reputations of  everybody involved depended upon her delivering the goods – that meant, appearing in Paris as the quintessential embodiment of a perfect ballerina. To this end she was told that Igor Schwezoff, the ballet master, would be put in charge of her every minute. He would train her physically, rehearse her for hours a day, and be in charge of approving her diet and every bite of food and drink she was allowed to consume.  He would weigh and measure her every day to monitor her progress. This was not cruel. This was the necessary reality of being a ballerina. The body is a ballerina’s instrument and she must be responsible for maintaining it perfectly. Toumanova and her mother understood. Schwezoff got to work with her that very day. The next day they set sail for Paris.

Schwezoff worked like a sculptor reshaping Toumanova’s body and technique. She was a beautiful well trained dancer and a true artist. Both of them had tremendous powers of self discipline. And Schwezoff had tremendous powers of exerting discipline on his dancers in such a way that they enjoyed it and didn’t even realize it was happening to them until they began to feel and see the results. This journey was a success. Tamara Toumanova stepped off the ship looking beautiful, performed her two week booking in Paris to rave reviews and never gained too much weight to perform again. Incidentally, she was never a terribly thin dancer. She was extremely strong and had a womanly figure with a lot of muscle. She had been trained to become a professional ballerina since her birth. The reason she had made one slip and gained weight this one time, was that she was growing and developing as a woman, and eating a little too much while on a short vacation from ballet. It would never happen again. Tamara Toumanova was a great artist and totally dedicated dancer. She was also responsible for supporting her parents financially which was often the case in the old days. Whatever she learned from Igor Schwezoff on this trip about maintaining her physical condition she practiced successfully for the rest of her life. (I have rare unpublished photos of Toumanova that I will be posting on this blog in the near future.)

Among Schwezoff’s famous ballerina pupils were Yvonne Mounsey, Lupe Serrano and Yoko Morishita. ”It was as though he were carving a sculpture out of the human body,” Miss Morishita once said of his teaching. ”He showed me which muscles were not important, so that I could forget about them, and which were important, so I could learn to stretch them out and use them. His whole approach was to make a distinctive shape of the body.”

I myself, began to study with him when I was 12 years old. I had a naturally fine boned body and the perfect ballerina look, and I was very flexible, but I was not yet really strong. I had received a foot injury in another professional ballet school . I had broken a bone in my right foot and was having trouble getting back. Schwezoff brought me back quickly and taught me how to work my body so that I would become very strong and would never become injured due to dancing again. He told me that I would come across many teachers and choreographers with many working methods during my career as a dancer, so I must learn how to work, and how to protect, my particular body type myself, no matter what I was asked to do. He told me I, and I alone, was responsible for this. He told me I had to learn how to do it and to put that knowledge into practice every single day of my life. I did what he told me to do and it worked for me.

I also learned a great deal about how to teach other dancers from him as did many of his students. This is how dance is taught. The knowledge is transmitted, personally, from one dancer /teacher to his student, and then from  him or her to another. I worked with another teacher, at the Joffrey Ballet, Maria Grandy, who had studied with him a decade before I did. She could instantly tell I was working with him. She could see it in the way I moved. She called me aside and told me, “He is a great teacher, perfect for your body.” Maria Grandy has had a long career as a ballet professor at The Julliard School in NYC. She is passing on what she learned from Igor Schwezoff to her students there. That is the way it is done! Classical ballet is taught and passed down, , essentially in narrative form and through physical contact, from one generation of dancers to the next.

For current dance students, teachers, performers, dance historians and balletomanes it is a wonderful thing that Igor Schwezoff wrote his early biography for us. Everyone interested in ballet or what life in Russia was like during the time it takes place, should read it. Everyone, interested in dance and the art of ballet, as well as people who do not think they are interested in it (yet!) will benefit from reading it. I think anyone reading it who knows nothing of ballet will still enjoy it and benefit from the story in many ways.  And that will benefit the art of ballet because those readers will become curious about it and wonder what it is all about. Schwezoff was a great person as well as a dancer. Borzoi is a great book in general.

By the way, The book is sometimes also known as Russian Summersault! It is the same book.

I have many never before published photos of Igor Schwezoff working in the 1940’s that I will be posting on this blog soon.

Igor Schwezoff – Autographed Copy of his Biography, Borzoi, London, 1935

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Today I want to share some photos of my autographed copy of Igor Schwezoff’s biography, Borzoi. This book is a second printing of the first edition. The book was first printed in August of 1935. It was reprinted in September of 1935. This copy is from the September 1935 printing. For the record there were several subsequent printings of this book.

Borzoi by Igor Schwezoff won the prize offered in 1934 by Hodder and Stoughton for an autobiography written in the English language. It was chosen as the prizewinner out of nearly 500 manuscripts submitted for that competition.

Mr. Schwezoff wrote the story of his early life, ballet training and dance career in Russia and his escape through Manchuria into Shanghai and finally Germany. The book covers his life from 1904 through 1930. After arriving in Europe he continued his career as a dancer, choreographer, teacher and writer working with many well known dancers and ballet companies throughout the world.

I was fortunate to be Mr. Schwezoff’s student in Washington DC and New York City and we were friends for almost 20 years. He passed away in 1982.

This is one of several copies of his book, Borzoi, that I own.

I am researching Mr. Schwezoff’s career from 1930 – 1982 and am seeking other materials related to Igor Schwezoff and his career. I would appreciate anyone who has any further information, photographs and documents sharing it with me.

I will be posting more pictures of Igor Schwezoff on this blog soon.

Igor Schwezoff's autograph on the frontispiece dated 1935, London

Photo of the author, Igor Schwezoff and the title page

Photo of the author, Igor Schwezoff and the title page

Borzoi, by Igor Schwezoff

Borzoi, by Igor Schwezoff

Ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva’s ~ Cleopatra Portrait Gallery

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Lubov Tchernicheva as herself

Lubov Tchernicheva (1890~1976) was an extraordinarily beauty and a great star of the Ballets Russes. The studio portrait above was taken sometime between 1930 and 1937 and is from the Geoffrey Ingram archive of Australian ballet now in the National Library of Australia. She trained in Russia, then danced with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1911~1929.  She was married to Sergei Grigoriev, the company Regisseur. She attempted to retire in 1929.

However, in 1932 Rene Blum coaxed her back to continue dancing as first ballerina and serve as ballet mistress for Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Her husband served as Regisseur for this company as well. The couple worked for the Col. de Basil Ballets Russes troupe from 1932~1952. They performed and worked with de Basil’s Ballets Russes in their popular tour of Austrailia, throughout the United States and Europe. An extremely popular dancer her public simply would not allow her to retire!

In the 1950s this extraordinary ballet couple worked together staging Fokine’s Ballets for other companies.

Fortunately for dance lovers and historians Lubov Tchernicheva left her personal papers and ballet records to the Harvard University Library and her husband, Sergei Grigoriev, left his to the United States Library of Congress.

Tchernicheva also had amazing costumes for many of the roles she danced! Fortunately many striking photos of her were taken in many roles and survive.

The Ballets Russes Cleopatra Costume by artist Sonia Delaunay 1918

My favorite photos of Lubov are as Cleopatra originally known as Une Nuit d’Egypt and premiered by Diaghilev’s troupe in 1908. The ballet was revived in 1917 and exquisite and truly fantastic (as in a product of the artist’s Egyptian fantasy) new costumes were designed for the revived production by Russian artist and textile designer Sonia Delaunay. These Cleopatra costumes are the version Lubov wore in these photographs.

Lubov Tchernicheva in her Cleopatra costume designed by Sonia Delaunay

In the days these old photos were taken the ballet dancers often had to assume a pose in the photographers studio and hold it for a long time while the glass plates of film were exposed. By a long time I mean as long as 20 minutes while the photographer got set up and  organized and then slowly exposed the film. It must have been sheer torture!

Tchernicheva reclining elegantly as Cleopatra

It is hard to hold perfectly still in an an exotic pose, no matter how static, without twitching or swaying a tiny bit. I know because I have posed for photographers who were trying out the old techniques.Dancers were really happy when fast film was developed so that they could be photographed in action!

Tchernicheva strikes a pose a l'Egypte in the photographer's studio

 

Tchernichova’s strong aristocratic profile is amazing and perfect for the character of Cleopatra! And the headdress! it must have taken practice to perform in such a costume – it does not look like it allows for freedom of movement. It looks to me as if the dancer had to adapt to working within the confines and limitations of the costume. Fashion is often like that as well! It is interesting to note that this ballet set off a fashion craze for all things Egyptian in Paris and London. Society ladies were even getting Egyptian tattoos in intimate areas of their bodies!



An Autographed Portrait of Igor Schwezoff from his Ballets Russes Days

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Autographed Photo of Igor Schwezoff circa 1937 - 1941 during his days with the Ballets Russes.

Today I located this long lost autographed portrait of Igor Schwezoff from his Ballets Russes days circa 1939 – 1941. It has been hidden away in the personal papers and memoirs of the Russian ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva for over 70 years. In a final generous act for her devoted fans, Tchernicheva, donated her personal collection of dance momentos to The Theater Collection of the Houghton Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Lubov Tchernicheva (1890 – 1976) was a leading dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1911-1929. She was married to Sergei Grigoriev, the company Regisseur. She retired in 1926, but was coaxed out of retirement by Rene Blum to star again and serve as ballet mistress for Col. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. Her husband served as Regisseur for this company as well. She continued to perform with this group from 1932-1952. She was essentially such a popular ballerina her public wouldn’t allow her to retire!

During this period, from 1937-1940, that the company spent an extended period in Australia where Igor Schwezoff staged his ballet Lutte Eternelle as I described in my previous blog post.

In the 1950’s the Grigorievs worked together restaging Fokine’s ballets for other ballet companies.

Lubov Tchernicheva was a great beauty and a beautiful dancer. She was acclaimed for her pure classical technique and acting abilities and excelled in exotic roles that tapped her dramatic skills. She caused a sensation in 1918 as Cleopatra in costumes designed by Sonia Delauney.

She dedicated her entire life to performing and teaching the art of ballet and was especially appreciated by other dancers for her generosity with her knowledge, skill and dance experience.

Lubov Tchernicheva was one of the dancers Igor Schwezoff referred to as “The Eternal Greats”  whose portraits and performance photos hung on his studio walls to inspire his students to excel.

In honor of Lubov Tchernicheva I will put up a gallery of some of these beautiful photos in my  next blog post.

Igor Schwezoff’s Ballet La Lutte Eternelle

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

I was fortunate to studied ballet with the late great Russian ballet master Igor Schwezoff in Washington DC and New York City.

La Lutte Eternelle Choreographed by Igor Schwezoff to music by Schumann in the Version Premiered and Performed by the de Basil Ballets Russes at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, Australia on July 29, 1940

Today I found this photograph of one of his early choreographies and the accompanying description quite by chance while looking for a photo of the ballerina Tamara Toumanova. Very few photos of Mr. Schwezoff’s work are known to exist so I was very happy to locate this wonderful picture! This photo was posted on the blog  Kurt of Gerolstein as La Lutte Eternelle: a ballet by Schwezoff. The author apparently found it in a box or old news clippings and dance photos and says that, knowing nothing about ballet and caring nothing about it he thinks it may be of interest to somebody else! Thank you Kurt of Gerolstien! It certainly is of interest to me and will be to other people who worked with Igor Schwezoff! And I want to know what else was in that box!

Mr. Schwezoff was born in 1904 in St. Petersberg and trained in the Marinsky Theater School. In 1931 he defected from Siberia through Manchuria to Harbin, China. He then made his way to to Western Europe where he danced with Bronislava Najinska in Amsterdam and ran his own ballet schools in Amsterdam and London. While in Amsterdam he choreographed his initial version of La Lutte Eternelle to Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques. While in London he wrote his biography titled Borzoi describing his early life in Russia and his harrowing escape to the west.

Mr. Schwezoff traveled widely and eventually joined the de Basil Ballets Russes in 1939 as a soloist and choreographer. He restaged his work La Lutte Eternelle for this company during their Australian tour. The Australian cast featured Georges Skibine  ( also known as Yura Skibine) in the role of Man, Nina Verchinina as Woman, Tamara Toumanova as Illusion, Sono Osato as Beauty, Marina Svetlova as Truth and Boris Runanine as Will. Other members of the cast were Slava Toumine , Paul Petroff and Oleg Tupine. The cast pictured in the above photo includes Nina Verchinina, Georges ( Yura) Skibine, Slava Toumine , Paul Petroff and Oleg Tupine.

The costumes and scenery were designed by the sisters Kathleen and Florence Martin of Melbourne. The costumes were made by Olga Larose, the company wardrobe mistress and the sets were executed by G. Upward. The press found the production work to be a first rate success which carried through the symbolism of Schwezoff’s choreography. One critic in Melboursne called La Lutte Eternelle  a ballet of wholly perfect dancing in which splendid movement is guided by great music. The Schumann score was orchestrated by Anton Dulati, the Hungarian conductor.

The ballet’s theme dealt with man’s progress towards an ideal beyond worldly things explored through allegory. The key roles included Truth, Illusion, Beauty and Will.

La Lutte Eternaelle was well received by both the public and the press in both the initial Amsterdam ballet school production and the professional revised world premiere staged for the de Basil Ballets Russes and premiered in Sydney at the Theatre Royal on the 29th of July in 1940.

Mr. Schwezoff notably performed the role of the Old General in the popular David Lichine ballet Graduation Ball during this 1937 – 1940 Australian tour of the de Basil Ballets Russes. Fortunately some photos of him and other notorious cast members in these performances exist in the records of the Australian Public Library.

If anyone reading this has further information about Igor Schwezoff or photographs of him and his works I would love to be notified as I am trying to complie all the biographical information I can about him. Please post a comment if you know more!

Mr. Schwezoff ultimately worked in major ballet companies all over the world and became one of the most important and influential teachers in New York City. His classes were frequented by many well known professional ballet dancers. He passed away in 1982 at the age of 78.

 

Ballerina Tamara Toumanova Wearing a Vintage Fur Coat in a Dress Rehearsal

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Tamara Toumanova trying to keep warm on the freezing cold stage during a dress rehearsal of Aurora's Wedding from The Sleeping Beauty

While researching a ballet in the 1937 Ballets Russes Repretoire I came across this charming photo of ballerina Tamara Toumanova wearing a vintage fur jacket while trying to keep warm on a freezing stage during a dress rehearsal for Aurora’s Wedding scene in The Sleeping Beauty. The cavernous old theaters were often very cold which is one reason ballerinas and opera singers needed to have a cozy fur coat on hand at all times! I love this photo because it illustrates such a practical and personal use for a fur coat!

This image is from the Geoffrey Ingram collection of ballet photographs from the Ballets Russes Australian tour, 1936-1940 and features Tamara Toumanova, Michael Panaieff, Anton Vlassoff and Oleg Tupine, 1940.

Anna Pavlova’s Lace Dress

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Anna Pavlove in Lace

While doing some research on the ballerina Anna Pavlova I found this formal portrait of her wearing an extraordinarily beautiful lace dress with a train and a lace shawl or cape. This is not a wedding dress. It is just one of the many glamorous gowns she collected and wore in her normal non dancing life. She loved fashion and dressed exquisitely. And made sure she was photographed in fashionable attire as well as her dance costumes. And she spent a fortune on jewels, furs and designer gowns. It was necessary part of building her image. This gown appears to be an empire waist creation with short sleeves that is belted with a soft cumberbund under the bust. The skirt is longer that floor length in front and extends into a flowing train behind her. The shawl or cape is a diaphanous lace creation. I cannot find any information on the designer of the dress or the occasion for which she wore it. Knowing Pavlova she may have acquired it solely for the purpose of wearing for a photo shoot. She carefully constructed her public image as a star ballerina and artistic beauty through publicity photos designed to present her as a great beauty. This was a common practice for stage performers at the time. ( As it is today!)  There are many photos of Helen Haze in equally exotic fashionable attire as well. These women were well aware of the powerful allure their images held for their adoring public. I love this style and era of fashion.

The Dying Swan Lives Again

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Pavlova in her Dying Swan costume in a studio portrait

The Dying Swan was a beautiful signature solo choreographed for the ballerina Anna Pavlova by the choreographer Michail Fokine  in Russia 1905.

An amazing young dancer named Lil’ Buck performs his new variation on her famous dance. I think she would have loved it, actually!

Lil’ Buck performing The Dying Swan. He is extraordinary in his own right! Please enjoy!

Here is the History of the ballet, The Dying Swan.

The incomparable Anna Pavlova performing her original Dying Swan at the Marinsky theater in 1907.

Pavlova toured the world giving over 4,000 performances of this ballet to audiences who were seeing the art of ballet for the very first time. She created many fans for ballet in her lifetime.

Lil’ Buck is doing a similar thing in his own way in our modern times. He is exposing many young people to dance through his performances and inspired teaching. In a way this is a perfect vehicle for him. I think Madame would have approved!

 

Viktor Jessen’s Creative Editing of Gaite Parisienne – Amazing!

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Here is an Interview of Vida Brown by Mary Neal with footage of Vida Brown dancing in Gaite Parisieene. Vida was one of the dancer’s performing the part of the Flower Girl in the Gaite Paisienne film of Viktor Jessen. As Vida watches the film with Mary Neal who is conducting the interview she points out who is on stage in the part of the flower girl and how this is constantly changing! As she says at one point, “Have you ever seen anything like it?” Viktor just substituted one performer for another mid dance, even mid phrase if he had to to cobble the entire ballet together.

It must be remembered that he filmed the Ballet Russe for 10 years following them all over the country, attending performance after performance in order to do this! I find I do not mind the cast substitutions and rapid changes as the performances are so infectiously delightful the entire experience is just fun and joyous. Vida Brown didn’t mind it either, as she is smiling and laughing with delight throughout the film and as amazed as we are! She points out who is dancing when as they make their entrances and exits. It is amazing. The characterizations are very good. All the dancers are great! There is so much sheer joy and dancing with pleasure and abandon that dancers can only do if their technique is pure and perfect and they are performing a lot! The Ballet Russe performed constantly and traveled all over the country doing so. Those dancers got a lot of experience and owned the stage! So different than today. I just love seeing their great confidence and joy in performing. Of course some of the best ballet dancers in the world at that time were members of the Ballet Russe. The casting is perfection.

I recommend this film highly even though it is indeed a cobbled together version of the ballet with cast members changing (in mid phrase sometimes!) –  and the sound is not dead on, but it is a fascinating picture of what the ballet looked like on stage at the time. Gaite Paisienne was an incredibly influential ballet, it was the image of what ballet is for tens of thousands of people, and seeing it helps put that mid-20th century period of ballet in context.

Massine, the choreographer said, “It was popular in the United States because we gave the audience something they could relate to onstage: the working people, the waiters, the dancers, the cabaret, the charming shop girls, the dandies and the soldiers. It was rowdy and fun and full of an infectious energy. The Americans loved it. It was a great success in America, but it was not popular in Britain where the taste was more restrained and the audience wanted subdued ballets.”

The Daring Viktor Jessen – Filming Gaite Parisienne and The Ballet Russe

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Amazingly Viktor Jessen filmed the ballet without the Ballet Russe’s permission. This was an act of incredible daring as the administration was terribly strict!

Cameras are not allowed in the live theater to this day and it is strictly enforced. Here Gary Lemco writes about Jessen daringly sneaking into the performances to film night after night, about his amazing dedication to his project and his shear love of the ballet and its stars. The 12 minute segment of the DVD explains how it was done.

Gaite Parisienne by Viktor Jessen

Aren’t we fortunate!

Here is an exceptional experience for the film lover, the ballet enthusiast, and the history buff: a relatively unknown Danish film-maker, Victor Jessen (1901-1995) wanted, in his own words, “to make a permanent record on film of some of the most important works of the most perfect living art: The Dance.” Between 1943-1954, Jessen neglected his work as an engineer so he could sneak filmed performances–wearing black and shooting from high in the loge or balcony from the back of the box with a special camera wrapped to muffle its mechanical sound–of classic ballet works performed in Los Angeles by visiting ballet companies; to wit, the 1954 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production of Offenbach’s Gaite Parisienne as choreographed by Leonide Massine and produced and mounted by Frederic Franklin and company. Jessen called this venture “The Ultimate Daring,” since it required him to return each night to shoot with film magazines limited to 2.5 minutes of film and having to rewind every 30 seconds. He had to memorize which portions of the ballet he had missed to fill in the gaps. To capture the sound, Jessen returned with a tape recorder to capture the orchestra of the Ballet Russe in concert.
The result presents us an astonishing performance–a virtual circus of dazzling movement–of Gaite Parisienne, with its colorful cast of characters, with Frederic Franklin as the Baron; Alexandra Danilova as The Glove Seller; and Leon Danielian as The Peruvian. Rife with dazzling intricacies of movement, a perpetually busy stage, densely packed, the action follows the courtship by the Peruvian and The Baron of the lovely Glove Seller. Before she settles upon the Baron as her love, she leads the Peruvian on a merry course of poses and dances, including the famous Can-Can with the Corps de Ballet from Orpheus in the Underworld, only to dance the Barcarolle with the Baron and leave the Peruvian bereft.   The costumes, designed by Etienne de Beaumont, even in black and white, seem sumptuous–though in the documentary part we see them in living color–and they will remind more than one spectator of John Huston’s pageant for his film Moulin Rouge with Jose Ferrer. Many of the dances assume a Spanish sense of décor, not only French, though the movement of the waiters–their effortless athleticism–and the drooping gestures and pirouettes ooze with Gallic color by way of the Russian emigration into Paris. The lighting becomes another character on stage; and in the Barcarolle, the trail of dancers becomes a human gondola providing a backdrop for the lovely duet of the Glove Seller and the Baron.
The bonus track interview with principal Frederic Franklin and John Mueller proves equally fascinating. Massine joined the troupe in 1938 and immediately instituted his own concepts. He liked Danilova–whom Frederic Ashton dubbed “the Queen of the skirt-wagging roles”–and he liked Franklin because “Freddy does everything I show him.” Franklin recalls that while Gaite did not do well in Britain, it created a sensation in America: “we brought a ballet that was down to their level,” quips Franklin. “The piece did not have men in tights but cabaret people and waiters, the working class.
“We had some fine conductors: Efrem Kurtz, Pierre Monteux, Eugene Goossens, and even Stravinsky. We did have trouble once–with Leopold Stokowski–who led the Beethoven Seventh Symphony so fast no one could dance to it, so the dancers all left the stage in bits and pieces, leaving Stokowski to conduct a symphony instead of a ballet!” Franklin eulogizes Massine constantly, but also Mme. Karinska, the costumier who would lend Franklin Massine’s own pantaloons for The Baron, which were filled out in the calves to compensate for Massine’s bowl legs!
Franklin laments the difficulty of maintaining the Massine tradition in both dance and choreography: “the trouble lies in not having the same requirements–mostly theatrical–for ballet training any more. We came from the theater, and so we could project a character in mime and gesture. We had timing and characterization in our blood–and it’s very hard to teach. So some new choreographers are beginning to realize this passing tradition and insist that their corps de ballet do preparatory theater work.”
The 12-minute segment, “The Saga of Victor Jessen” uses still period photos from the 1920s and a few color shots to highlight this obscure pioneer in aesthetic film-making. His accidental discovery by Massine while shooting a ballet and making too much noise led to Massine’s angry remark, “Why don’t you use a blimp?” And that ‘blimp’ idea triggered the engineer’s design of a wrap for his camera that would muffle the sound; he even wrapped the shiny parts of the machine in black to make his entire presence ‘invisible.’ Once discovered in the balcony of the Met by an usher and anticipating the demise of his entire career, Jessen heard the usher exclaim, “That’s what I should be doing!” and found an ally. That anonymous usher is the recipient of a credit at the end of the documentary. “When I die I want my films to be shown to anybody,” stated Jessen. His wish is our command.
–Gary Lemco

http://audaud.com/2010/07/offenbach-leonide-massine%E2%80%99s-gaite-parisienne/

Victor Jessen’s Film of Massine’s Gaite Parisienne

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Here is information on the production details and how to procure the film of Victor Jesson’s Gaite Parisienne. This is the production starring Alexandra Danilova,  Fredric Franklin and Leon Danielian in its entirety. I have just ordered it and can hardly wait to receive it!

Here is another excerpt from the film of the Cancan scene: Can Can From Gaite Parisienne as filmed by Victor Jesson.

Here is an interview from Frederic Franklin on the Jessen Film: Frederic Franklin Interview – the Jesson Film.

This is totally fascinating!  A total treat for vintage ballet fans!

Enjoy!

 

Viktor Jessen and How He Filmed Gaite Pariesienne

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Arts

HOME VIDEO/NEW RELEASES; Underground Ballet

By JENNIFER DUNNING
Published: August 21, 1988

GAITE PARISIENNE Starring Alexandra Danilova (in photo), Frederic Franklin (in photo) and Leon Danielian, with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Video Artists International, Inc. 38 minutes.

Victor Jessen’s ”Gaite Parisienne” is the maddest of ventures. Mr. Jessen, a Danish-born engineer and single-minded balletomane, surreptitiously filmed Leonide Massine’s ”Gaite Parisienne” at performances between 1944 and 1954, using a primitive camera that had to be wound up every 30 seconds. In 1954, he spliced the pieces together to make a film of the whole ballet, set to a single performance of the Offenbach score.

The three stars remain the same: the superbly chic and merry Alexandra Danilova as the Glove Seller, a radiantly romantic Frederic Franklin as the Baron and a surprisingly sexy Leon Danielian as the giddy Peruvian. Some subsidiary roles are performed by a variety of dancers, with a new face showing only at the completion of a turn or a new performance indicated only by a sudden shift of lighting, for instance, at the top of a lift.

The keen-eyed will spot other ballet luminaries within the ranks. And the performances are not only of historical value, but offer an instructive antidote to American Ballet Theater’s hyperactive recent production. This ”Gaite Parisienne” is not for the novice. But balletomanes will treasure it.

Alexandra Danilova Was Champagne & What Was in That Tray of Gloves!

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Arts
COLLECTIONS>FREDERIC FRANKLIN A wonderfully entertaining review with commentary of Frederic Franklin on Danilova ~ so worldly yet so utterly charmant!

DANCE VIEW; Alexandra Danilova: She Continues To Be Champagne

By Jennifer Dunning
Published: September 10, 1989

Alexandra Danilova is an indisputable legend in a time when legends in ballet are few. Recently named to receive a Kennedy Center Honor this winter, she soon will be presented with the Handel Medallion from the City of New York. In a career in dance that has spanned more than seven decades, from her days as a student at the fabled Maryinsky Theater in St. Petersburg (now the Kirov in Leningrad) to her teaching at the School of American Ballet in Manhattan, Madame Danilova, as she is referred to by many, has become an exotic institution in American dance and a link between very different eras.

There are new ways of thinking about dance today. Dancers are no longer so much the bearers of magic to a humdrum world as a part of the social fabric of that world, particularly in cities outside New York. But a century ago, ballet was represented in this country by exotic emissaries from foreign lands who settled in America to teach the art of chorus-dancing and deportment. There was the bewitching Anna Pavlova and her innumerable tours to every corner of the United States, as well as the Diaghilev company and the beloved Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Madame Danilova is a product, of course, of the hardy yet unfailingly glamorous Ballet Russe. For many Americans, she personified the company, and box-office success was guaranteed by her partnership on stage with Frederic Franklin, the company’s English premier danseur. In his history of the company, ”The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo,” Jack Anderson, a Times dance critic, writes that a 1944 Columbus, Ohio, engagement by the troupe was billed as ”Mlle Danilova, Frederic Franklin and Company.”

There was a piquant radiance about Madame Danilova that is undiminished today, epitomized in her heart-shaped face with its large, heavily lidded eyes. She was famous for her slender, tapering legs and well-turned feet. She was known best for her portrayals of three seductive characters in ballets by Leonide Massine – the Cancan Dancer in ”La Boutique Fantasque,” the Street Dancer in ”Le Beau Danube” and the Glove-Seller in ”Gaite Parisienne.”

Madame Danilova’s Glove-Seller knew, as Mr. Franklin put it, that her tray of gloves contained ”all kinds of stuff – contraceptives, everything.” Seeing her dance the role in a filmed record of ”Gaite Parisienne” by Victor Jessen, a balletomane and camera buff, reinforces that observation. Here, too, is a performer who is as self-contained as she is abandoned, dancing as much, it seems, for herself as for her audience. Effervescent miming and her relationship with Mr. Franklin, her ardent yet gentle Baron, add to the fascination of her dancing.

She was a spirited Swanilda in ”Coppelia.” The role of Giselle was not her forte, though her Swan Queen was considered hauntingly sad. She was champagne, her admirers proclaimed. Her famous legs were described by Lincoln Kirstein as being like ”luminous wax.” She was gaiety and elegance and wit.

”She has by nature and by artistry a wonderful legato that gives to all the sharp accents and spurts of cancan steps that the part calls for a musical grace none of the younger dancers have learned,” Edwin Denby, the noted dance critic, once wrote of Danilova in a review of ”Le Beau Danube.” ”In comparison to her they seem to trust to luck for their balance, and so their dancing loses flow and sweetness. Danilova makes her temperamental vivacity count because the movements are so well placed. Where others look happy, she scintillates. But it is her feminine presence, her air of dancing for the delight of it, that captures the audience’s heart.”

But her legend goes back farther than the Ballet Russe. Madame Danilova developed as an artist at the Maryinsky or Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, the cradle of 20th-century ballet and the leading interpreter of the ballets of Marius Petipa. She was also a participant in – and knowing observer of – the experiments in ballet that erupted briefly with the explosion of new art forms in Russia during the 1920’s. One of those experimentalists was George Balanchine, a fellow classmate at the Maryinsky, with whom she soon joined Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, thus becoming involved in another of the century’s formative artistic ventures.

It was all that experience that Madame Danilova brought to the School of American Ballet, where she taught dances from the classical ballets of Petipa and provided a vibrant connection to that hallowed but very distant-seeming past. To watch her in class at the school, where she has taught since 1964, was to see the transformation of coltish young American girls into dancers of distinctive style, often through the merest suggestion of detail.

That past is still vivid to Madame Danilova, but no more vivid than the world she lives in today. Though she retired from the School of American Ballet this year, she is still very active. Early next month, for instance, she will travel to Louisville, Ky., to participate in a seminar on the Imperial Russian Ballet, followed by a week of teaching master classes at Ballet Midland in Midland, Tex.

Ballerinas were dazzling public figures when Madame Danilova danced, and few were so conscious of their debt to the public. There is an edge of teasing to her charm today. Her conversation is laced with the gaiety and elegance of her dancing, its tart wittiness as well as its candor. There is a sense, too, of the aloofness, noted by Robert Greskovic in The New Dance Review, that is an essential part of Leningrad dancers. Madame Danilova is never less than a star, a prerogative maintained with graceful equanimity.

At 85, she has slowed her pace. But she has lost none of the sometimes poignant indomitability learned from a life lived in a world torn by revolution, war and the vagaries of her profession. It is a life captured with much of Madame Danilova’s spirit in ”Choura,” her autobiography, which was published in 1986, and in ”Reflections of a Dancer: Alexandra Danilova,” a 1987 documentary film by Anne Belle. A friend tells of a bad fall Madame Danilova had at home in June, in which she fractured her right knee. She was unable to summon help for many hours but finally managed to reach the friend, who took her to the hectic emergency room of one of New York’s hospitals. There, she waited again, in considerable pain. At last, a very young doctor approached her. ”How old are you?” he asked. ”Guess,” she answered. ”Are you 70?” he ventured. ”Close enough,” she said imperiously, winking at her friend.

Films of The Glove Seller in Gaite Parissiene ~ Additional Commentary

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Apparently I was having some trouble with the link to the Waltz of the Baron and the Glove Seller the link should be working now. It was working when we tested it, but I just redid it and tested it again.

I have since added the last two additional posts with the history and the libretto of the ballet and another post with a Warner Brother’s film of the Ballet Russe Production. To my knowledge this blog is the only place all this information and footage is gathered together and presented in one location on the web or any place else. I will continue to add to it as I locate more.

Some things to observe:
Note how the Glove Seller blows into the glove to open the fingers before slipping in onto the Peruvian’s hand! I love the many authentic nuances she has used to fill out the performance.

Unfortunately Warner Bros. did not see it fit to film her little glove shop stall which, in the original ballet set is filled with gloves of all shapes and colors hanging from the awning style roof and backdrop and displayed on the tray like table top that is slanted toward the audience and shows many gloves looking very enticing and colorful!  I am hoping to find a photo of that part of the set to post. The flower girl also had a stall of colorful flowers and flowers in buckets French street stall style that they don’t show in the film! Too bad because they were absolutely charming sets! And of course made you want to buy both gloves and flowers in every possible color and style!

If you look closely you should be able to see a pair of long black gloves tucked into the belt of the Glove Seller’s white ruffled dress during part of the dancing!

In the Ballet Russe redition there was much mime work in the role of the Glove Seller showing the customers her gloves for sale in the stage production. And some customers buying them and putting them on – adding them to their costumes and dancing with them on for the rest of the evening. Apparently Warner’s felt this was too still and boring for film audiences – another mistake on their part as the mime scenes in ballets as well as operas are very important to the dramatic rendering and telling of the stories.

I was taken to a stage production of this ballet by my mother when I was about 5 yrs old and it was so colorful and lovely I still remember the costumes and dancing. The Glove Seller was enchanting! She was charming and elegant beyond description! A great actress. The audience applauded with a standing ovation before she even began to dance. She was so loved and respected for her interpretation that this became a customary part of the audience behavior and really set the mood for exalted dynamic dancing. I did not see Danilova dance her role as she had retired by the time I was born and taken to the ballet! I was witness to her tradition in the performances I saw. Because she had passed her role on to other dancers and taught them her interpretation.

As you can see the colorful vintage ballet costumes were just lovely!

My mother had seen the original productions with Franklin and Danilova and talked a great deal about the impact they had on her. She loved the ballet and The Ballet Russes.

So far I have not been able to find a portrait of Alexandra Danilova in her glove seller costume.

I am sad that Warner’s didn’t get her performance on film. We have to thank Viktor Jessen, the invisible amateur filmmaker who, in the 1950’s dressed all in black and filmed the Ballet Russe production from the wings over and over for two years with an old wind up super 8 camera night after night and finally pieced together all the footage of the Danilova/ Franklin performance that is all that is available today! If he had not done it there would not be any record of Danilova’s dancing that role!

It is truly only within the last decade that it had become customary to regularly video tape dance performances. Most of the old famous ones are only memories passed down by those who saw them. My mother talked so much about Danilova that I felt as if I had seen her perform the role myself! Her impression was so strong that it was conveyed from one generation to another in this way! Amazing when you think about it!

Unfortunately film really cannot capture the mystery and beauty of live dance performances. It is impossible. But something is much better than nothing!
I am so grateful to this ballet fan of old ~ Mr. Jessen, for diligently filming the production he loved so much!

Interesting to note, the Ballet Russe would not announce who was going to be dancing the role of the Glove Seller before the performances so Jessen arrived and set up his camera and waited backstage to see who would come out! If it was Danilova and Franklin he would film it. If not, he would pack up his equipment and leave! He recorded the orchestra playing the music at a different performance, then grafted the tape and the film together! It isn’t always right on, but it is pretty good considering his early primitive equipment! Once again, you have got to love the guy and his dedication!

Another interesting note, Jessen was so quiet and unobtrusive that the dancers were not aware he was there, in the wings, filming them. Thankfully the management allowed him to do so!

I hope you enjoy the beautiful and colorful vintage dance costumes which are captured nicely in the Warner’s Bros. Production No wonder people loved going to live theater and seeing the gorgeous clothes as well as the performances. Remember the audiences dressed to the nines for the occasion as well.

As a child I was told that we must dress up our very best when we attended the theater to show our respect for the dancers, actors and musicians who have gone to so much super human effort to create this magnificent production for our enjoyment. I was told we owed it to them, to show our appreciation by looking beautiful as well!

I agree with this philosophy to this day. Attending live theater is a special occasion and a privilege and an opportunity to show our respect and appreciation to the performers. My mother said it was our responsibility as audience members to dress beautifully as that was our part of the entire performance and experience. I have always enjoyed upholding my end of it by dressing up for the occasion! And I really enjoy seeing other people who dress up too.

A couple of years ago I attended a performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet and a bevy of about a dozen teenage girls were attending the event together. They had all dressed up in 1950’s long vintage tulle pastel ball gowns and real fur stoles and jackets, complete with high heels and vintage jewelry and little tiaras to attend the ballet. They had all had their hair done and made it a real dress up occasion and they were absolutely lovely! Obviously! As I still remember them and am writing about it today! It was a rare sight to see these days. I think they will all remember the event for their entire lives as well! What fun!

Since there are few occasions now that demand us to dress up it is a great idea to create our own, as this group of girls did. I am sure they had as wonderful a time deciding what to wear and getting ready as they did watching the ballet. I didn’t carry a camera to the performance ( you are not allowed to photograph the dancers) but I wish I had to photograph the audience! I think I will try to smuggle one in my evening bag just for this purpose in when I go again!

Violette

The Gay Parisian – as filmed by Warner Bros. with The Ballet Russe

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

The Ballet Gaite Parisienne about the Glove Seller and others in a night of entertainment at a Parisian Cafe filmed by Warner Bros. who produced this film of the entire ballet but would not use Alexandra Danilova as the Glove Seller claiming she was too old and not pretty enough! The cast they used did a marvelous job, but she was the one ballet audiences wanted and associated with the role for the fabulous quality of her dancing.

Anyway here it is in two parts. The film is very hard to find as there are copyright infringement issues……..

Part 1 The Gay Parisian

Part 2 The Gay Parisian

 

The Libretto of Gaite Parisienne ~ the Glove Seller Ballet

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Gaîté Parisienne

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Gaîté Parisienne (literally, “Parisian Gaiety”) is a ballet choreographed by Léonide Massine to music by Jacques Offenbach orchestrated by Manuel Rosenthal in collaboration with Jacques Brindejonc-Offenbach, the composer’s nephew.[1] With a libretto and décor by Comte Étienne de Beaumont and costumes executed by Barbara Karinska, it was first presented by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Théâtre de Monte Carlo on 5 April 1938.[2][3]

Video on YouTube of the Waltz Duet of The Baron and The Glove Seller with Frederic Franklin and Alexandra Danilova

Contents

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[edit] Synopsis

Performed in one act, the ballet does not have a conventional narrative. Instead, it depicts the amorous flirtations, convivial dancing, and high spirits of a diverse group of people who patronize a fashionable Paris café one evening during the period of the Second Empire (1851–1870). Members of various social classes are among the participants.

As the curtain opens, four waiters and four cleaning women are preparing the room for the evening’s entertainment. They dance a merry dance before the doors are opened to the public. The first to arrive is a pretty Flower Girl, who has come to sell her nosegays to the customers. She dances happily with the waiters, flouncing her skirts and petticoats, as the charladies depart. Next to enter is a gaggle of six cocodettes, flighty young women of questionable virtue, with three billiards players as their escorts. The group dances about the room in a rousing mazurka. At its conclusion, a glamorous Glove Seller appears in the doorway and waltzes into the room, charming everyone there. A change of music announces the arrival of a wealthy Peruvian tourist, who enters in a state of high excitement. Bearing two carpetbags, he is so eager to join the Parisian nightlife that he has not stopped to deposit his luggage. The cocodettes are interested in him, and in his apparent wealth, but he is attracted to the Glove Seller. Next, to the strains of a swelling waltz, a handsome Baron enters. He is welcomed by the Flower Girl, but he is immediately captivated by the Glove Seller. When they dance together, they seem to form a perfect partnership. Drum beats and march music then signal the arrival of an Officer and a platoon of soldiers. On the lookout for girls, the soldiers engage the cocodettes and the Flower Girl in another dance. Suddenly, a fashionable society beauty, a courtesan known as La Lionne, arrives, accompanied by her escort, a Duke, and a companion, the Lady in Green. The room is now filled with people seeking an evening’s diversion, entertainment, and, possibly, amorous adventure.

La Lionne, in a bright red ball gown, becomes the center of attraction. She vies for the attention of the Officer, who flirts with the Glove Seller, who contrives to make the Baron jealous by pretending to respond to the attention of the Peruvian. The Duke is disconcerted by the behavior of La Lionne, but he is also interested in the Glove Seller, and he joins the Officer, the Baron, and the Peruvian in wooing her in a vivacious pas de cinq, lifting her high above their heads and exposing her pretty legs. A quarrel develops among the four men and a fight breaks out. The Baron and the Glove Seller escape the melee, but almost everyone else joins in. After order is restored and everyone has left the room, the Baron and the Glove Seller return and dance an exuberant, romantic waltz, with aerial lifts and swooping turns. At its conclusion, a troupe of can-can dancers enters, led by a Dancing Master. They dance a lively can-can with the traditional high kicks, dizzying spins, whirling turns, and much display of ruffled skirts, black garters, and frothy white underthings. At the height of the ensuing merriment, everyone joins in a boistrous ballabile.

Thereafter, the mood softens; the lights dim, and to the strains of a gentle barcarole, everyone prepares to leave. Some of the guests pair off. La Lionne departs with the Officer, the Flower Girl leaves with the Duke, and others slowly drift out into the night. The Peruvian returns, expecting to find the Glove Seller waiting for him. Instead, he discovers her and the Baron in a passionate embrace. From the dusky doorway, they wave farewell to him as he is left alone in a spotlight, slumped over, drained of energy, disappointed by the outcome of the evening. The curtain closes.[4][5]

[edit] Original Cast

At the premiere, the role of the Glove Seller was danced by Nina Tarakanova, the Flower Girl was Eugenia Delarova, and La Lionne was portrayed by Jeannette Lauret. Frederic Franklin took the part of the Baron, Igor Youskevitch was the Officer, and Massine himself danced the major comedy role of the Peruvian.[6]

[edit] History

Before the opening night, the ballet was advertised under the tentative titles of Gay Mabille and Tortoni, after a Paris café, but Manuel Rosenthal recalled that Count Étienne de Beaumont, the ballet’s librettist, eventually came up with the title that was used at the premiere.[7]

Massine had originally commissioned this ballet from Roger Désormière, but, owing to lack of time,[8] he asked his friend Rosenthal to take on the commission. Initially not inclined to fulfill the assignment, Rosenthal reportedly said, “I don’t know Offenbach well; I’m not used to orchestrating the music of other people; I don’t want to do it; I don’t know Miasine [Massine]”. However, Désormière was insistent enough that Rosenthal eventually accepted the task.

With advice from Nadia Boulanger, Massine directed Rosenthal’s selection of the Offenbach excerpts. After completion of the score, Massine was unsure about it and was inclined to reject it. Rosenthal then proposed that Igor Stravinsky act as arbitrator over the acceptance of the score, to which Massine agreed. Upon hearing the music, Stravinsky strongly advised Massine to accept Rosenthal’s arrangements. However, because of the poor relations between Massine and Rosenthal, Rosenthal himself did not conduct the first performance of the ballet, and instead Efrem Kurtz was conductor for the ballet’s premiere.[9]

Gaîté Parisienne was first presented in the United States by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on 12 October 1938, with Alexandra Danilova as the Glove Seller and Delarova, Lauret, Franklin, Youskevitch, and Massine in the same roles they had danced at the premiere in Monte Carlo.[10] Danilova, who had shared the role of the Glove Seller with Tarakanova in Europe, became indelibly associated with the role in America. Unlike Tarakanova, who had played the Glove Seller as demure and naive, Danilova portrayed her as a vivacious, glamorous, sophisticated woman of the world.[11] “Danilova in Gaîté became one of the attractions of the Ballet Russe, and the ballet often concluded a season’s opening-night performance. On the opening night of the company’s 1941 season in New York, when Danilova made her first entrance she was given a spontaneous ovation that stopped the show. Such show-stopping ovations thenceforth became a tradition of every opening-night Gaîté with Danilova.” [12]

The charming role of the Flower Girl was choreographed especially to suit the talents and abilities of Eugenia Delarova, Massine’s second wife, and she was ideally suited to its exuberant lyricism. Frederic Franklin, young, blond, and handsome, was perfectly cast as the Baron and was long known for that role. Jeannette Lauret, a statuesque dancer with sparkling eyes, was also particularly admired as La Lionne, which she performed many times. After Massine left the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1943, Leon Danielian eventually inherited the role of the Peruvian and became closely identified with it. Over time, he altered the original choreography to suit his personal style and invented new mannerisms for comic effect, virtually re-creating the character.[13] He was much admired in the role and was said by many to have exceeded the characterization of the originator.

Other productions of Massine’s Gaîté Parisienne were mounted by the Royal Swedish Ballet (1956), American Ballet Theatre (1970), London Festival Ballet (1973), and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo (1989).[14] Lorca Massine staged a revival of his father’s ballet for American Ballet Theatre in 1988, with scenery by Zack Brown and extravagantly inappropriate costumes by French fashion designer Christian Lacroix.[15] The production was not a success and was soon dropped from the repertory.

[edit] Recordings

The full ballet, as well as a concert suite, has been frequently performed and recorded. Efrem Kurtz, who conducted the world premiere, recorded some of the music for Columbia Records on 78-rpm discs. In 1947, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded the ballet for RCA Victor; this high fidelity recording was later issued by RCA as its first 33-1/3 rpm LP in 1950. In 1954, Fiedler recorded the concert suite in stereo, his first stereophonic session for RCA. Rosenthal himself made four recordings of the ballet.

In 1941, Warner Brothers produced an abbreviated Technicolor film version of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production of Gaîté Parisienne that it released in 1942 under the title The Gay Parisian. Directed by Jean Negulesco, it departs considerably from the original scenario of the ballet. The unit set, which was designed to conform to Hollywood’s idea of elegant architecture, including a typical “stairway to nowhere,” bears no resemblance to a room in a Parisian nightclub or café of the Second Empire. Many costumes were redesigned to be somewhat more modest that those seen on the ballet stage, but they were realized in startlingly garish colors to take advantage of the Technicolor process. Further, Massine cut much of his choreography to achieve the desired twenty-minute length and restaged what was left for the movie camera. The result was to focus the work on the role of the Peruvian, played by himself. Besides the loss of some of the most entertaining dances, his changes also obscured the relationships of the characters and made a hash of the story. The Glove Seller was danced by Milada Mladova, a pretty girl from the corps de ballet chosen by the director chiefly for her looks. The cast also includes Frederic Franklin as the Baron, Nathalie Krassovska as the Flower Girl, Igor Youskevitch as the Officer, and André Eglevsky as the Dancing Master. With the exception of the can-can, none of the dancing makes much sense. The film is commercially available only as a bonus feature on the “three-disc special edition” of The Maltese Falcon issued in 2006 by Warner Home Video.

In 1954, Victor Jessen created a black-and-white film of Gaîté Parisienne by laboriously splicing together strips of film he had surreptitiously recorded in theaters during performances by Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo over a ten-year period (1944–1954) and then editing the footage to conform to a sound recording he had also secretly made during a performance sometime around 1954. The synchronization of sound and picture is not exact, but it is close, and the thirty-seven-minute film certainly captures the flavor and spirit of the ballet. Albeit not the smoothest dance film ever made, it is an invaluable document of a perennially popular and much-loved ballet. Issued on DVD in 2006 by Video Artists International, the film stars Danilova as the Glove Seller, Franklin as the Baron, and Leon Danielian as the Peruvian. Featured performers are Tatiana Grantzeva as the Flower Girl, Robert Lindgren as the Officer, Shirley Haynes as La Lionne, Peter Deign as the Duke, Harding Dorn as the Dancing Master, and Moscelyne Larkin and Gertrude Tyven as the lead can-can girl. Optional features include audio commentary by Frederic Franklin and explanatory English subtitles.

[edit]

Ballerina Alexandra Danilova Dances The Glove Seller in The Ballet Gaite Parisienne

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Portrait of Ballerina Alexandra Danilova

Speaking of gloves and elegance – there used to be a profession called Glove Seller! In fact there was even a ballet featuring a glove seller as a central character. She was danced by Alexandra Danilova, the great vintage ballerina.

I have always loved the old style ballets and performances like this one by the legendary Ballet Russe dancers Alexandra Danilova and Frederic Franklin. Here they are dancing the Waltz Duet for the Baron and Glove Seller.

I was lucky to be able to study ballet with Frederic Franklin at the National Ballet in Washington DC and later with Alexandra Danilova at the School of American Ballet in NYC. I was the recipient of Ford Foundation Scholarship awards to both of these schools. They both taught ballet and this kind of beauty to their students – every day in every class. SAB is the official school of The New York City Ballet Company.

As dancers and later as ballet teachers they taught us about life and living, not just dance. They transmitted the charm and elegance and joy in life that you see in this lovely performance to their students and to those audience members who were lucky enough to see them perform. I was born too late to see them dance on stage in this ballet but they transmitted the same essence to me through their classes. I hope you will be inspired by this beauty!

And yes, in case you wondered, Alexandra Danilova did often wear gloves in person. She dressed in memorable color coordinated leotards, tights, skirt, matching hair ribbon  and dyed to match ballet slippers to teach her classes at School of American Ballet – I particularly remember her in an elegant light blue/ turquoise ensemble.  She was George Balanchine’s second wife. And a great favorite of my other ballet teacher, Igor Schwezoff, who was also madly in love with her to the end of his life. She was the very essence of feminine beauty and charm and I only knew her very late in her life. One of the most important reasons she was there ( at the school) was to transmit her special elegance and qualities as a woman to the younger dancers and she made an indelible impression on us.

More about this ballet coming soon.