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- Arthur Saint-Leon
- Saltarello, or Passion for
Dance premiered in October, 1859 at the St. Petersburg Bolshoi
Theatre and marks the Russian debut of a famous dancer and choreographer,
Arthur Saint Leon.
The simple subject of his new ballet
was not noted for dramaturgical integrity or psychological depth.
The main hero was Saltarello - a court teacher of dance. This
one, a typical dreamer fanatically devoted to art, is far from
the cares of everyday life. Therefore, his foster-child cannot
in any way obtain his permission to marry her beloved. The young
people decide to ask the duchess for help.
The duchess appears to Saltarello
in the form of Terpsichore, goddess of the dance, and carries
him away to a celebration with a scene plotted by the young couple.
Finding himself among ancient goddesses and sylphs, Saltarello
believes he is in the kingdom of Terpsiphore herself. Only when
he signs the young people's marriage agreement do they reveal
the deception. On returning from the fantasy world to everyday
realities, Saltarello plunges into sad melancholy.
Saint-Leon's production immediately
demonstrated his many-sided talents to the audience and to the
Directors of the Imperial Theatres, who had invited him. He appeared
simultaneously as librettist and performer of the main role.
The most unexpected thing proved to be that Saint-Leon was also
composer of the music for Saltarello. A professional musician
(in childhood he was a violin child prodigy), he also performed
two violin solos during the performance.
In the ballet the accomplishments
of Saint-Leon the musician did not take away from Saint-Leon
the dancer, «who masters his legs just as well as the strings»,
wrote a reviewer. Critic also noted «strength... and dexterity»,
«great flexibility and elasticity», considered that
«his dance is distinguished for correctness and at the
same time elegance». They pointed out that «he mimes
splendidly, and his dance is accompanied by clever, animated
However, as contemporaries recall,
«Saint-Leon himself danced little». In the first
part of the production two dancers stepped forward, Martha Muravyeva
in the role of Saltarello's foster child and Anna Prikhunova
in the role of the duchess. As testified by famous artist, Yekaterina
Vazem, Saint-Leon was a «brilliant author of solo variations».They
«could be considered a model of beauty for their choreographic
designs and musicality» and «were always in strong
agreement with the canons of classical schools». Moreover,
«before choreographing variations he considered the talents
and possibilities of individual performers».
It is evident that this ability
of Saint-Leon when choosing his dancers to fully reveal an artist's
individuality, allowed the dancers to shine brightly in the new
In addition, as eyewitnesses wrote,
«both of them are airy beings, both of them embodied grace».
Looking at Prikhunova «one is carried off, willy-nilly
to an elevated starry sphere and finds oneself under the influence
of a peculiar aesthetic feeling». Muravyeva «fascinates
with her fire, facial expressiveness and passion. From her eyes
sparkle light, a light that strikes you somehow as pleasant,
Special place in the production
was taken by character dances, which critics found «lively»,
«captivating», «original». They were
performed by the leading dancers: Muravyeva - Tarantella, Prikhunova
- Scottish, as well as soloists. Among these Anastasia and Nadezhda
Amosova and Lyubov Radina stood out.
However, even though they noted
the beauty of the character dancers and overall success of the
performers, critics were restrained toward the ballet. Audiences
missed a certain cohesive action and seriousness of content.
«Saltarello, essentially is not a ballet, but a great divertissement»,
- such were common opinions. The production with its rather shallow
subject, seemed a vehicle for demonstrating the dances of Saint-Leon,
a cascade of character compositions alternating with virtuoso
classical variations for the leading ballerinas. Moreover this
was a surprise to audiences, accustomed to the contextually rich,
romantic dramas of Perrault with their unfolding action, dramatized
pantomime scenes and significant drama within the dance action.
the romantic era of ballet was receding into the past. The fact
that a new ballet art was emerging on the stage in the second
half of the 19th century, is testified by Saint-Leon's ballet,
Saltarello or Passion for Dance. In addition to this new art,
Saltarello revealed the strong side of Saint-Leon's creativity...
- by Lyudmila Linkova, Ph.D.
- This article first appeared in Sovietsky
Ballet, Issue No.1, 1985