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Maestro Marius Ivanovich Petipa, premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. St. Petersburg, 1887.
|Birth name||Marius Alphonse Petipa|
|Born||11 March 1818|
|Died||14 July 1910 (aged 92)|
Gurzuf, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire
Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
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Maestro Marius Ivanovich Petipa, premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. St. Petersburg, 1887.
|Birth name||Marius Alphonse Petipa|
|Born||11 March 1818|
|Died||14 July 1910 (aged 92)|
Gurzuf, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire
Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux
Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa (11 March 1818 – 14 July [O.S. 1 July] 1910) was a French ballet dancer, teacher and choreographer. Petipa is considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer of ballet.
Marius Petipa is noted for his long career as premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres, a position he held from 1871 until 1903. Petipa created over fifty ballets, some of which have survived in versions either faithful to, inspired by, or reconstructed from the original — The Pharaoh's Daughter (1862); Don Quixote (1869); La Bayadère (1877); Le Talisman (1889); The Sleeping Beauty (1890); The Nutcracker (which was most likely choreographed by Lev Ivanov, perhaps with Petipa's counsel and instruction) (1892); Le Réveil de Flore (1894); La Halte de cavalerie (1896); Raymonda (1898); Les Saisons (1900), and Les Millions d’Arlequin (a.k.a. Harlequinade) (1900).
Petipa revived a substantial number of works created by other Ballet Masters. Many of these revivals would go on to become the definitive editions from which all subsequent productions would be based. The most famous of these revivals are Le Corsaire, Giselle, La Esmeralda, Coppélia, La Fille Mal Gardée (with Lev Ivanov), The Little Humpbacked Horse and Swan Lake (with Lev Ivanov).
Many dances have survived in an independent form from Petipa's original works and revivals in versions either based on the original or choreographed anew by others – the Grand Pas classique, Pas de trois and Mazurka des enfants from Paquita; La Carnaval de Venise Pas de deux from Satanella; The Talisman Pas de deux; La Esmeralda Pas de deux; the Diane and Actéon Pas de deux; Le Halte de Cavalerie Pas de deux; the Don Quixote Pas de deux; La Fille Mal Gardée Pas de deux; and the Harlequinade Pas de deux.
All of the full-length works and individual pieces which have survived in active performance are considered to be cornerstones of the ballet repertory.
Marius Petipa was born Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa in Marseilles, France on 11 March 1818. His mother Victorine Grasseau was a tragic actress and teacher of drama, while his father, Jean Antoine Petipa was a renowned Ballet Master and teacher. At the time of Marius's birth, Jean Petipa was engaged as premier danseur (Principal Male Dancer) to the Salle Bauveau (known today as the Opéra de Marseille), and in 1819 he was appointed maître de ballet to that theatre.
Marius Petipa spent his early childhood travelling throughout Europe with his family, as his parents' professional engagements took them from city to city. By the time Marius was six years old his family had settled in Brussels, in what was then the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, where his father was appointed maître de ballet and premier danseur to the Théâtre de la Monnaie. The young Marius received his general education at the Grand College in Brussels, while also attending the Brussels Conservatory where he studied music and learned to play the violin.
Jean Petipa began giving the young Marius lessons in ballet at the age of seven. At first the young boy resisted, caring very little for dance. Nevertheless, he soon came to love this art form that was so much the life and identity of his family, and he excelled quickly. In 1827 at the age of nine Marius performed for the first time in a ballet production as a savoyard in his father's staging of Pierre Gardel's 1800 ballet La Dansomani.
On 25 August 1830, the Belgian Revolution erupted after a performance of Daniel Auber's opera La muette de Portici at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, where Marius' father served as maître de ballet. The violent street fighting that followed caused the theatre to be shut down for a time, and consequently Jean Petipa found himself without a position. The Petipa family was left in dire straits for some years.
In 1834 the Petipa family relocated to Bordeaux, France where Marius' father had secured the position of maître de ballet at the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. While in Bordeaux Marius completed his ballet training under the great Auguste Vestris. By 1838 he was appointed premier danseur to the Ballet de Nantes in Nantes, France. During his time in Nantes the young Petipa began to try his hand at choreography by creating a number of one-act ballets and divertissements.
In July 1839 the 21-year-old Marius Petipa accompanied his father on a tour of the United States with a group of French dancers. Among the many engagements was a performance of Jean Coralli's La tarentule at the National Theatre on Broadway, being the first ballet performance ever seen in New York City. The tour proved to be a complete disaster, as many in the uncultured American audiences of that time had never before seen ballet. To add to the fiasco, the American impresario who arranged the engagements stole a large portion of the troupe's receipts and subsequently disappeared without a trace. Upon leaving for France, Petipa's ticket only allowed him passage to Nantes, but instead of returning to that city he stowed away so that he could continue on to Paris.
By 1840, Petipa had made his début as a dancer with the famous Comédie Française in Paris, and during his first performance with the troupe he partnered the legendary Ballerina Carlotta Grisi in a benefit performance held for the actress Rachel. He also took part in performances at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra where his brother Lucien Petipa was engaged as premier danseur.
Petipa was offered the position of premier danseur at the Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux in 1841. There, he studied further with the great Vestris, all the while dancing the leads in such ballets as La Fille Mal Gardée, La Péri and Giselle. While performing with the company his skills as not only a dancer but as a partner were much celebrated. His partnering of Carlotta Grisi during a performance of La Péri was talked about for years to come, particularly one acrobatic catch of the ballerina that dazzled the audience. While in Bordeaux Petipa began mounting his own original full-length productions — La Jolie Bordelaise (The Beauty of Bordeaux), La Vendange (The Grape Picker), L’Intrigue Amoureuse (The Intrigues of Love) and Le Langage des Fleurs (The Voice of the Flowers).
In 1843 Petipa was offered the position premier danseur at the King's Theatre in Madrid, Spain. For the next three years he would acquire an acute knowledge of traditional Spanish Dancing while producing new works based on Spanish themes — Carmen et son toréro (Carmen and the Bullfighter), La Perle de Séville (The Pearl of Seville), L’Aventure d’une fille de Madrid (The Adventures of a Madrileña), La Fleur de Grenade (The Flower of Granada) and Départ pour la course des taureaux (Leaving for the Bull Fights). In 1846 he began a love affair with the wife of the Marquis de Chateaubriand, a prominent member of the French Embassy. Learning of the affair, the Marquis challenged Petipa to a duel. Rather than keep his fateful appointment, Petipa quickly left Spain, never to return. He then travelled to Paris where he stayed for a brief period. While in the city he took part in a performance at the Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique where he partnered the ballerina Thérèse Elssler, sister of Fanny Elssler.
In 1847 he arrived in St. Petersburg with his father Jean-Antoine Petipa.
An invitation to work in Russia was sent to his father. But at this time Marius seduced another man's wife, and it ended the duel. Duels were banned and the court threatened to Marius. Relatives decided to send him away from France, Russia for this approach. The Marius brother Lucien Petipa was familiar with working in Russia Antoine Titus and approached him with the request. At the same time Russian ballet prima Yelena Andreyanova looking for a partner. She was a mistress of the Director of the Imperial Theaters Alexandr Gedeonov and her wish fulfilled. Antoine Titus introduced both sides. So very suddenly started his career in the great Russian choreographer Marius Petipa.
In 1847, Petipa accepted the position of premier danseur to the Imperial Theatres of St. Petersburg, at that time the capital of the Russian Empire. The position of premier danseur had become vacant upon the departure of the French danseur Emile Gredlu, and Petipa soon relocated to Russia. On 5 June [O.S. 24 May] 1847 the twenty-nine-year old Petipa arrived in the imperial capital. In 1848 Petipa's father also relocated to St. Petersburg, where he taught the Classe de perfection at the Imperial Ballet School until his death in 1855.
For his début, the director of the Imperial Theatres Alexander Gedeonov commissioned Petipa and the Ballet Master Pierre-Frédéric Malevergne to mount the first Russian production of Joseph Mazilier's celebrated ballet Paquita, first staged at the Paris Opéra in 1846. The ballet was given for the first time in St. Petersburg on 8 October [O.S. 26 September] 1847 with the Prima ballerina Yelena Andreyanova in the title rôle and Petipa himself in the largely mimed rôle of Lucien d’Hervilly.
The following season Petipa and his father staged a revival of Mazilier's 1840 ballet Le Diable amoureux (The Devil in Love), which premiered under the title Satanella on 22 February [O.S. 10 February] 1848. The prima ballerina Andreyonova performed the title rôle, with Petipa in the rôle of Fabio.
At the time Petipa had arrived in St. Petersburg, the Imperial Ballet had experienced a considerable decline in popularity with the public since the 1842 departure of Marie Taglioni, who had been engaged in the Imperial capital as guest ballerina. The productions of Paquita and Satanella brought about a measure of prestige and attention for the company. According to the critic Raphael Zotov:
|“||Our lovely ballet company was reborn with the productions of Paquita and Satanella, and its superlative performances placed the company again at its former level of glory and universal affection.||”|
In the winter of 1849, the French Ballet Master Jules Perrot arrived in St. Petersburg, having accepted the position of premier maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. He was accompanied by his chief collaborator, the prolific Italian composer Cesare Pugni, who was appointed Ballet Composer of the Imperial Theatres, a position created especially for him. Aside from dancing the principal rôles in many of Perrot's productions, Petipa rehearsed older works with the company and assisted Perrot in staging revivals (such as Giselle in 1850, and Le Corsaire in 1858), all the while learning a great deal from the man who was at that time the most celebrated choreographer in Europe. Although Petipa did not create his own original works during this period, he nevertheless staged many dances for various operas, and on occasion revised dances for Perrot's many revivals of older works.
By 1850 Petipa's first child, a son named Marius Mariusovich Petipa (1850–1919) was born. His mother, Marie Thérèse Bourdin— with whom Petipa had a brief liaison—died five years after the birth of their child. In 1854 Petipa married the Prima ballerina Mariia Surovshchikova-Petipa. Together they had two children: Marie Mariusovna Petipa (1857–1930), who would go on to become a celebrated dancer in her own right, and Jean Mariusovich Petipa (1859–1871).
On 21 January [O.S. 9 January] 1855 Petipa presented his first original ballet in over six years, a ballet-divertissement titled L’Étoile de Grenade (The Star of Granada), for which he collaborated for the first time with the composer Cesare Pugni. The work was presented for the first time at the Palace of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, a fanatic balletomane and patron of the arts. L’Étoile de Grenade was followed by La Rose, la violette et le papillon (The Rose, the Violet and the Butterfly) in 1857, Un Mariage sous la Régence (A Marriage Under the Regency) in 1858, Le Marché des parisien (The Parisian Market) in 1859, Le Dahlia Bleu (The Blue Dahlia) in 1860 and Terpsichore in 1861. All of Petipa's works during this period were tailored especially for the talents of his wife Maria, who performed the principal rôles to considerable acclaim, and soon was named Prima ballerina to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres.
On 29 May 1861 Petipa presented his 1859 ballet Le Marché des parisiens at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra in Paris as Le Marché des Innocents. Petipa's wife Maria reprised the principal rôle of Lizetta (renamed Gloriette) to great success.
In 1858 Jules Perrot retired to his native France, never to return to Russia again. Petipa anticipated succeeding Perrot as premier maître de ballet. His years of serving as assistant to Perrot had taught him much. Choreography was a logical alternative to dancing for the now 41-year old Petipa, who was soon to retire from the stage. But it was not yet to be. In 1860 the renowned French Ballet Master Arthur Saint-Léon was given the coveted position by the director of the Imperial Theatres Andrei Saburov, and soon a healthy and productive rivalry between him and Petipa ensued, bringing the Imperial Ballet to new heights throughout the 1860s.
The great Italian Ballerina Carolina Rosati had been engaged as guest artist with the Imperial Theatres since 1855. By 1861 the ballerina's contract with the company was set to expire, and upon leaving St. Petersburg she had decided to retire from the stage. By contract she was allowed one last benefit performance in a new production, and in late 1861 she requested from the director Saburov that preparations begin post haste. Saburov approached Petipa, and inquired as to whether or not he could stage a ballet for Rosati in only six weeks. Confidently, Petipa answered "Yes, I shall try, and probably succeed." Saburov immediately put all other projects on hold so that the company could concentrate on the production of the new ballet.
During his sojourn in Paris for the staging of Le Marché des Innocents, Petipa acquired a scenario from the dramatist Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges for a ballet titled The Pharaoh's Daughter, inspired by Théophile Gautier's Le Roman de la Momie. Petipa decided that this scenario, set in exotic ancient Egypt, would be perfect for the effective production Rosati so desired. Throughout the Victorian era Europe was fascinated with all things concerning the art and culture of ancient Egypt, and Petipa was sure that a ballet on such a subject would be a great success.
Petipa began work immediately, collaborating with the composer Pugni, who wrote his melodious and apt score with the quickness for which he was well known. The Pharaoh's Daughter premiered on 30 January [O.S. 18 January] 1862 to an unrivaled success. The work exceeded even the opulent tastes of the Tsarist audience, as so lavish and exotic a ballet had not been seen on the Imperial stage for some time. The work went on to become the most popular ballet in the entire repertory of the Imperial Theatres— by 1903 The Pharaoh's Daughter had been performed 203 times. The great success of The Pharaoh's Daughter earned for Petipa the position of Second maître de ballet to the Imperial Theatres.
Saint-Léon answered the success of Petipa's pseudo-Egyptian opus with the fantastical The Little Humpbacked Horse, or The Tsar Maiden, a ballet adaptation of Pyotr Yershov's famous Russian poem. The work proved to be a success equal to that of The Pharaoh's Daughter, with its series of fantastical tableaux set under-water and on an enchanted isle, as well as the ballet's final Grand divertissement celebrating the many peoples of the Russian Empire.
Though Arthur Saint-Léon was by title and technicality Petipa's superior, the two men were viewed as equals by the critics and balletomanes of the day, and would rival one another with splendid productions throughout the 1860s. Not only did Saint-Léon and Petipa have their own respective audiences and critics, but also their own ballerinas—Petipa mounted the majority of his works at that time for his wife, the Prima ballerina Mariia Surovshchikova-Petipa, while Saint-Léon mounted the majority of his works for the great ballerina Marfa Muravieva. Despite their rivalry, nearly every ballet staged by Petipa and Saint-Léon during the 1860s was set to the music of Cesare Pugni.
On 6 February [O.S. 25 January] 1868 Petipa presented a lavish revival of the ballet Le Corsaire for the visiting ballerina Adèle Grantzow, for which he included the celebrated scene Le jardin animé to the music of Léo Delibes.
On 29 October [O.S. 17 October] 1868 Petipa presented his colossal grand ballet Le Roi Candaule (known in Russian as Tsar Candavl), which was staged especially for the visiting ballerina Henriatte D'or. The libretto of Le Roi Candaule was created by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, and combined Herodotus and Plutarch's tale of how the throne of King Candaules—ruler of the Kingdom of Lydia—was usurped by the shepherd Gyges by way of Candaules's Queen, Nyssia. Le Roi Candaule featured the celebrated Pas de Vénus which was considered at that time be one of Petipa's ultimate masterpieces of classical choreography. The ballet also included the pas de caractéristique known as Les amours de Diane, which would later be transformed by Agrippina Vaganova into the so-called Diane and Actéon Pas de Deux for her 1935 revival of La Esmeralda. Le Roi Candaule would go on to break attendance records at the St. Petersburg Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, and by 1903 the work had been performed 194 times. Petipa would later comment in his memoirs that Le Roi Candaule was " ... the indulgence of my youth."
Petipa's final work of the 1860s remains a cornerstone of the classical ballet repertory. Don Quixote was mounted for Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre, with the famous ballerina Anna Sobeshchanskaya in the role of Kitri. The composer Ludwig Minkus was commissioned to write the ballet's score, marking the beginning a long and fruitful collaboration between him and Petipa.
In 1869 Saint-Léon's contract was set to expire. His last works for the St. Petersburg stage—Le Poisson doré (1866) and Le Lys (1869)—led the Minister of the Imperial Court to refuse renewal of the Ballet Master's contract. While in the Café de Divan on the Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris, Saint-Léon died of a heart attack on 2 September 1870. Not long before his death the composer Cesare Pugni—Petipa's chief collaborator for many years—died on 2 February [O.S. 26 January] 1870.
Petipa was officially named premier maître de ballet on 12 March [O.S. 29 February] 1871. On 21 November [O.S. 9 November] 1871 Petipa presented Don Quixote in the St. Petersburg in an expanded and far more lavish edition. Ludwig Minkus's score was hailed unanimously as a masterwork of ballet music, earning the composer the post of Ballet Composer of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. Petipa and Minkus created a successful series of original works and revivals throughout the 1870s: La Camargo in 1872, Offenbach's Le Papillon in 1874, Les Brigands (The Bandits) in 1875, Les Aventures de Pélée (The Adventures of Peleus) in 1876, Roxana in 1878, La Fille des Neiges (The Daughter of the Snows) in 1879, and Mlada, also in 1879.
In 1877 Petipa staged his greatest masterwork to date, the exotic La Bayadère to the music of Minkus, which premiered on 4 February [O.S. 23 January] 1877 for the benefit performance of the Prima ballerina Ekaterina Vazem. The ballet included Petipa's celebrated scene known as The Kingdom of the Shades, for which the Ballet Master staged some of his most outstanding choreography. La Bayadère would prove to be among Petipa's most enduring works. To this day his choreography for the scene The Kingdom of the Shades remains one of the ultimate challenges for the classical ballerina and danseur, and particularly for the corps de ballet.
The eldest son of Marius Petipa (with the dressmaker Teresa Burden / ru: Тереза Бурден) also Marius (Marius Mariusovich Petipa) was the famous drama actor, and his son Nikolai Radin was famous Russian actor too.
Petipa and his wife, the Prima ballerina Mariia Surovshchikova-Petipa separated in 1875, and in 1882 the ballerina died of virulent smallpox in Pyatigorsk. In 1876 Petipa married the ballerina Lyubov Savitskaya, who before she married Petipa had given birth to their first child. Together, they had six children: Nadezhda Mariusovna Petipa (1874–1945), Evgeniia Mariusovna Petipa (1877–1892), Victor Mariusovich Petipa (1879–1939), Lyubov Mariusovna Petipa (1880–1917), Mariy Mariusovich Petipa (1884–1922), and Vera Mariusovna Petipa (1885–1961). With so many children, Petipa stood at the head of a large family by the time he had reached his 70s, having many grandchildren, in-laws, and god-children. Although he was well provided for at the expense of the Imperial treasury, he was not rich, and lived strictly within his means. He kept track of all of his living expenses in journals, as well as box-office receipts at the theatre. He was well known for his generosity, always lavishing presents upon his children and grandchildren, and was known to purchase tea or lunch for the dancers during a rehearsal.
Throughout the 1880s Petipa staged revivals of older works with increasing regularity. In 1880 he revived Mazilier's Le Corsaire for the ballerina Eugenia Sokolova, and in 1881 he revived Mazilier's Paquita for the Prima ballerina Vazem. For this production Petipa added the celebrated Paquita Grand pas classique, as well as the Paquita Pas de trois (or Minkus Pas de trois) and the Mazurka des enfants (Children's Mazurka), all to the music of Minkus. The Paquita Grand pas classique is among Petipa's most celebrated divertissements, and is today included in the repertories of ballet companies all over the world. In 1884 Petipa staged what is considered to be his definitive revival of the romantic masterwork Giselle, and in 1885 he mounted a new production of Arthur Saint-Léon's Coppélia, a revision which would serve as the basis for nearly every version staged thereafter. Petipa staged many new works as well throughout the 1880s, including Zoraiya in 1881 and Nuit et Jour (Night and Day), a work produced by Petipa and Minkus especially for the celebration gala held at the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre in honor of the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. Petipa also staged Pygmalion, ou La Statue de Chypre (Pygmalion, or the Statue of Cyprus) in 1883 and L'Offrandes à l'Amour (The Sacrifices to Cupid) in 1886.
In late 1885 the great Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi began her two-year engagement with the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet, making her debut in a revival of Petipa's The Pharaoh's Daughter. A few weeks later Zucchi appeared as Lise in a revival of Paul Talgioni's 1864 version of La Fille Mal Gardée, staged for the benefit performance of Pavel Gerdt by Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The Petipa/Ivanov production of La Fille Mal Gardée would be retained in the repertory of the St. Petersburg Ballet for many years, serving as a useful vehicle for such noted ballerinas as Mathilde Kschessinskaya and Olga Preobrajenska. In 1886 Petipa mounted a revival of Jules Perrot's La Esmeralda especially for Zucchi, a production that is considered to be his definitive revival of that work. For her performance, Petipa interpolated the famous La Esmeralda pas de six to the music of Riccardo Drigo, a dramatic pas d'action that allowed Zucchi to display her incomparable flair for drama and mime. For Zucchi's benefit performance in February 1887, Petipa staged the ballet L'Ordre du Roi (The King's Command), a work based on Delibes' operetta Le roi l'a dit. Zucchi scored an enormous success in the principal rôle of Pepita when the ballet premiered on 26 February [O.S. 14 February] 1886. Nevertheless many critics complained that the ballet had a weak libretto and mise en scène. Petipa would later stage an abridgement of L'Ordre du Roi as Les Élèves de Dupré (The Pupils of Dupré) in 1900 for a special performance given at the Theatre of the Hermitage for the Imperial Family and their special guest, Kaiser Wilhelm II.
By 1885 the now sixty-seven-year-old Petipa began to experience what appeared to be a severe case of eczema. The pain and suffering caused by his illness began to debilitate the Ballet Master a great deal, forcing him to be absent from work for long periods.
In 1881, the newly crowned Russian Emperor Alexander III appointed Ivan Vsevolozhsky director of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres. In 1885 the new director prompted the inspection of the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre by architects who found the building to be unsafe. Rather than spend millions of roubles on renovations, the director ordered that both the ballet and opera companies be relocated to the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg, much to the chagrin of the orchestra and opera singers who found the theatre's acoustics to be weaker. In honor of the relocation to the new theatre, a lavish gala performance was planned for February 1886, which included the Petipa/Minkus work Les Pilules magiques (The Magic Pills). The work included three danced tableaux: the first took place in a subterranean cave inhabited by sorceresses, while the second included various card games brought to life through dance. The third and final tableau was known as The Kingdom of the Laces in which a Grand divertissement of national dances from Belgium, England, Spain and Russia was performed.
During the twilight of Imperial Russia, the ballet of St. Petersburg flourished before a public that possessed a high level of connoisseurship. The treasury of the Russian Emperor—who was at that time the wealthiest person in the world—lavished millions of rubles a year on the Imperial Ballet, opera, and the Imperial Theatrical School (today known as the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet). Each new season required that Petipa create a new Grand ballet, to stage the dance sections for various operas, and to prepare galas and divertissements for court performances, royal nuptials, etc.
With the ballet thriving in such an environment, the late 19th century saw what is considered to be the golden age of Russian ballet, where virtuoso dancers reigned supreme, and lavish productions were designed by some of the Russian Empire's most talented designers.
The golden age of Russian ballet coincided with an important change: upon the retirement of Ludwig Minkus in 1886, the director Ivan Vsevolozhsky abolished the official post of Ballet Composer to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in an effort to diversify the music supplied for the ballet. This allowed various composers to create music for the ballet, though often with mixed results, as Petipa felt the majority of such composers brought to him by Vzevolozhosky were not able to score the musique dansante he preferred.
In 1888 Petipa presented his colossal grand ballet set in ancient Rome La Vestale for the visiting Italian ballerina Elena Cornalba. The ballet was set to the music of the composer Mikhail Ivanov, a noted music critic and student of Tchaikovsky. In 1889 Vsevolozhsky commissioned the Italian Riccardo Drigo—principal conductor of the Imperial Ballet—to compose the score for Petipa's lavish Le Talisman, also staged for Cornalba. Although the ballet was not a success Drigo's score was much praised by contemporary critics.
In 1889, the director Vsevolozhsky commissioned the great composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky to compose the score for Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty. The ballet, which premiered on 15 January [O.S. 3 January] 1890, proved to be Petipa's most enduring work, going on to be considered as the quintessential classical ballet, as well as one of Petipa's ultimate masterpieces of choreography. The ballet proved to be so popular in fact that by April 1903 it had been performed 100 times in only thirteen years, being one of the most popular works in the Imperial Ballet's repertory, second only to Petipa's The Pharaoh's Daughter.
Petipa was diagnosed with a severe case of the skin disease pemphigus in 1892. The constant pain and itching brought on by this disease caused Petipa to refrain from choreography for the Imperial Ballet's entire 1892–1893 theatrical season. It has been widely accepted by history that the responsibility of staging Tchaikovsky's second work for the Imperial Ballet The Nutcracker, fell to the Imperial Theatre's second Ballet Master Lev Ivanov. With regard to whomever was ultimately responsible for the choreography for The Nutcracker, many sources contradict one another/ Some claim either that Petipa was responsible for staging the entire ballet or that he merely supervised Ivanov's progress. The Nutcracker premiered 18 December [O.S. 6 December] 1892 on a double bill with Tchaikovsky's opera Iolanta at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. Many critics of the day considered the work to not even be a ballet at all, with far too much emphasis on spectacle rather than drama, something made all the more unsuccessful since the ballerina's role was reduced to a mere Grand Pas de deux in the final scene. The critics also complained that Ivanov's choreography was banal, with only a few passages succeeding simply because Ivanov imitated the choreography of Petipa's dances from other works. One such passage mentioned in reviews was the Valse des flocons de neige (Waltz of the Snowflakes), which was said to be almost identical to a waltz from Petipa's 1879 ballet La Fille des Neiges (The Daughter of the Snows).
Petipa's illness kept him from composition for nearly the whole of 1893, and it was during this time that Enrico Cecchetti, the great Italian dancer and teacher, began to assist Lev Ivanov in substituting for Petipa in the staging of ballets and rehearsals.
In 1893 Petipa supervised Cecchetti and Ivanov's staging of the ballet Cinderella (or Zolushka), set to the music of Baron Boris Fitinhof-Schell. In the title rôle the Italian virtuosa Pierina Legnani made her début, and on the evening of the premiere, 15 December [O.S. 3 December] 1893, her perfection of technique and execution caused a sensation, with many critics and balletomanes hailing her as the supreme ballerina of her generation. In the last act she astounded the audience by performing a feat never before executed by any Ballerina: 32 fouettés en tournant. Petipa was so enamored with the stellar ballerina that he bestowed upon her the rarely held title of Prima ballerina assoluta, and over the course of the next eight years, Petipa staged many new ballets especially for her talents.
In 1894 the Ballerina Mathilde Kschessinskaya was named Prima Ballerina of the Imperial Ballet. Nevertheless it was Legnani who proved to be Petipa's greatest muse, as nearly every new ballet he mounted throughout his remaining years with the Imperial Ballet featured her in the principal rôle. Among these works: Raymonda in 1898, and Les Ruses d'Amour (The Pranks of Love) in 1900. Kschessinskaya in turn was given almost all of the leads in Petipa's revivals of older works, among them his 1898 revival of The Pharaoh's Daughter and his 1899 revival of La Esmeralda.
In 1894 Petipa returned to choreography from his long infirmity with the one-act Le Réveil de Flore (The Awakening of Flora), set to the music of Drigo. The ballet was mounted especially for the celebrations held at the Imperial Theatre of Peterhof Palace in honor of the wedding of Tsar Alexander III's daughter, the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna to the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, premiering 9 August [O.S. 28 July] 1894.
In 1893 Tchaikovsky died, and in February 1894 a memorial concert was given in his honor at the Mariinsky Theatre. For the occasion Lev Ivanov mounted the second scene from Tchaikovsky's 1877 Swan Lake, a work first produced in Moscow. It was soon decided that a revival of the full-length work would be mounted for the 1894–1895 season, with Ivanov would staging the second and fourth tableaux, while Petipa would stage the remainder of the work. Drigo would revise Tchaikovsky's 1877 score in accordance with Petipa's instructions, and Tchaikovsky's brother Modeste would revise the ballet's scenario. The premiere on 27 January [O.S. 15 January] 1895 with Legnani in the dual rôle of Odette/Odile was a great success, and in Petipa and Ivanov's version Swan Lake would go on to become one of the greatest of all ballets, remaining one of the ultimate tests for the Classical Ballerina and the corps de ballet.
Petipa would spend the remainder of his career primarily reviving older ballets. In the winter of 1895 Petipa presented lavish updated versions of his 1889 Le Talisman, and Saint-Léon's 1864 The Little Humpbacked Horse (as La Tsar-Demoiselle), both with Legnani in the principal rôles. The turn of the 20th century saw Petipa present even more spectacular revivals: The Pharaoh's Daughter in 1898; La Esmeralda, Giselle and Le Corsaire in 1899; and La Bayadère in 1900. These revivals would prove to be Petipa's final "finishing touch" on these works.
But Petipa also mounted new works. For the celebrations held at the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre in honor of the coronation of Emperor Nicholas II, Petipa presented the one-act ballet to Drigo's music, Le Perle, which proved to be the greatest success during the gala of 29 May [O.S. 17 May] 1896. Le Perle was truly a ballet à grand spectacle: based on the un-staged danced scene La Pérégrina from Verdi's opera Don Carlos, which was to have been choreographed by Petipa's brother Lucien. The ballet featured some of Petipa's most grand choreography for a 200 member cast, all set to Drigo's Wagnerian score that boasted an off-stage boy's choir.
On 20 December [O.S. 8 December] 1896 Petipa presented what is arguably the most lavish ballet he ever staged: Bluebeard, based on the Perrault fairytale to the music of Pyotr Schenk. The ballet consisted of a myriad of dances in the context of such a sumptuous production that many of the critics and balletomanes felt that the work was merely a gargantuan excuse for spectacle and dances, something made all the more apparent with the spectacular showcasing of Pierina Legnani in the principal role. The final tableau consisted of a three-part astrological divertissement titled The Temple of the Past, Present & Futures. The Temple of the Future rounded out the scene with its Pas de deux éléctrique performed by Legnani and Nikolai Legat to storms of applause. In spite of the criticisms of Bluebeard, the critics unanimously praised the seventy-eight-year old Petipa's seemingly limitless imagination in the creation of classical dances, proving once again that no other choreographer in Europe could claim to be his rival.
On 19 January [O.S. 7 January] 1898 the nearly eighty-year-old Petipa presented one of his greatest ballets, Raymonda, set in Hungary during the middle ages to the music of Alexander Glazunov, which premiered to great success. Petipa's Pas classique hongrois (or Raymonda Pas de Dix) from the last act of the ballet would go on to be one of his most celebrated and enduring excerpts, with the challenging choreography he lavished onto Legnani (who danced the title rôle) becoming one of the ultimate tests of the classical ballerina.
Petipa presented what would prove to be his final masterpiece on 23 February [O.S. 10 February] 1900 at the Hermitage Theatre, Les Millions d'Arlequin (or Harlequinade), a balletic Harlequinade set to Drigo's music. Harlequinade was dedicated by both Drigo and Petipa to the new Empress, Alexandra Feodorovna, a work which would prove to be the last enduring flash of Petipa's choreographic ouvre.
In spite of his vast accomplishments, Petipa's final years with the Imperial Ballet were difficult. By 1901 Pierina Legnani had retired from the stage to her native Italy, having given up in her rivalry with Mathilde Kschessinskaya. Petipa thoroughly despised Kschessinskaya, referring to her as " ... that nasty little swine" in his diaries and commenting that local critics should beat her, rather than give her any compliments.
By the turn of the 20th century new innovations in the art of classical dance began to become apparent. With all of this, Petipa's rocky relationship with the new director of the Imperial Theatres, Vladimir Telyakovsky, appointed to the position in 1901, served as a catalyst to the Ballet Master's end. Telyakovsky made no effort in disguising his dislike of Petipa's work, as he felt that the art of classical ballet had become stagnant under him, and felt that other choreographers should have a chance at the helm of the Imperial Ballet. But even at the age of eighty-three, and suffering from the constant pain brought on by a severe case of the skin disease pemphigus, the old Maestro showed no signs of slowing down, much to Telyakovsky's chagrin.
One example of Telyakovsky's efforts in his attempt to "de-throne" Petipa came in 1902 when he invited Alexander Gorsky, former premier danseur to the Imperial Ballet, to stage his own version of Petipa's 1869 ballet Don Quixote. Gorsky had been engaged as Ballet Master to the Ballet of the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre, and in 1900 he mounted a complete revision of Don Quixote in a version radically different from Petipa's original. Petipa became furious when he learned this new version would be staged for the St. Peterburg troupe, as he had not even been consulted on the production of a ballet that was originally his creation. While watching a rehearsal of Gorsky's production at the Mariinsky Theatre, Petipa was heard yelling out "Will someone tell that young man that I am not yet dead?!". Petipa was further frustrated by the fact that the Imperial Theatre's newly appointed régisseur Nicholas Sergeyev was being paid large sums to travel throughout the Russian Empire and stage many of the ageing Ballet Master's works.
In late 1902 Petipa began work on a ballet adaptation of the tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs titled Le Miroir magique. Petipa mounted the work for his own benefit performance, which was to mark a "semi-retirement" for the Ballet Master. The ballet, set to the music of the avant-garde composer Arsenii Koreshchenko, was given on 22 February [O.S. 9 February] 1903 at the Mariinsky Theatre to an audience composed of the whole Imperial Family and many members of the St. Petersburg nobility. The production boasted bizarre décor and costumes that were considered to be unsuited for a classical ballet. In spite of this Petipa received a roaring ovation from the audience at the end of the performance. Le Miroir magique was given scathing reviews in the press, and was considered to be an all-around failure, though Petipa's choreography was not mentioned among the criticisms. Not long afterward rumour began to circulate that Petipa was to be replaced, and Telyakovsky even made an announcement to the Stock Trade Bulletin, a St. Petersburg newspaper, that "...the ballet company will have to get used to a new Balletmaster – Alexander Gorsky. He will stage his own versions of 'The Little Humpbacked Horse' and 'Swan Lake'. He has staged both ballets (for the Moscow Bolshoi Theatre) entirely differently and in a much more original manner." In the end Gorsky never succeeded Petipa as premier maître de ballet. The coveted post would later go to Mikhail Fokine.
Telyakovsky knew that he could not legally end Petipa's employment, as he was still contracted as premier maître de ballet, so he began a campaign to drive the aging Ballet Master from the theatre. In 1902 Telyakovsky established a committee of influential members of the Imperial Theatres in an effort to take away Petipa's powers with regard to casting, repertory, and the appointment of dancers, though much to Telyakovsky's annoyance the members of the committee appointed Petipa chairman. Soon Telyakovsky began purposely not sending carriages to collect Petipa for particular rehearsals, or not sending him lists of casting for various ballets, and even not informing Petipa of various rehearsals taking place, information which the Ballet Master was legally required to have. Nevertheless Petipa's advanced age and failing health left him with little energy to contest the director. Petipa was invited in March 1904 to stage The Pharaoh's Daughter at the Paris Opéra (the Palais Garnier) by relatives of Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, who wrote the ballet's libretto, but his health prevented him from it.
Despite the situation with Telyakovsky and the condition of his health, Petipa still managed to work, as he was constantly sought by the dancers of the Imperial Ballet for coaching. He even managed to revise some of the dances in his old works. In 1904 Petipa coached the great Anna Pavlova for her performance in Giselle and her début in Paquita. For the performance, Petipa created a new variation for the ballerina to Drigo's music that is still danced today by the lead Ballerina in the famous Paquita Grand Pas Classique. According to the Ballerina Olga Preobrajenska, " ... by the time I entered [the Imperial Ballet] in 1889, (Petipa) was a true master. I have always found myself fortunate to have witnessed such genius, for by the time Petipa reached his 80s, his art had reached a perfection unparalleled. Our ballet was unrivaled anywhere in Europe thanks to this genius."
Petipa's diaries reflect the constant fear of his aging body, and that he had little time left to live. In light of this, the Ballet Master spent nearly every minute he could creating variations and various numbers, as well as reworking many of the dances in his older works. In 1903 Petipa presented completely new choreography for many of the pas in his 1868 ballet Le Roi Candaule. For this revival Petipa created a new version of the celebrated piece Les amours de Diane that would later be transformed by Agrippina Vaganova into the famous Diane and Actéon Pas de Deux. Such work prompted the Ballet Master to write in his diaries "I am amazing."
Petipa then set to work on what would prove to be his final ballet. La Romance d'un Bouton de rose et d'un Papillon to the music of Drigo was, according to Olga Preobrajenska, " ... a little masterpiece." The work was scheduled to be presented on 5 February [O.S. 23 January] 1904 for a performance at the Imperial Theatre of the Hermitage, but the director Telyakovsky abruptly cancelled the performance only two weeks prior to the premiere, the official explanation being the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. For Petipa this was the final straw, and soon afterward he was rarely seen at the theatre or the Imperial Ballet School (where rehearsals were held). The minister of the Imperial Court, the aristocrat Baron Fredericks gave Petipa the title "Ballet Master for life", and granted him a yearly pension of 9,000 roubles.
Petipa noted his final composition on 17 January 1905 in his diraies: a variation to the music of Cesare Pugni for the Prima ballerina Olga Preobrajenska from the old ballet La Danseuse en voyage. Petipa wrote next to this entry " ... its finished!".
Petipa remained in St. Petersburg until 1907, and then, at the suggestion of his physicians, left with his family to Yalta in southern Russia where the air was more agreeable with his health, and soon the Petipa family relocated to the resort Gurzuf in the Crimea, where the Ballet Master spent his remaining years. In 1907 Petipa wrote in his diary "I can state that I created a ballet company of which everyone said: St. Petersburg has the greatest ballet in all Europe." Petipa died on 14 July [O.S. 1 July] 1910 at the age of ninety-two, and was interred three days later in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg.
It was in 1891 that many of Petipa's original ballets, revivals, and dances from operas began to be notated in the method of dance notation created by Vladimir Stepanov. The project began with a demonstration to the committee of the Imperial Ballet (consisting of Petipa, Lev Ivanov, the former Prima Ballerina Ekaterina Vazem, the former premier danseur Pavel Gerdt, and the great teacher Christian Johansson) with Stepanov himself notating Lev Ivanov and Riccardo Drigo's 1893 ballet La Flûte magique, and not long afterward the project was set into motion with a revival of Jules Perrot's ballet Le rêve du peintre. After Stepanov's death in 1896 Alexander Gorsky took over the project, all the while perfecting the system. After Gorsky departed St. Petersburg in 1900 to take up the post of Balletmaster to the Moscow Imperial Bolshoi Theatre, the project was taken over by Nicholas Sergeyev, former Danseur of the Imperial Ballet (and later régisseur in 1903) with his team of notators – Alexander Chekrygin joined the project in 1903, and Victor Rakhmanov in 1904.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917 Nicholas Sergeyev left Russia with the notations in hand. In 1921 Sergeyev took over the post of régisseur to the Latvian National Opera Ballet in Riga, and during his appointment there he added a substantial amount of the musical scores belonging to the notated ballets. In the 1930s, with the aid of the notations, Sergeyev went on to stage Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, his definitive version of Giselle, Coppélia (as danced by the Imperial Ballet), and The Nutcracker for the Vic-Wells Ballet of London (later the Royal Ballet) who still almost religiously perform many of these ballets with little changes from when they were first staged. It was through these revivals by Sergeyev in London with aid of these notations that the ballets of Petipa where first staged in the west, forming the nucleus of what is now known as the Classical Ballet reperotry for not only the ballet of England but for the world.
In 1969 the Harvard University Library purchased the collection, which is today known as the Sergeyev Collection. The collection consists of choreographic notations documenting the compositions of Marius Petipa for his original ballets and revivals (the collection also includes two notations for ballets by Lev Ivanov – his 1893 La Flûte magique and 1887 La Forêt enchantée), and one by the brothers Nikolai and Sergai Legat (their 1903 revival of The Fairy Doll), as well as Petipa's choreography for dances from operas, along with various Pas, incidental dances, etc. from other works. Not all of the notations are complete, with some being rather vague in sections, leading some historians who have studied the collection to theorize that they were made to function simply as "reminders" for the Balletmaster or régisseur already familiar with these works. The collection also includes photos, set and costume designs, and music for many of the ballets in their performance score editions (mostly in piano and/or violin reduction), many of which include a substantial number of dances, variations, etc. interpolated from other works.
Below is a listing for further reading on Marius Petipa. To date there is no publication which is currently in print.
Imperial Bolshoi Kammeny Theatre, St. Petersburg
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg
Other venues in Russia
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