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- Vaclav Reisinger
- Vaclav (Wentsel), or Julius
Reisinger (1828-1892) is paradoxical figure in the history of
ballet. This prolific choreographer, author of more than twenty
works on various European stages, directed the Moscow company
of the Bolshoi Theatre. He is linked with two memorable events:
the first stage production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and the
production of the first ballet performance for the opening of
the Prague National Theatre in 1884.
Vaclav Reisinger is considered
the father of Czech professional ballet. Criticisms regarding
his choreography such as «mediocre», «ordinary»
and «untalented» hounded him, not only during his
life - but also after death. His critics did not endow him with
the usual praise in his own country, or in Russia. However, these
did not prevent Reisinger from succeeding thanks to his fastidious
service throughout his long ballet career. An involuntary question
arises: was this choreographer truly untalented? Is it possible
that in Prague, Moscow, Leipzig and Berlin his ascent to the
top was merely the result of a long-patient public and theatre
Due to unprocessed historical material,
all press references of the period remain inaccessible. However,
it is possible to suppose that Reisinger's productions irritated
some of the all-powerful balletomanes who were mouthpieces of
the community in the sphere of nineteenth century ballet, but
appealed to the taste of others who were entrusted with ballet
affairs. Otherwise, how is it possible to explain at least his
Moscow period of activity?
After Carlo Blasis' departure from
Moscow, the Bolshoi Theatre remained without a permanent choreographer.
Reisinger was invited to the post, while still working in Leipzig.
It is possible, as the critic Vera Krasovskaya asserts, that
this was done at the suggestion of Carl Walts, even if it is
doubtful that the opinion of a twenty-six-year-old stage machinist
sufficiently influenced the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres
regarding the appointment of a new choreographer for the company. Apparently,
Reisinger's choreographic works possessed something which attracted
his contemporaries. This «something» was probably
in the new, fashionable genre of ballet faerie. Analyzing the
few known facts on the choreography of Reisinger's productions,
one arrives at the conclusion that he felt and interpreted the
bidermeier style, then favoured by the bourgeoisie world of central
Europe, in art and as a way of life.
Vaclav (Vatslav) Reisinger was
born in February 1828 in Prague of a native Czech family. He
began his professional life as an artist of the corps de ballet,
rising to the position of leading soloist. In 1850, he was the
Czech partner of the famous dancer Lucille Grahn in «Esmeralda»
(Phoebus) and «Giselle» (Hillarion). He had success
in the part of Diavolino in Jules Perrot's ballet «Catarina,
ou La Fille du Bandit». In short, the young dancer mastered
the romantic repertoire and was familiar with the new ballet
productions, one more fact in favour of Reisinger's erudition.
In 1852, he succeeded in securing
an eight-year engagement on the German and Austrian stages. In
1860 he returned to his native Prague to the Nove Mesto Theatre,
already in the position of choreographer. This was the first
time a Czech theatre was headed by Czech choreographer.
As marked by Czech theater historian
Dr. Bozhena Brodska, not one of Reisinger's ballets was successful.
But facts contradict this. Why was then a «provincial»
Prague choreographer invited to brilliant Leipzig where he directed
the ballet company from 1864 to 1872 ? Large-scale works here
were: «Saltarello» and «Interrupted Solitude»
to the music of Leipzig capel-meister, Muhldorfer. From Leipzig
lay Reisinger's path to Russia. Landmarks of his Moscow activity
are found in the reflections of Russian historians.
On his first visit to Moscow, Reisinger
staged a five-act ballet «Cinderella or the Crystal Slipper»
(1871) to Muhldorfer's music, which Yuri Bakhrushin referring
to original sources, notes as «successful». In 1873,
finding himself in the post of director of Moscow Ballet, he
created successive multiple-act productions such as «Kastchei»,where
as confirmed again by Yuri Bakhrushin, the choreographer successfully
developed the Russian theme. He also produced «Stella»
and «Ariadne» (together with Petipa). All ballets
(except «Kastchei», which he staged with the two
composers Muhldorfer and Gerber) used the music of Gerber. At
the same time, in the last two (Stella and Ariadne), Reisinger
reworked elements of ancient art according to the dictates of
bidermeier. Added to that, in the production of «Ariadne»,
the Theatre Directorate allotted what was for that time, the
fabulous sum of 40,000 roubles. This not only testified to the
hope they had invested in Reisinger, but also confirmed that
in two years he had won the authority of the Imperial Theatre
With this artistic background the
choreographer approached the first production of Swan Lake composed
by Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1877). Reisinger's work on this ballet
was considered unsuccessful. However, we can not omit this fact:
Swan Lake was kept on the stage for seven years and was performed
over thirty times during a period when other ballets could not
sustain twenty performances.
Bakhrushin writes this, quoting
a review from the premiere: «If one judges by the number
of curtain calls, with which the public received the composer,
then perhaps it is possible to say that his ballet was successful».
Apparently, things were not so simple with the so-called failure
of the first production of Swan Lake. The production was twice
revived in (European choreographer of the Moscow Theatre) Joseph
Hansen's version in 1880 and 1882. It was removed, as wrote 19th
century musicologist Nikolai Kashkin, because of «worn-out
One cannot dismiss the criticism addressed to the conductor,
Sergei Ryabov, and to the performance of the lead ballerina Polina
Karpakova, whose dancing was considered «heavy» and
not reflecting the spirit of the music. Obviously, it is not
only Reisinger who bears responsibility for the failure of the
first staging of the composer's masterpiece. The heights of the
philosophic and poetic spirit of Tchaikovsky's works, the essence
of his historic reforms, had yet to be achieved by representatives
of late 19th century ballet. Reisinger approached the author's
score from the routine position of the canons of his time. Remember
that in the same year, Petipa staged his «La Bayadere»
in St. Petersburg. In the scene of the Kingdom of the Shades,
Petipa created a new ballet style with those dancing formations
which almost twenty years later found a brilliant refraction
in the «swan» scenes of Lev Ivanov.
Reisinger's last production in
Moscow was a three-act ballet «The Grandmother's Wedding»
to the music of Gerber (1878), which had no success. After this,
Moscow bid its guest farewell.
However, Reisinger's career was
not only finished; on the contrary, it neared its culmination.
On September 18, 1883 the inauguration of the Prague National
Theatre was celebrated. Once again, the head of the ballet company
was Vaclav Reisinger.
He did not create, he worked. But
perhaps without the attempts of such workers, geniuses would
- by Galina Chelombitko, Ph.D.
- This article was published in Sovietsky
Ballet, issue No. 1, 1988