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- My Recollections
- (Excerpts from Lev Ivanov's memoirs, housed at St.
Petersburg's Theatre Museum)
- I was born in 1834. My earliest
recollection of myself is at six or seven years of age. My father
was a rather severe and serious person. My mother was extraordinary
kind and very quiet. My parents had had other children, but I
don't remember them, because they died in infancy. My father
, a merchant of the first «guild», was a contractor.
He built houses, roads, highways and so forth. He was not uneducated,
simple man, as are the majority of constructors. He was educated,
intelligent and cultivated. As I remember, we lived in a rather
modest apartment at first. Later, with improving circumstances,
we moved to a large, elegant apartment. Finally, my father acquired
his own stone house and horses. At the age of eight I was sent
to boarding school. After two or three years there, I joined
the Theatrical Academy.
This is how it came pass: Father
loved theatre, particularly the Alexandrinsky Theatre, where
he once took all of us. The performance consisted of several
one-act plays, and of a small ballet, «Don Juan».
This ballet, along with the play «The school Teacher»,
made a great impression on me. The students of the Theatrical
Academy were among the performers. When we returned home, Father
asked me what I had enjoyed most. I enthusiastically began to
praise the presentations, and declared that I wanted to be a
young actor like the ones that appeared in the play. My family
laughed, and my mother added that being an artist was very difficult
work and required much study. My father reacted differently,
saying, «Why not send him to the Theatrical Academy? Perhaps
this is his destiny and his career». Thus, I came to the
Theatrical Academy, and my father's words were justified, since
I became not an entirely bad artist.
Upon entering the Academy, I was
immediately placed in the dancing class of Pimenov, assistant
to instructor Frederic. Academy rules required that new students
began by learning to dance, and then later, depending upon their
talents, remained in dance or changed to drama or music or stage
designing. Metamorphoses happened, as with the case of the well-known
and brilliant Martynov, who set out to be a set designer but
became a memorable actor. Another example is Sosnitsky who was
studying ballet, but turned out to be a fine dramatic actor.
I began to show a great gift for
ballet and therefore was taken as an official student within
a year. My teachers at school included Pimenov, Frederic, Gredelue
and finally Petipa, the father of the present choreographer.
The drama pupils performed predominantly
classical plays, but sometimes also comedies and vaudeville.
The ballet pupils performed small dancers and divertissements.
The music pupils played concerts on different instruments during
intermissions. There was even a student orchestra conducting
by old man Mauer, the well-known director of all theatrical orchestras.
Famous artists taught the drama classes: Sosnitsky, P.A. Karatygin,
P.I. Grigoriev and V.V. Samoylov. Later, this class was taken
by the man-of-letters Vasilko-Petrov. Even later it was taught
by elocution teacher N.I. Svedontsov. He taught me to have a
good appearance and an aptitude for reading most dramatic works
effectively. At that time, all pupils had to study drama and
elocution. However, I refused, since I truly loved ballet.
Everything was simple then. For
instance, if we wanted to hold a ballet rehearsal in the evening
after the ballet classes, we just informed the supervisor on
duty about our plans. Then she would send us the female students,
sometimes going herself to bring those who were needed. We would
begin the rehearsal, and everything would proceed as it should.
Of course, it is obvious that there were flirtatious encounters
among the boys and the girls. However, the supervisor would return
to her room after seeing us seriously engaged in our rehearsal.
Everything was completely proper. At worst, some boy would kiss
a girl's hand. When we were young, we used to court in a chivalrous
fashion. Respecting the lady of our hearts, we did not allow
ourselves any liberties with her.
Finally, my work at the theatre
began. I was given my freedom. How wonderful, that word «freedom»
is to one who had spent eight years in an enclosed institution.
Incidentally, my work began even before graduation. At the age
of sixteen, still a student, I danced in the ballets: Catarina,
La Esmeralda, La Filleule des Fees (staged by the choreographer
Perrot) with the famous star Fanny Elssler.
My participation in these ballets
was, of course, as a member of the corps de ballet. This continued
for years after my graduation from the Academy. This is explainable
by the fact that Perrot did not like Russian artists for any
of the roles; he also preferred foreigners for the solo parts.
I forget my way by my own efforts, and partly by chance.
Tatyana Petrovna Smirnova, our
leading ballerina and a Russian, used to take daily exercise
with us in Petipa's father's class. She saw me in class, always
dancing well. Once she asked me why I never danced solo parts
on stage and was kept in corps de ballet. I could only answer
that it was because I was not given solo parts. Then she suggested
that I dance a full pas de deux with her in her forthcoming benefit
performance of «La Fille Mal Gardee».
Since I was a timed and shy young
man, I initially refused. However, she talked into it and I accepted.
Soon afterwards we began to rehearse and prepare the piece under
supervision of the elder Petipa. Having learned the pas de deux
completely within three months, I made my debut as first dancer
at her benefit, bold and sure of myself. The public greeted me
warmly and my debut was successful. From that point on, Perrot
began to give me small and various solos.
I became first mime and attained
the position of premiere danceur and substitute for Marius Petipa
(the present choreographer) also by chance. I was always present
at rehearsals and performances, even at those in which I did
not dance. By watching, I learned the pantomime scenes and different
dances in all of the ballets. I had an excellent memory. The
acting and mime of Goltz and Perrot greatly influenced me. Their
talents were enormous, and one could learn much from them.
Suddenly, I began to dance several
roles. In «Esmeralda» I danced Kshessinsky's part,
the role of Claude Frollo. In «Faust» I took over
Johansson's role as Valentin. In «Coppelia» I took
over Stukolkin's role as Doctor Coppelius, and many other small
parts which I now do not even remember. From then on, I acquired
a reputation as a young premier danseur. When M. Petipa was appointed
as choreographer, I fully replaced him in his roles as first
mime dancer and as first dancer.
In 1858 I was designated to teach
two of the younger classes - half of them females - substituting
for former teachers, the coryphee Gorinovsky and the dancer Volkova.
I unified both classes into one.
Like a good soldier, I passed through
all of the ranks during my service. Beginning as a private, I
climbed to the post of General. I began as a corps de ballet
dancer. I was a coryphee, a first dancer and a young premier
danseur. I played character roles. I danced both character and
classical parts. I was appointed dance instructor, regisseur
and finally ballet master and choreographer. I danced with almost
all of the foreign and Russian dancers, except with Fanny Elssler
- due to the fact that I was then still too young. I danced in
many ballets, and now I myself set ballets. Even though I do
not have Petipa's talent, I choreograph no worse than many others.
However, kind friends, do not take what I have said as boasting.
I only wanted to show you that with patience, diligence and tenacity
and with great love towards one's art, it is possible to achieve
everything. I am particularly speaking to you, young colleagues,
whose careers in front of you. Love your art as much as I have
loved it, and everything will be wonderful.
I will allow myself to provide
one more bit advice: Do not be overly vain. Do not consider yourselves
better than others. Be modest, since through great vanity and
egoism you can lose it all. This is the same as the physical
worker who undermines his strength by carrying excess weight.
Excess vanity can equally destroy your talent. I beg of you,
kind friends. Do not ignore my less-then-literary tale. I do
not pretend that this is a great literary work. These are only
my notes, and memoirs, which I wanted to share with you. I also
wanted to point my young colleagues on correct life path. Therefore,
I hope that you will be well-disposed towards me.
Having concluded my memoirs, I
would like to ask you to accept kindly my suggestion about how
to relate to your work and to your art. I am always surprised
at your careless and cold approach to it. Let us, for instance,
take the matter of our rehearsals. You are always appearing later
than expected, and with the preconceived idea of finishing and
leaving right away. You never think about the fact that you make
the choreographer and the director wait for half-an- hour or
more. You are not interested in your profession. During rehearsals
you do as you please. You gossip, you walk, you fool around,
you joke. You do everything except what you are there to do.
Why is this? Because you are not artist but marionettes, who
can't move, no matter how hard one pulls on the string. You rehears
unwillingly and lazily. As a result, you remain equally wooden
during performance. Because of this, our art suffers.
Of course, there are some among
you who do not act this way. However, these are very few. If
all of you, to the last line of the corps the ballet, performed
as you should-that is, as the choreographer taught you, then
you could consider yourselves to be artists. All of this stems
from your vanity. Each of you considers yourself to be more talented
that you are in reality. Whoever among you ends up in the last
line of the corps, immediately thinks that he or she can slack
off and perform any which way. Whoever acts like this sins against
his or her work, against his or her art and even against her
vanity and self-respect. Because the public sees all this and
laughs at you. Not in vain does the public call you «the
dancers by the water». This is a slap to your self-respect.
Sometimes, you, the corps, perform some passage beautifully,
as if a gleam of light had fallen on you. However, it is as if
a meteorite had flashed by and then disappeared. You tell me
that part was well-staged. You are wrong. There are no bad parts.
Everything depends on dancers. If you perform artistically, then
good dancing and dancers appear on the stage.
Excuse me, good co-workes, if I
speak these truths sharply. Do not get angry at an old man for
this. I would like for you not to be like statues. would like
to see some life and energy within you. I would like for you
to stop looking at art as simply an occupation that provides
you with a salary and feeds you. I would like for you to love
ballet and to hold its standards high.
Second dancers are particularly guilty of this superficial vanity.
Sometimes, one of them needs to replace a first rank (lead) dancer.
Then she immediately begins to think of herself as truly a first
rate dancer already. Then, the next time, when she retakes her
second-rank lace, she dances her part unwillingly and without
care. This is very unjustified and illogical if a dancer truly
loves her art.
Furthermore, the choreographer, observing all this, becomes unwilling
to allow this dancer to substitute for a lead dancer. Better
she stay in her own place and continue to perform with out capriciousness.
Believe me, with patience and effort, it is possible later to
rise to the rank of first dancer.
How wonderful it would be if you,
my kind co-workers, were to listen to my advice and adopt it
as rule. Then our work would become better. Now our ballet company
stands high, but it would then stand even higher when compared
to foreign companies. Please forgive me once again that I have
said to you, and that so often I get angry with you during rehearsals.
However, all this comes because I so love my work and my art.
I wish for it to continue flourishing, and wish you much success
and all the best in ballet.
- by Lev Ivanov
- This article first appeared in Sovietsky
Ballet, Issue No. 1, 1987