Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ballets Russes 100

Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 7 Oct 2009. - From the GCM Catalogue: "It is just one hundred years since Serge Diaghilev introduced his Ballets Russes in Paris, bringing a shock to the worlds of music, theatre, and the visual arts which still reverberates today. That first company included dancers whose names are legendary – Pavlova, Nijinsky, Karsavina – along with hardly less brilliant stars like Adolph Bolm, Theodore Kosloff, Alexandra Baldina, and Vera Karalli. Diaghilev’s passion for the arts sadly excluded cinema. As the old Russian Imperial Theatres had done, he expressly forbade his dancers to appear for the camera, and to risk dissolving their enchantments in flickering, mute, monochrome travesties. Hence there is not one metre of film to show us how Nijinsky moved: all images of him are frozen.
It seems then like a small miracle that precisely in this centenary year two fragments of film shot during that 1909 season have emerged from the archives of France’s Centre National du Cinéma. They were first introduced by Mariann Lewinsky in her “Cento anni fa” (“One Hundred Years Ago”) presentation at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato festival in July of this year. Then only just discovered, there had been no time to find out exactly what the dances were, and what music was intended to accompany them. Thanks to the expertise of Roberta Lazzarini, Andrew Foster, and John Sweeney in the succeeding months, we are now able to match music to image, to evoke at least the shadow of the magic of that season of 1909.
We are also reprising the Fairbanks film of Anna Pavlova, shot in 1924 and perhaps the most haunting of all records of the dance. This was given only limited screening for dance specialists in last year’s Shiryaev presentation. – David Robinson". -

La Danse du flambeau. (Les Films du Lion, FR 1909). D: Jules de Froberville; CAST: Tamara Karsavina; 31 m, 1'40" (16 fps); from: AFF/CNC. Senza didascalie. Grand piano: John Sweeney. From the GCM Catalogue: "Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885-1978) was trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and was a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre from 1902 to 1918. Joining Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909, she provided Nijinsky’s ideal partner, until his departure from Diaghilev, and remained the company’s leading ballerina until 1922. In later years she taught in Britain, and was to coach Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in Le Spectre de la Rose, which she had created with Nijinsky.
The original Bakst design for the costume that she wears in this film still survives, revealing that the working title for the ballet was Karsavina’s Assyro-Egyptian Dance. The dance seems to come from Fokine’s ballet based on Anton Arensky’s “Egyptian Nights”, op. 50 (1900). Most dances in the ballet are around 5 minutes long, but one, specifically called “Egyptian Dance”, is 1'40", so almost certainly the one in the film (information from Andrew Foster). This is the music to be played by John Sweeney at the Giornate performance.
Roberta Lazzarini writes, “The Torch Dance was first performed 22 December 1907 at a charity gala in the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. Years later Karsavina recalled the occasion but not what she danced. Confusion has arisen as to the title as the Imperial Theatres yearbook, 1907-08, incorrectly referred to it as ‘Assyrian Dance’.
“In Paris on 19 June 1909, at an important gala in the Théâtre de l’Opéra, Feodor Koslov replaced the indisposed Nijinsky in Les Sylphides, which was given with Le Festin … originally Pavlova and Nijinsky were to have performed Giselle. Le Festin was a series of divertissements and was a moveable feast – depending on which dancers were available, injured, etc. The highlight in Paris was the pas de deux “L’Oiseau d’or” performed by Karsavina and Nijinsky (also called “L’Oiseau de feu”, it was simply the “Bluebird” pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty). I suspect that as Nijinsky was ill and as Karsavina wished to dance, she substituted La Danse du flambeau.
“On the following day M. and Mme Ephrussi hosted a lavish garden party at their home in the Avenue du Bois, when the Russian dancers, again without Nijinsky, repeated the programme of the previous evening. Karsavina received 1000 francs – a vast sum in 1909. I suspect the film was made at this time.”
The dance is filmed against an apparently improvised background of luxurious curtains suspended from a pole, which could indicate that the film was shot in a private house, though the companion film with Kosloff and Baldina appears to have been made on a theatre stage, with backdrops. – David Robinson". -

Pas de deux et soli. (Les Films du Lion, FR 1909). D: Jules de Froberville; CAST: Alexandra Baldina, Theodore Kosloff; 86 m, 4'40" (16 fps); from: AFF/CNC. Senza didascalie. From the GCM Catalogue: "Theodore Kosloff (Fyodor Mikhailovich Koslov, 1882-1956) graduated from the Moscow Imperial Ballet School in 1901 and joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in their first season. In 1917 he was introduced by the writer Jeanie Macpherson, who had taken lessons with him in 1911, to Cecil B. DeMille, whose 12-year-old niece Agnes was desperate to have Kosloff as her teacher – he was indeed to be the inspiration of the future American dance innovator. The encounter led DeMille to cast Kosloff in The Woman God Forgot, and he went on to act in some 26 Hollywood films throughout the rest of the silent period. At the same time he directed a number of Broadway musical shows.
In 1914 a young dancer, Winifred Shaughnessy, had joined Kosloff’s ballet company: Kosloff renamed her Natascha Rambova, and the two embarked on a torrid love affair. This came to an end after 4 years, when Kosloff’s philandering and habit of passing off Natascha’s stage designs as his own proved too much for the future Mrs. Rudolph Valentino. Natascha left him, in the process suffering a parting shot in her leg from Kosloff’s hunting rifle. When sound films put an end to Kosloff’s acting career, he opened several schools – most notably in Los Angeles – with great success. He had also sagely taken his film salaries in Paramount stock. The link with DeMille remained: Kosloff staged the dances for the 1949 Samson and Delilah.
Karsavina recalled in her memoirs how the Diaghilev ballerinas vied for his attention, but that she and Lydia Lopokova were spurned in favour of Alexandra Baldina, whom he had made pregnant, with a child who was to prove a permanent invalid.
Alexandra Vasilievna Baldina (1885-1977) graduated along with her sister Ekaterina from the Imperial Ballet School and joined the Mariinsky company. In 1905 she was transferred to Moscow, where Kosloff was a fellow member of the company. After the Diaghilev period, virtually abandoned by her husband, she also emigrated to the United States, and taught in San Francisco. A former pupil, Victor Anderson, recalls that in the late 1940s, despite their long estrangement, Baldina recommended him to study with Kosloff in Los Angeles.
The film shows them at their peak, as superb dancers, in Valse Caprice, a popular pas de deux created by Nikolai Legat, to music by Anton Rubinstein, which will be played by John Sweeney at the Giornate performance: the solos which follow have not yet been confidently identified.
Although clearly in series with the Karsavina film, and credited by the Archives of the CNC to the same director, Jules de Froberville, this film bears a title card evidently intended for German distribution, though retaining the original French title for the dance. – David Robinson". -

Anna Pavlova. (Douglas Fairbanks, US 1924). D: ?; CAST: Anna Pavlova; orig.:1032 ft; DigiBeta, 18' (/from 35mm original, transferred at 16 fps), synchronized music track; from: BFINA.
Dances: Christmas (Tchaikovsky); The Swan (Saint-Saëns); Oriental Dance; [La Rose mourante (Drigo) NOT SHOWN]; Die Puppenfee [The Fairy Doll] (Bayer); [Columbine NOT SHOWN]; Variations (mus: Delibes). *No 35mm print of this film is currently available for screening. From the GCM Catalogue: "In 1924 Pavlova (1881-1931) visited the Fairbanks studios, where The Thief of Bagdad was in production, and was filmed on the set in 7 short dances (not 6 as is stated on the original title, which may have been intended for a shortened version of the film). It seems unlikely that this was just an improvisational filming session: the dancer changed costumes for each of the numbers. Beautifully shot, these represent the finest record of the legendary dancer, who, alongside Nijinsky and Karsavina, astounded Paris in the first Ballets Russes season.
In 1954, with the support of the then National Film Archive, the ballet historian and sometime director of the Royal Academy of Dancing, Peter Brinson (1923-1995), and the composer and conductor Leighton Lucas (1903-1982) set out to recreate the original musical accompaniment for these dances. They were only able to accomplish this with the help of a number of still-surviving former Pavlova collaborators: today it would be impossible to match the dance and music – played by the pianist Viola Tucker (1921-2005) – as impeccably as on this historic track.
There are no recorded music tracks for “Oriental Dance” and “Columbine”: at the Giornate performance they will be accompanied live by John Sweeney. – David Robinson". - A wonderful Ballets Russes tribute. I had seen the first two films in Bologna, and now John Sweeney played the piano admirably well to them. Two of the Anna Pavlova pieces announced were not shown.


Gail said...


I have a friend, Harold Garton, who was a student and good friend of Alexandra Baldina's here in San Francisco and in Los Angeles. He met her in 1929, when he was seven years old, and continued his friendship with her until her death in 1977.

Mr. Garton is now 88 and has just stopped teaching ballet himself.
(I am his former student and good friend.)

I would appreciate it if you know how to get the film of Baldina and Koslov you mentioned in your "Ballets Russes 100" blog entry.
He has never seen a film of her dancing and I would love it get it for him.

Thank you,
Gail C.

AnttiAlanen said...

Dear Gail C., the film exists in France, in Archives Francaises du Film / Centre National de la Cinématographie. Best regards, Antti Alanen,