- The Secret of Swan Lake's Magic
- The premiere of Pyotr
Ilich Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake took place on January 15, 1895
on the stage of the Maryinsky (Mariinsky) Theatre in St. Petersburg.
This event, a benefit for the ballerina Pierina Legnani, is considered
a historical date in ballet. Never before had Russian ballet
presented so clearly and definitely
the shift between different cultural eras and artistic styles.
In fact, before that moment ballet had rarely embodied the artistic
thinking of the times, fusing tradition and innovation in its
efforts. On that historic evening, this new development was expressed
through the work of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. Their choreography
combined clear ballet' romanticism and the emerging influence
of symbolism, the French literary-artistic trend which gave Russia
an unprecedented cultural impulse at the end of the 19th century.
This production of Swan Lake on
January 15, 1895 (the ones of the 1870's and 1880's at the Bolshoi
Theatre in Moscow were unsuccessful) presented a singular model
for the development of ballet, followed for years to come. The
path for the structure of symphonic dance, the idea for the directorial
work in a theatrical production, the dramatic forms of the score
for a ballet - all of these were thought out and brought forward
on that day by the French Petipa and the Russian Ivanov, the
two great architects of Russian ballet.
The historical importance of the
ST. Petersburg premiere is to profound that all of Russian ballet
until then can be considered preparation for the Swan Lake
by Tchaikovsky, Petipa, Ivanov. What precedes it can be taken
as an evolution of themes, images and ideas that lead towards
the birth of this ballet. In fact, this work became one of the
seminal influence in the entire development of ballet as an art
Swan Lake is a starting
point, from which the art of that era received new impetus. Because
the ballet echoes the art of its time, it found its place as
one of man's greatest artistic creations.
The subject of the German tale,
which had been given full play in the earlier Bolshoi version,
was simplified by Petipa for the 1895 version. Tchaikovsky's
music was shortened by one-third. (Riccardo Drigo, the well-known
ballet composer, was engaged to re-assemble and orchestrate the
score). In fact, Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov created a new ballet,
with Petipa as choreographer-regisseur and Ivanov as the choreographer
of the of the Second Act «Swan» scenes. Their choreographic
ideas expressed drama as a theatrical art, and action as a part
of dance. Petipa and Ivanov turned ballet into theatre, dance
into action, and choreography into drama.
- The symphonic principles of
Tchaikovsky's ballet music were a great revelation to the ballet
of the 19th century. (It must be remembered that the St. Petersburg
premiere of Swan Lake, though it had been Tchaikovsky's
first ballet composition, was presented after the successful
productions of the Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.) These
symphonic principles helped to shape a new landscape and structure
for the choreographic work.
In the choreography of the First
and Third Acts, Petipa did not overstep the limits of the traditional
«ballet-romantic» style. However, through his style
of directing the whole work, he challenged his own classical
understanding of ballet. Extraordinary for that time, Petipa
achieved a fusion of precise dramatic action, logic of libretto,
Ivanov, who was entrusted with
only the «White Act» (Act II), turned the «Swan
Suite» into a symphony for the human spirit, revealing
the inner world of the heroine. He endowed the traditional corps
de ballet with the ideas of the musical-symphonic development,
and personified the motifs of Odette's inner world in the swans.
Ivanov created the «space
of the soul» on the shores of the dark bewitched waters.
Petipa created a space for true cosmic subjects, where the boundaries
are life and death, good and evil, love and faithlessness, faith
and doubt, fate and destiny. Constructing a traditional romantic
mythology within the framework of ballet production, Petipa and
Ivanov gave it unheard-of scope in a universal philosophical
parable. The importance of the simple fairy-tale story was elevated
to the eternal land of myths.
Swan Lake, presented on
January 15, 1895, was the «starry hour» of Russian
ballet and represents its classical triumph. It became the model
for the «black and white» contrasts, which each era
re-works on its own terms. This classical motif has remained
unchanged; the Petipa-Ivanov symphony of black and white' opposites
relegated equal importance to the outside world and to the internal
world of man. Because of this, the date of Swan lake's St. Petersburg
premiere is immortalized in history.
By Sergei Korobkov, Ph.D.
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