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- The First One Hundred Years Of
Life Of The St. Petersburg School
- May 4, 1738, the day that Empress
Anna Ioannovna issued the decree accepting Lande «in the
service of the palace ...for the education in theatrical dancing
of different types», is accepted as the day that records
the beginning of Russia's oldest ballet school. Subsequently
its famous graduates have found eternal fame in the annals of
national and international culture.
The first «Her Majesty's
Dancing School» was accommodated in the old Winter Palace
- in the same building where there was a dancing hall. The school
was maintained at the expense of a modest budget, handled by
the Salt Office collecting taxes from the salt mines.
The first two years passed almost
serenely, but after the death of Empress Anna in 1740 all theatrical
undertakings were forgotten. Lande was sent to Europe to engage
new troupes, and classes at the school were canceled for almost
a year. It is unknown what the future fate of the Russian pupils
of Terpsichore might have been, had not Yelizaveta Petrovna (second
daughter of Peter the Great and Empress Catherine I) ascended
to the throne. A lover of luxury and entertainment and herself
an excellent dancer, Yelizaveta recommended amusements in the
palace. Lande was summoned from abroad to reopen the dancing
studio. All resources were cast into organizing the celebration
of the ascension to the throne.
coronation was held in Moscow in May, 1742. Two ballets were
presented at the time: The Golden Apple at the Feast of the Gods
and The Judgment of Paris and The Happiness of the People At
the Appearance of Astrea on the Russian Horizon and the Restoration
of Golden Times. Theses ballet allegories represented the new
Tsarina as the patroness of the arts in favor of joining European
Particular attention was addressed
to the school. As well as instruction in foreign «movement»,
the program included the French language. However, interest in
the school proved to be superficial and quickly passed. Later,
few funds were allotted for its upkeep and even this was sometimes
From sources of ballet education
in Russia, it is known that two European schools were represented
in the curriculum. «Serious» dance based on the French
minuet was taught by Lande, then by his students. Methods of
comic dance, arising from the Italian Commedia del'Arte, were
taught by Italians: choreographer and dancer Antonio Rinaldi,
called Fuzano, and his wife, Giulia. The strict forms of the
French school and the virtuosity of the Italian one were merged
to an extend in the Russian performing style.
After the death of Lande Fuzano
directed the school until 1750. In turn, he was replaced by the
balletmaster Josette. At that time, training continued for three
to four years, after which former students were paid a salary.
It is supposed that the first class graduated in 1742. The best
among the first Russian dancers were named Aksinya Sergeyeva,
Yelizaveta Zorina and Avdotia Timofeyeva.
Pupils of the St. Petersburg school
were so thoroughly prepared that they could participate in performances
of foreign companies without any special work. Among the ballet
performers of Locatelli Enterprises held in the Opera House of
the Summer Garden, Timofeyeva, Mikhailova, Afanasieva, Fedorova,
Kirillov, Afanasiev and Vasiliev were mentioned.
In 1758, the Viennese choreographer
Franz Hilverding arrived in St. Petersburg and gained European
recognition for his progressive creative activity. Hilverding
confidently led the ballet to independence, trying to prove its
possibilities in both comic and tragic genres.
The musical form of «opera
- seria» remained the fundamental base on which Hilverding
united pantomime and dance, thereby raising the beautiful temple
of ballet. The ideological and aesthetic novelty of Hilverding's
creativity demanded inastery from Russian dancers development
of technical methods, perfection of movement and enrichment of
mime. Just as inspirational and fruitful for St. Petersburg ballet
and its school was the activity of Gasparo Angiolini, student
and follower of Hilverding.
The theatrical sphere of St. Petersburg
expanded. Trained people in a variety of theatrical professions.
In 1779, the dancing school was reorganized as a «special
institution», where ballet, music, drama and painting school
were united. The old building was too small for its new function
and the school was moved to a location in the former barracks
of the Preobrazhensky Regiment on Milliony Street. However, the
teaching staff was so week that the reorganization did not improve
the pupil' training.
Ballet training was markedly improved
in 1784, with the arrival of the Venetian choreographer, Giuseppe
Canziani. His activity was distinguished by a genuine care for
Russian art. He taught his students five to six hours a day,
devoting his classes not only to exercises and «try-outs»
(rehearsals), but also to conversations about Noverre and his
theories, as well as about other outstanding ballet figures of
the time. The choreographer did not just prepared passive performers,
but rather developed his students' ability for independent creativity.
The brilliant results of Ganziani's teaching activity was the
graduation of several male and female Russian dancers, who took
prominent positions in the company. Among them was Ivan Ivanovich
Valberkh (Lesogorov) - the first Russian choreographer.
- Canziani appeared to be a supporter
of the specialization in school training. This view was adhered
to by other masters in their work, such as teacher of «
elocution and movement», famous actor I. Dmitrievsky, and
singing teacher, V.Martini. However in 1792, despite their views,
the so-called Cazassi Plan was confirmed by the Theatrical School
Inspector - its main point was the preparation of students in
all theatrical professions. Thus, lessons were supposed to continue
from nine in the morning until ten at night. This particularly
utilitarian approach to art education and craft suited the taste
of the then Director of the Imperial Theatres, Prince Yusupov.
However, this training «little by little, in some way»
(quoting from Pushkin's Eugene Onegin), compelled Canziani to
fight for his work until he finally handed in his resignation.
His position was taken by Valberkh.
Valberkh taught all the students two hours a day without exception,
in accordance with the Cazassi Plan. For his own personal satisfaction,
the choreographer worked with the most gifted students. During
those years when the school lived through anxious times which
caused the boarding school's closure, Valberkh took two talented
students into his large family. One of these, the daughter of
the figurant (corps de ballet member) Neyelov, later became the
first dancer and mime on the St. Petersburg stage - the famous
Heir to the pedagogical methods
of Canziani, Valberkh infused his students with industriousness
and developed their acting talent. Biographies of Valberkh's
students unanimously noted his fanaticism in the service of art,
inherited from his teacher Canziani.
The 19th century found the school
in a building on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt (St. Petersburg's
main thoroughfare ) and Sadovaya Street, opposite the Public
Library. By that time, the Cazassi Plan had been forgotten and
education was again divided into a «school of theatrical
dance», «musical school» and «singing
school». Valberkh was helped with the school teaching first
by the dancer Guglielmo, and then by the school governor and
director of the household, former corps the ballet member Gerasim
Klishkin. Methods of teaching interested no one, as long as all
the roles could be filled by performers. School-life continued
routinely, all by itself, and the calm was not aroused until
the appearance of Charles Didelot, whose activity created an
epoch in Russian theatre.
The choreographer's passion was
directed, above all else, to the professional preparation of
future ballet artists. This thin, long-nosed magician of dance
did not choose a formula for achieving his aims. During class
he was a real despot, however he had much to teach. Having students
in Vestris' school, worked with Dauberval and performed on stage
with the best dancers in Europe, Didelot then passed on his broad
knowledge to his students.
Didelot's activity compelled the
Office of the Director of the Imperial Theatre to remember their
school and review its affair. They discovered that in their neglect
the so-called «new building», a recently-bought house
for the school accommodation, turned out to be entirely dilapidated.
«From lessons, carried out by dance - master Didelot, the
building could collapse and cause some deaths because the building's
covering was fairly damaged by moisture», the office report
In 1809, the first legal document
since the school's foundation appeared entitled Education in
Theatrical Schools. It consisted of several sections stating
the aims of the institution, rules of entry, organization and
program of the student's training, and set out conditions for
the student's graduation. It also enumerated their required length
of service in the Imperial Theatres, and listed the responsibilities
of the school's staff, from the inspector to the chamber-maid.
The school's statutes were worked
on by a member of the repertoire committee, Prince Alexander
Shakhovskoy - a play writer and teacher who played a great role
in the theatrical life of the time. He studied the work and experience
of foreign conservatories and Russian schools and also sought
the advice of personalities versed in theatrical education. Among
the last, without doubt, were Valberkh and Didelot.
The school accepted only children
with free-born (not serf) status from seven to nine years of
age. Indeed, educated and talented serf were sometimes taken
by owners for their home theaters, or else simply used for housework.
The advantage was given to children of those in theatrical service,
and their education and upkeep was paid for by the Treasury.
The school consisted of four department:
In the first, children up to thirteen years were trained. The
subject taught were religion, French and Russian languages, arithmetic,
music, dance and drawing. Talent toward one or another art was
In the second department, the students
were divided into leading figures (coryphees) for singing and
dance, or into corps de ballet or orchestra members, or were
assigned to play small role in dramatic theatre. Moreover, students
in the second department took a very active part in performances
«according to their inclinations and gifts».
- Pupils of the third department
were those «destined for the study of leading parts in
a drama or ballet troupe».
For those who, by the end of the
second course had not developed talents in any artistic activity,
there existed a fourth department where they were trained in
the making of costumes, papier mache sculpture, tin foil props
for the theatre, stage lighting, the making artificial flowers,
preparation of women's attire and headdresses, the copying of
manuscripts and music, and other work for theatre performances.
Their practical production training was completed at work under
masters of painting, stage properties, stage machinists, etc.
This then was the school of theatre
masters, which in the first ten years of the 19th century raised
Russian stage art to unprecedented heights. Didelot's artistic
ideas were fulfilled on the Russian stage by pupils of the theatre
school under the direction of eminent foreign masters of stage
design - artists Gonzaga and Corsini, and machinists and decorators,
Thibeaux and Dranchet.
Twenty years after the first ballet school constitution, another
was written which defined it more precisely and altered it slightly.
A division of the school into male and female halves was new.
Each half had its own separate rooms for study and eating. On
The Subject Of Study stated that the school was now divided into
two sections: the first for preparation of dramatic and operatic
activity, and the second for ballet. Practice showed the damage
of the Cazassi Plan and the necessity for specialization: «The
distraction of attention caused by many heterogeneous subjects
makes only for confusion in the search of perfection and the
most happily gifted are restricted to a mediocre success».
The reasons for Didelot's clash
with his superiors in connection with ballet training were, in
the end, taken into consideration in the new school rules. The
balletmaster himself became unbearable to the authorities due
to his eternal demands and requests, and was dismissed. However,
Didelot's repertoire and school lived long in St. Petersburg
His pupils were anywhere: they
taught in theatre schools in St. Petersburg and Moscow, embellished
the ballet stage, and preserved Didelot's criteria of true artistic
taste. Avdotia Istomina and Yekaterina Teleshova, Isaac Ablets
and Adam Glushkovsky, Nikolai Golts and Ivan Shemayev, all trained
by the distinguished choreographer, emerged as the pride of Russian
In 1832, the place of true artist and utterly teacher, Didelot,
was taken by Alexis Blache, who had no choreographic talent.
His obvious ineffectualness in the field of choreography and
as inspector of the school's ballet department forced the authorities
to order help for him - Antoine Titus, who led the ballet troupe
and school for the next fifteen years.
Apart from Didelot's pupils, Likhutina
- Kuzmina and Artemov, Carlo Lachouque who had been recommended
by Leopold Adice (one of the best dancers of the French school),
also taught at the school. The evidence of Titus' contemporaries
regarding his aspiration to comprehend the characters which he
portrayed on stage permits one to assume that his teaching activity
induced to character analysis. He played a great role in the
education of the ballet artists, carrying out practical stage
Frederic Malavergne (also) taught
at the school in those years. Malavergne was a leading soloist,
producer, choreographer and wonderful teacher whose teaching
style was characterized by immaculate politeness and kindness.
In 1836, the construction of one
of St. Petersburg's wonderful streets was completed. Following
the plans of Italian architect Carlo Rossi, Theatre Street stretched
from the Alexandrinsky Theatre to the Chernyshev Bridge. Here,
it was as if one side reflected the other, repeating precisely
on the first floor the arcade's half-circles, with huge rectangular
windows on the «bel-etage» and monumental receding
into the distance. After a formal petition by Gedeonov, the Director
of the Imperial Theatres, the street's left side was handed over
to the Theatre Directonere.
The sheltered arcades, first proposed as cafes and shops, were
closed up and converted into cloakrooms and costume rooms. The
male pupils lived and studied on the upper floor with the female
pupils on the bel-etage. To ensure privacy from strangers' eyes,
the windows were painted over. Behind a luxurious facade, modest
wings (side-houses), were built in the courtyard where bureaucrats
and artists lived.
In the end, nearly a hundred years
from the day of the ballet school's foundation, the Imperial
St. Petersburg Ballet School finally found a permanent home.
Spacious studios for the study of dance were properly equipped
and lighted. A new and more glorious epoch had finally begun
in Russian ballet education.
- by Marina Ilyicheva, Ph.D.
- This article first appeared in «Sovietsky
Balet», issue No.3, 1988