- Ballet in the Russian Provinces
- at the Beginning of the 19th Century
The history of development of
ballet in provincial Russia has not been researched until now;
it is almost empty page in the theatre history books. We lack
even the most elementary information. We don't know where and
when the existence of the Russian provincial ballet theatre began,
who its first pioneers were, or the extent of its achievements.
While facts about the history of the serf ballet theatre have
been adequately compiled, much pertaining to the open, public
ballet of the provinces is yet to be discovered.
Our aim here is to be contented
with a first and still rather incomplete attempt at uncovering
the efforts of the most important ballet groups working in the
Russian provinces at the end of the 18th and beginning of the
The Russian land-owning aristocracy
finally emerged as a class at the start of the 19th century.
The beginning of this new century was celebrated with a series
of governmental reforms. These reforms did not prompt definitive
or radical changes but, nevertheless, greatly transformed the
way of life in provincial towns. The increase in the chain of
provincial institutions, the reforms in the system of public
education, and the establishment of universities in Kazan and
Kharkov contributed to the emergence of an educated class in
the cities. The growth of internal external trade elevated the
importance of the Russian merchants, who had the right to buy
land and build factories. The aristocracy, on the other hand,
became the principal supplier of agricultural products abroad.
These trends resulted in the need
for interaction between the two groups. In the 18th century,
the landed aristocracy appeared in towns only for special occasions:
for election of the marshal of nobility, for traditional fairs,
for the parties given by an incoming governor, or for the fortuitous
passing-by of a monarch. After a short period of festivities,
the city once again sat empty as the aristocracy returned to
their estates. However, new developments at the turn-of-the-century
convinced the aristocracy of the need to be permanently stationed
in town. This was especially true during the winter, when it
was necessary to sell all that had been gathered in the summer
harvest by peasant serfs. Residence in town resulted in a demand
for amusements, as city-living eventually became a fact o life
for the landowners. It was not long before modest family evenings,
with dancing to the accompaniment of a piano, ceased to satisfy.
The group began to demand more elaborate gatherings, congenial
halls, and other sorts of public entertainment.
Along with the aristocrats and
middle class intellectuals, merchants were also drawn to these
events. In 1804, the journal Uraniya from Kaluga informed its
readers that the local citizens «engaged in the instruction
of the youth, trying to cultivate them in science and deportment,
and taking them to aristocratic gatherings. It is extraordinary
to see the young merchants at the balls, at the theatre, at the
horse races and other events.» Soon, one of the indispensable
requirements for amusement in the provinces became the theatre.
Each large provincial capital considered the establishment of
one a necessity.
Naturally, considering the lack
of theatrical schools (with the exception of the Imperial Academies),
the demand for artists brought forth many untrained and even
untalented amateurs. Because it was undemanding, the provincial
public stimulated the appearance of dilettantes. The spectators
urgently needed to train their entertainers and refine their
What were they like, these provincial
troupes comprised of theatrical pioneers, out in the wilderness?
The same actors took part in all of the drama, opera and ballets.
The scarcity of trained performers required that the actors demonstrate
complete versatility, gradually serving to enhance their qualifications
and render them multi-talented. The insufficient number of actors
was further compounded by the small number of spectators. At
that time, the largest provincial capitals hardly had more then
10,000 inhabitants. A very insignificant percentage of them attended
the theatre. Thus, the theatrical entrepreneur constantly needed
to renew the repertoire of his theatre. Otherwise, his ruin was
inevitable. To keep separate theatrical troupes for opera, ballet
and drama was beyond his means.
These condition explain the necessity
of utilizing versatile actors. Often, the entrepreneurs themselves
were performers. Their preferences and tastes were certainly
reflected in the composition of the company. Some troupes were
famous because of their dramatic productions, while others excelled
in opera. Still others acquired renown with their ballet performances.
As a component of theatrical presentations, ballet appeared in
the provinces very early - still in the 18th century.
The serf-theatre, developed during
the reign of Catherine II, interfered with the initiative of
the creation of commercial theatrical enterprise. It must be
remembered that even in Moscow, the private entrepreneur Maddox
suffered losses at that time, caused by the competition from
Sheremetyev's serf theatre. If that was so, the problems were
multiplied in the provinces, where the material prosperity of
the public was considerably lower then in Moscow. Under these
circumstances, the development of the public theatres was difficult.
Only at the beginning of the 19th century - when the serf theatre
began to disappear and simultaneously the resources of the city
dwellers began to increase - was a climate favorable to the establishment
of commercial theatres cultivated in the provincial capitals.
One such theatre, in particular,
appeared gradually during the reign of Alexander I (1801 - 1824).
The Nizhny-Novgorod landowner N.G. Shakhovskoy ultimately became
the pioneer of public theatres. (His enterprises alone demanded
a separate investigation). Following the establishment of the
Nizhny-Novgorod theatre, another appeared on the other side of
Russia, in Odessa. There, the entrepreneur Fortunatov sponsored
a theatrical season in 1810.
The next year, the dramatic-opera
company of Prince Alexander Shakhovskoy and the ballet directed
by Fiyalkovsky performed in place of Fortunatov's company. Their
first performance was given on January 1, 1811. In addition to
the Prince's company, a separate number of tantzorki (dancing
actresses) worked in the theatre evidently, they were not particularly
skilled in their art, for Richelieu ordered ballet teacher Emboulet
to be sent to them. These dancers were serf girls who had been
entrusted into the care of the director of the theatre by their
In 1812 the Odessa Theatre was
put under the leadership of the foreigners Montoveni and Zamboni.
Subsequently, the company's repertoire included Italian Opera
in addition to plays in the Russian language and ballets. Ballet
performances were clearly popular in Odessa: when the Grand Duke
(and future Emperor) Nikolai I visited Odessa in June 1816, he
was entertained not only with dramatic work, but also with ballet.
Apparently, a theatrical school existed here, attached to the
theatre. The magazine Ukrainsky Vestnik (Ukranian Messenger)
reveals this in its report the following year: «There is
a theatre in Odessa... There is also a dance group. In place
of Vestris and Duport, Odessa must be contented with Monsieur
Volange...» At the end of that year, when the Grand Duke
Mikhail Pavlovich attended the Theatre, the ballet Orpheus was
presented - further proof that dance performances were gaining
importance among Russian audiences.
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- This information about the
Odessa enterprise is interesting because here, for the first
time, we discover a ballet ensemble in the provinces capable
of presenting independent performances and capable of training
its own dancers. Of course, the Odessa Theatre was, for this
period, an exception in this respect.
The War of 1812 provided a significant
impetus to the development of ballet in provinces. Moscow artists,
hoping to escape the enemy invasion, scattered throughout the
provinces. Involuntarily, they began to propagate their art.
In search of earnings, the actors assumed vital roles in the
theatrical projects of the provincial aristocracy. Excelling
above non-professionals because of their more advanced skills,
they raised the standards of the performances and gradually refined
the taste of the public. The inhabitants of Moscow and St. Petersburg,
being evacuated at the same time as the artists, strongly encouraged
and supported variety of theatrical events in the towns to which
After the end of the Napoleonic
Wars, the number of provincial theatrical companies began to
multiply quickly. The landowners, owners of serf theatres, largely
contributed to this growth. Searching for solutions to a worsening
economic situation, they began selling their companies to entrepreneurs.
They rented out their serf actors to city theatres. Many also
converted their properties into semi-commercial enterprises.
I.F. Stein began his enterprises
in the province in 1814. Count Sergei M. Kamensky followed within
one year. At the same time, an interest in theatre and particularly
in dance grew in the provinces. By the 1820's, the provincial
public had become so knowledgeable that it could not only understand
dramatic art, but also could formulate its own opinions. The
audience was especially interesting in dancing because it was
familiar with this art through ballroom dancing.
With each passing year, dance penetrated
deeper and deeper into Russian provinces. Soon it became essential
for the audiences. In 1833 Moskovskiye Vedomosti (The Moscow
«During the present winter
a company of actors arrived at the city of Vladimir. This one
had been organized in its own provincial capital, thanks to the
care and diligent work of the Melenki landowner Mr. Nazarov...This
troupe presents drama, comedy, opera, vaudeville and ballet...to
the complete satisfaction of the public...»
Nazarov's undertaking is worthy
of recounting if only because the gradual transition from a serf-theatre
to a commercial venture is here clearly demonstrated.
Rear-guard staff captain Nikolai
Nikitovich Nazvanov was born in 1784 At the age of 16 he entered
the Vladimir garrison regiment. In 1804 he transferred to the
Izmailovsky Life-guards, with whom he participated in the battles
of Austerlitz and Friedland. At the beginning of 1812 he was
decommissioned. The same year, at the start of the Napoleonic
invasion of Russia, he entered the Vladimir City Militia. He
left the service, once and for all, on June 1,1814. He then installed
himself in his ancestral estate Priklon, two «versty»
(one versta is 1.6 km.) from the district town of Melenki in
the province of Vladimir.
Soon, Nazvanov acquired a serf
theatre and presented his production to the aristocracy in surrounding
areas. From 1817 to 1834 he occupied the post of District Marshal
of the Nobility, and later became «Honorable Judge».
Both of these positions demanded wide representation. However,
at the beginning of the 1820's, the maintenance of the theatre
grew beyond his means and all of his property was pawned. In
October 1832, the head of Nazarov's theatrical office, his house
serf Alexei Labutin, appealed to the Vladimir Governor with the
request to present theatrical production in Vladimir. No theatre
existed there at the time and, in fact, theatrical amusements
were rare. The Governor not only granted Labutin request willingly,
but even ordered his people «to give the company all possible
help, in order that, with the assistance of the local leadership,
it could come, in the near future, to Vladimir».Thus, the
commercial venture was supported.
In 1835, the Horvat Ballet Company
began to give public performances in Kharkov, Poltava, Kursk
and Romny. By 1840, public dramatic performances began to predominate
where semi-commercial serf theatres had appeared before. None
of this productions omitted dance. Dance divertissements, even
at a very modest level, were perforce included in the repertoire.
- The most important provincial
centers (Kazan, for example) counted by this time not only a
full roster of dancers, but also choreographers. In 1840, Levashov
occupied that post in Kazan. Previously Levashov had worked as
choreographer in the theatre at Nizhni-Novgorod. The prima ballerina
of the Kazan ballet was Polyakova - the Kazan's Taglioni, as
she was called. In addition, four other dancers worked with the
company: Tzibulina, Abalyaeva, Kulikova and Solovieva. The Kazan
Ballet continued to exist in 1847, but its composition changed
considerably, becoming larger and better. However, it is unknown
if by 1850 Levashov still directed the troupe.
Levashov is the first graduate
of the Moscow Ballet Academy who worked in the provinces. Soon,
however, the rosters of the provincial companies listed many
names of Moscovites. Demand was followed by supply. Moscow artists
left for the provinces, often staying there permanently.
By the end of the 1830's a series
of important theatrical enterprises functioned in the provinces.
Many of these included dancing ensembles which presented entire
ballet productions. Moreover, at this time was not a single public
provincial theatre which did not encourage dance, either through
separate national dances or in ballet pieces. By the end of the
first quarter of the 19th century, the Russian provincial public
had already become acquainted with ballet and had begun to love
this art form.
The dancers from the Imperial Theatres
of Moscow and St. Petersburg played no small role in this development.
However, principal credit belongs to the few ballet enterprises
which steadfastly cultivated ballet in the provinces, almost
always at the cost of material gain for their owners. Among the
self-sacrificing popularizes of the ballet in the first half
of the 19th century, a few deserve special recognition: Prince
N.G. Shakhovskoy, I.F. Stein, Count Sergei Kamensky, Maurice
Pion and I.O. Horvat. The last ballet entrepreneurs in the provinces
were Maurice Pion and I. Schwan. All of these individuals, serving
with a love for their art, can be called true pioneers in disseminating
ballet into Russian provinces. They merit a special place in
the history of the Russian ballet.
- By Yuri A. Bakhrushin
- This article first appeared in «Sovietsky
Balet», issue No.1, 1982