| home | balet
magazin | top |
- Moscow Ballet at the Time of
the 1830's and 1840's the relationships among drama, opera and
ballet artists, university professors, students and writers in
Moscow resembled those of old and tightly woven family links.
While it lasted, this family-like mentality held sway in the
old Russia capital.
This artistic way of life had a
similar effect on foreigner arriving and settling in Moscow.
The way actor Mikhail Shchepkin's students lived and were taught
in his house is similar to how French dance teacher Felicite
Hullin-Sor likewise welcomed her young charges. In fact, she
took the first of her pupils, Karpakova-Bogdanova, abroad, paying
for her trip herself. When her great hope, Yekaterina Sankovskaya,
grew up, Hullin-Sor went with her to Paris and London. In order
to complete Sankovskaya's education, she showed the girl all
the great dances of the time... Marie Taglioni, Fanny Elssler,
and even Carlotta Grisi ( when Grisi was still quite young).
At that time, Moscow ballet was
greatly influenced by the drama theatre. In fact, the reforms
of both drama and ballet occurred simultaneously essentially
moving in the same direction. However, specific aesthetic links
existed earlier between ballet and drama. The traditions of an
idealized world, which marked the entire Russian theatre at the
end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, were held
even closer by the ballet. Indeed, choreography gravitated toward
idealization. At the beginning of the 19th century, the drama
theatre' lyricism was added to this tradition of idealism, which
was imbued with sentimentalism. An essential requirement of the
musical theatre, the «lyricalization» of the action
(as musicologist Boris Asafiev affirms) prepared the Moscow stage
for the assimilation of the romantic aesthetic in ballet. This
allowed ballet to feel the possibility of renewal, since it existed
only on the memories of a glorious past, on the triumphs of Charles
Didelot's ballets restaged in Moscow, and on original works by
Adam Glushkovsky. To renew itself, the ballet theatre needed
new performing techniques and new aesthetics of production.
As a rule, at various times, different
components of scenic-action are the source of innovation. In
Moscow in the 1830's and 1840's, the actor became the «Trojan
horse» that brought innovation to the theatre. The charm
of the theatre became, in fact, the «charm of the actor».
This was due not only to the new understanding of scenic art,
but also to a search for new acting techniques. Both drama and
ballet were at that time littered with cliches, coarseness, and
absurdities. Archetypes, which had outlived their usefulness
had become parodies of themselves. These held sway on the stage
and resulted in a primitive type of acting requiring a particular
style. This demanded a schematized type of acting both in ballet
and drama. Shchepkin began his theatre reforms from within the
old everyday repertoire, breaking through the archetypes' poetical
- The most important aim of theatrical
art became simplicity and naturalness as a basis for the actor's
behavior, not necessarily the features of the portrayed character
(as it was during the periods of Enlightenment and Sentimentalism).
Shchepkin «took upon himself to make...lows of scenic art
necessary, and not by chance». A new school of acting and
a new technique were emerging. At first glance, Shchepkin's reforms
had few links with ballet. He brought a way of life to the stage
that was known and familiar to him, presenting what he and his
contemporaries valued within his characters.
Because of its unique, traditional
vocabulary, ballet could not and should not have directly followed
the reforms of the drama theatre. Ballet, as is well known, rejects
common or everyday reality simply because of its specific peculiarities.
Ballet gravitates towards abstract ideas and certain conventions.
The ballet theatre had to follow its own path towards simplicity
and naturalness. First, it had to change dancing styles. Whatever
was deformed, coarse, and bombastic had to be pushed away from
the ballet stage, but this could happen only if the ballet characters
acquired a different, more rigorous lexicon, and if the artists
themselves had an agile style of dancing. Shchepkin had created
a new style for drama-theatre acting.
Hullin-Sor, the French teacher,
did this for Moscow ballet. She banished «ugly jumps and
various affectations» from ballet, and imbued the performers
with «noble grace» and softness. Further, she was
responsible for «the absence of sharpness in passing from
one movement to the next», gave a «strong coordination
of each pas to the whole, and «a sense of proportion to
each artistic pose». Later, this allowed her pupils to
keep their naturalness and ease when they were confronted with
new technical challenges.
By the end of the 1820's the critics
had noticed the first signs of a new performing style. The Moscow
Telegraph commenting on the performances of Alexandra Voronina-Ivanova,
praised the ballerina grandly comparing her with «the famous
Gosselin», a renowned Western European dancer of the pre-romantic
era. The Russian ballerina combined a new technical mastery with
expressive acting. Not without reason was the famous critic Vissarion
Belinsky, so delighted when he wrote that, the artist «luxuriated
the stage with her liveliness and passion».
Tatyana Karpakova continued the
transformation of the dance style in Moscow. It is interesting
to note, that like Shchepkin, she accomplished this by appearing
in comic roles. Here, the dancers brought «fluency and
neatness in finishing the most difficult pas...» However,
this was only a mastering of new forms. The artist was unable
to bring new content to the stage. The critique of the time demanded
impassioned acting - not the old pantomime for which the former
favorites of the public were famous, but a new type, dictated
by the different aesthetic demands of the Moscow theatre. Sergei
Aksakov wrote «admirable» in relation to the correlation
of her gestures and emotions on stage, but complained that the
actress still retained an aesthetic link to archetypes. Aksakov
reproached Karpakova with «a constant coldness in her pantomime».
During the 1830's, following the
path of dramatic criticism, Moscow ballet criticism was beginning
to demand from a ballet performance what it observed in the drama
theatre of Mikhail Shchepkin - that is, a blending of a new dance
technique with a new acting technique. Yekaterina Sankovskaya,
Hullin-Sor's wonderful pupil, fulfilled these demands. Unexpectedly
but logically, she embodied these principles in the new lyrical-romantic
ballet repertoire which, at first glance, was not akin to Shchepkin's
Both Shchepkin's reform and the
radical changes brought about by Sankovskaya in her debut in
the ballet La Sylphide were given impulse basically by one and
the same «yeast». Shchepkin's formulation proclaimed
that «art is elevated in so far as it is close to nature»,
and had grown out of the aesthetics of the Age of Enlightenment.
In the 1830's and 1840's, an understanding of the nature as the
basis for life developed among Moscow's theatre activists. Filippo
Taglioni's ballet La Sylphide became the first lyrical-romantic
work in the dance world. Without any doubt, its structure, its
dance technique and style were totally romantic. However, through
its concepts La Sylphide was still linked to the ideals of the
Age of Enlightenment - that is, to the understanding of nature
as mysterious and unreachable and, at the same time, as something
alive and natural. In La Sylphide nature was yet to be imbued
with a soul; or overburdened with the mystical romantic echoes
which appeared later with Giselle. The Sylphide was wonderful
in its simplicity.
- The naturalness of Shchepkin's
heroes on the drama stage were refracted in the unaffected heroines
of Sankovskaya. She created her fame as both a dancer and actress.
The essence of Moscow theatre reforms in the 1830's and 1840's
was characterized because of this breaking through of theatrical
Having begun to dispense with theatrical
archetypes, Shchepkin changed the relationship to the spoken
word within the play's scenic action. Like Shchepkin, Sankovskaya
also gave a new accent she mastered in Paris. The idea that it
was necessary to imbue a role with one preponderant thought or
meaning was taking hold in drama and in ballet. This is close
to Konstantin Stanislavsky's teachings about finding the key
to a role, which appeared many years later. From adherence to
an idea, Shchepkin came to an understanding of a «defining
lyricism», implying the necessity of the actor's independent
treatment of a role. When one carefully reads critical commentaries
about Sankovskaya's appearances in the role of Sylphide, one
is struck by how colored they are by the general aesthetic taste
and morals of the time.
Tradition is not transmitted directly
in art. As a rule, direct imitation leads only to a second rate
copy. Sankovskaya could not and should not have copied Shchepkin.
However, she was his pupil- it is very important to remember
that the first Moscow Sylphide studied with the great actor.
On her report card, Shchepkin wrote «talented but capricious.»
No less important, is that critics writing about Sankovskaya
during her St. Petersburg tour in 1848, referred to Shchepkin
in their articles. What was «Shchepkin - like» in
the art of Sankovskaya grew from within her, and appeared from
common aesthetics and common social motives.
- The paths of actors of the
1830's and 1840's intersected in different theatrical genres.
This united them, if differently than previously, with an understanding
of the tasks and aims of the theatre, and the direction of their
aesthetic reforms. The school performances of actor Pavel Mochalov
prompted comments about the spontaneity of his talent and the
bright, expressive and local coloring of his scenic movements.
On stage Mochalov was deliberately simple, and purposely lowered
the generic traits of the employ of his heroes. In practice,
this «plebian actor» - enhancing melodrama to the
level of tragedy - brought the same new style based on naturalness
and simplicity to the stage.
However, they were embodied in
tones different from those of Shchepkin. Shchepkin enhanced and
diffused the comic actor's employ. Mochalov reduced the employ
of the tragic hero. In his acting the ideal was asserted «from
its opposite» beginning with the genre of melodrama, which
was fashionable and popular at that time. «Audiences attending
melodramas and romantic dramas were attracted and overwhelmed
by the special theatrical world, in which their heroes suffered,
loved and died».
In addition to naturalness, simplicity
and «democratization» of his heroes, Mochalov brought
to the stage a bright descriptive quality, vivid scenic illustration,
naked pathos and strong contrasting colors. When one reads description
of Mochalov's acting, one almost sees the actor. In reference
to the actor's interpretation of the role of Hamlet, one reads
phrases such as, «a lightening-like» gaze, and «arms
impetuously lifted up»,which like a «blade, flashed
in the air...» and «lion-like jumps» appear.
Then, in references to Othello, one reads, «moments of
sudden insanity follow moments of rest». References to
contrasting sounds are also made: from growls to silence, to
tender tones, and then, a simple speech in normal speaking voice.
Romantic ballet was nourished by
the traditions of melodrama and romantic drama. Filippo Taglioni
was interested in innovations in female dance which he then incarnated
in his daughter's art. A more democratized «demoted»
hero (in comparison with the aristocratic classical danseur noble)
was introduced into his lyrical-romantic productions from melodramas
and romantic drama. James in La Sylphide, and many others roles
of Filippo Taglioni's ballets, were not aristocrats by origin.
James, for example, is a village boy; the hero of La Fille du
Danube is a stable boy.
If Sankovskaya was close to Shchepkin
through her own world view, one can not find a male romantic
dancer similar to Mochalov in a Moscow ballet company from 1831
to 1835. The ballerina's first partner, Joseph Richard, belonged
to a vanishing era. At the Moscow Dance Academy, he was not able
to train a male dancer equal to Hullin-Sor's pupil. Nor could
Hullin-Sor herself accomplish this. The absence of strong male
dancers led Moscow to search for a hero elsewhere. One year after
premiere of La Sylphide, three new male names appeared simultaneously
on the posters of the Bolshoi Petrovsky Theatre: Alphonse Carre,
Gustavo Carey and Theodore Guerinot.
Alphonse Carre was a character
dancer. He appeared in solo pieces or in profoundly commonplace
walk-on parts. Gustavo Carey had a good jump and could turn superbly.
But, he was no longer young. After dancing the airy role of Zephire
and appearing with Sankovskaya in the famous scene of the monks
from the opera Robert le Diable, he left the Bolshoi Petrovsky
Theodore Guerinot brought innovations
in male dancing to the Moscow stage. His debut took place in
1838, when he danced a saltarella with Alexandra Voronina-Ivanova.
Guerinot thus presented a new performing style in male dancing
with his emotional flights and falls, instilled with deeply-felt
- It is very tempting to draw a direct
parallel between the dance and the drama theatres; that is, looking
at Guerinot as a «dancing Mochalov». But, as is obvious
from the eye-witness accounts of his contemporaries, on the stage
Guerinot could not reach the heights achieved by the talented
drama actor. Evidently Guerinot incarnated the new type of «democratized»
hero that had been derived from drama and melodrama.
After the premiere of La Fille
du Danube, Guerinot was confirmed as choreographer at Petrovsky
Theatre. During his seven-year stay in Moscow, he staged twelve
ballets, not counting dances for operas and divertissements.
These were Taglioni-like ballets, old productions with good male
roles in them. Soon, however, the names of Jules Perrot and Fanny
Elssler appeared on the Moscow ballet horizon. A new era was
about to begin.
- by Natalia Chernova, Ph.D.
- This article first appeared in «Sovietsky
Balet», issue No.4, 1989