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.
     The 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 culture.
     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 forgotten.
     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 Yevgenia Kolosova.
     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 stated.
     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 revealed here.
     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 performances.
     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 ballet.
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 lessons.
     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

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