Le Carnaval – What Happened To This Ballet?

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Le Carnaval was a pantomime ballet which was one act long written and danced in the early 1900’s.

Lebretto and choreography was by Fokine

Music was written by Schumann and orchestration was done by Rimsky-Korsakov.

Scenery and Costumes were done by Leon Bakst.

Le Carnaval ballet was first performed after three spontaneous rehearsals as a charity performance in the Pavlov Hall in St Petersburg on the 20th of February 1910 by the Ballets Russes, then again in Western Europe at the Theater des Westens in Berlin on the 20th of May 1910.

le carnavalOn 14 September 1933, the ballet was revived again in London by the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo (staged by Woizikovsky) for Alexandra Danilova (appearing as Columbine).

In 1937, it was staged by the Vic-Wells Ballet with Margot Fonteyn dancing the role of “Columbine

This ballet has no real plot or storyline, it is merely a series of light, humorous, and joyous incidents combined with some moments of poignancy and an undercurrent of satire.

Le Carnaval The Ballet


le carnavalColumbine









Waltzers and Philistines

The Ballet Story:

The scene takes place in the ant-chamber of a ballroom and its only furniture is two small striped settees.

Columbine, Harlquin, Pantalon, the wistful Peirrot, and other characters from Commedia Dell’arte, intrigue, frolic and suffer with the characters of Schumann’s youthful imagination in a succession of dances and situations linked by the antics of Harlequin.

Le Carnaval had no great success with the Parisian public who saw it a month after Berlin in 1910.

Le Carnaval became beloved elsewhere and is recognized as one of Fokine’s more important works.

It is another exercise in his romantic revival, another restoration of the male dancer through the roles of Harlequin, Pierrot and Pantalon, first danced respectively by Nijinsky, Bolm and Cecchetti (with Karsavina as Columbine). Le Carnaval is  another ballet of contrasting moods evoked through dances which extend the range and forms of the pas de deux, pas de trois and pas seul which it uses.

The elusive combination of gaiety, sadness and precise timing required for the total effect is extremely difficult to achieve and the main reason why satisfactory performances of this ballet have very rarely been seen since the end of the Diaghilev Ballet.

Why Don’t We See This Ballet Much Anymore?

Le Carnaval seems to have been the most delicate, most exquisite ballet Michel Fokine ever created, as well as the most difficult to pinpoint.

As was the case with many of his works, the roles depended to a large degree upon the talents of the original performers, and if one looks at just the steps (except for the one Harlequin solo) they are almost simplistic. It was the infusion of lightness, gaiety, coyness, and self-absorption, combined with an underlying sadness, all of which must be contributed by the dancers themselves. That resulted in what most critics of the time regarded as a most effective adaptation of Schumann’s music and characters.

Recent attempts to reconstruct the work in England, Sweden, and the United States have had varying degrees of success. This is because the roles must be created from within each individual performer, not from externally imposed steps or gestures. They require someone like Fokine himself to elicit this from the dancers, which is unfortunately an almost impossible task for our more modern choreographers.

Les Sylphides Chopin – The Ballet And It’s History

les sylphides chopin

Les Sylphides Chopin – The History

Les Sylphides Chopin ballet is a famous ballet in one act.

The choreography was done by Fokine and the music by Chopin.

Les Sylphides was first performed at an examination performance at the Maryinsky Theater, St Petersburg on the 20th of March 1908. It was then performed in a proper theater on the 4th of March 1909. The ballet was first performed in Western Europe by the Ballets Russe at the Theater Du Chatelet in Paris on the 2nd of June 1909.

When Les Sylphides was first done, it was titled Chopiniana for its first Maryinsky performance and it remains so titled to this day in Russia. The ballet was renamed Les Sylphides for its first performance in Paris by the Ballets Russes.

The original cast was let by Pavlova, Karsavina, Baldina and Nijinsky.

les sylphides chopinThe photo on the right was taken of a London Performance in 1911.

What Dances Make Up The Les Sylphides Ballet?

This is the order of the ballet.

Prelude, op. 28, no. 7 – Overture

Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2 – ensemble – danced by the company

Valse, Op. 70, no.1 – solo – premiere danseuse

Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 2 – solo – danseuse etoile

Mazurka, Op. 67, No. 3 – solo – premier danseur

Prelude, Op. 28, No. 7 – solo – premiere danseur

Valse, Op. 64, No. 2 – pas de deux – danseuse etoile and premier danseur

Valse, op. 18 – ensemble – the company

This version below is a full version of the ballet danced by the American Ballet Theater with Cynthia Harvey as the Principle or Premiere Danseuse.

The scene of this ballet is a forest glade. On one side the grey ruins of a monastery, and on the other leafless trees. In the background there is the faint outline of a tomb stone. The ballet is set at nighttime and the moon is throwing patches of silvery light on the stage.

les sylphidesWhen the curtain rises, the corps de ballet and the four principals are grouped in a semi-circle against the forest background. The dancers all wear traditional white ballet skirts of the Taglioni period. When they move the manner of this pure romantic ballet is a series of four variations and a pas de deux framed in two ensembles.

The mood of Les Sylphides is spiritual, tinged with sadness, except for the more animated concluding scene. The total effect is poetry for whose proper performance purity of style is essential without any form of excess exaggeration.

This ballet has no story line and is descended from the shade’s scene in La Bayadere, but Les Sylphides Chopin introduced what was essentially a new genre which was a ballet with moods and no narrative structure as well as no clearly defined characters.

The inspiration for this ballet was the romantic ballet era and the title was from the original La Sylphide.

Fourteen years after Swan Lake, Les Sylphides carried the search further for more expressive movement. The aim wasn’t the normal tricks and double turns one normally sees in the big ballet productions, but rather the patterns and lines creating a more lyrical quality that flows out of the music.

The great achievement of Les Sylphides, in fact, is its musicality. Fokine wanted it to be the personification of a poetic vision.

Michel Fokine And How He Contributed To Dance

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Michel Fokine was born Mikhail Mikhaylovich Fokine on the 23rd of April 1880 in St Petersburg.michel Fokine

If you are wondering who Michel Fokine was, he was a dancer and choreographer that profoundly influenced the 20th-century classical ballet repertoire.

In 1905 he composed The Dying Swan for Russian Ballerina Anna Pavlova. He was chief choreographer at Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes from 1909 to 1914 and during this time he created Petrushka, The Firebird and L’Oiseau de Fau.

Michel Fokine And His Life

Fokine was born into a prosperous middle-class family. He was the 17th of 18 children, but only five survived to adulthood.  In 1889 he entered into the Imperial Ballet School at the Mariinsky Theatre. He was talented not only as a dancer but also as a student of music and painting. He began quite early in his life to plan choreography and seek out appropriate music in the school library as well as sketch designs.

He made his debut as a dancer with the Imperial Russian Ballet on his 18th birthday. He graduated in 1898 and achieved the rare distinction of entering the Imperial Ballet directly as a soloist.

He began teaching in 1902 and became the first soloist in 1904. He staged his first ballets the following year – Acis and Galatea for a pupil’s performance and Le Cygne for Anna Pavlova. His first ballet for the Imperial Theatre was Le Pavillon d’Armide in 1907.

He was very deeply influenced by the lofty qualities of the Romantic Ballet Era with its emphasis on expression and his personal passion lead him to museums and galleries to study the works of the past.

He would formulate his ideas before creating his ballets. ‘Dancing should be expressive,’ he wrote in a note submitted to the management of the Imperial Theatres with the scenario of Acis and Galatea.michel Fokine

He believed that works must not degenerate into mere gymnastics and should reflect the feelings of the character portrayed. The movement should fit the time and style of the period. The costumes should not be established ballet style, but be consistent with the plot. The ballet should be uninterrupted by not having separate numbers and not be interrupted with applause and its acknowledgment by the artists. The music had to express the story of the ballet.

The above were some of the principles of the choreographic revolution he effected in the next ten years.

In 1904 he wrote the scenario for his first ballet based on the ancient Greco-Roman – Legend of Daphnis and Chloe. It made very little impact with the directors of the Imperial Theatre and he was not encouraged to produce it. Later he created it for Diaghilev in 1912.

At St Petersburg, he had no power to implement his beliefs so he began to work as a choreographer in 1904 for his pupils. It was Acis et Galatee based on an ancient Sicilian legend.

His enthusiasm for antiquity owed nothing to the free dance ideas from American Dancer Isadora Duncan, although her appearance in Russia in 1905 greatly consolidated his own beliefs. In 1905 he also did his famous solo The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova.

Fokine was an integral part of the Ballets Russes Paris triumph. Diaghilev was well known for bringing artists together in successful collaboration and with Fokine as the chief choreographer, the link between the dancers Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Adolph Bolm as well as designers Alexandre Benois and Leon Bakst and composer Igor Stravinsky in beautiful unified creations like L’Oiseau de Fau and Petruska.

Michel Fokine’s relationship with the Diaghilev ballet deteriorated when Nijinsky was launched as a choreographer, but he still remained with the company until 1914 when he returned to Russia. It was during World War 1 and he toured with his wife, giving dance concert performances.

The pair left Russia in 1918 and made their home in New York City from 1923.

Fokine founded two short-lived ballet companies, the Fokine Ballet in 1922 and the American Ballet in 1924. Fokine became a U.S. citizen in 1932.

Between 1934 and 1936 he returned to Europe and choreographed several new works there for the Ballets Russes.

He worked with companies in both the USA and Europe creating new ballets such as L Epreuve d’amour in 1936 and Don Juan in 1936. None of these later ballets had the same impact that his earlier work did.

One of the few choreographers to come to a first rehearsal with clear and complete ideas for a ballet, Fokine had great facility and speed in choreographic invention, intense musicality, and the ability to memorize an orchestral score. He was by no means equable at work. Tamara Karsavina wrote in her autobiography Theatre Street that “he was extremely irritable and had no control of his temper,” but she emphasized that dancers became devoted to him.

The vocabulary of classical ballet has been enormously extended since Fokine’s day, and subsequent audiences sometimes feel that his choreography is dated. Those of his ballets remaining in production have inevitably suffered distortion. He himself was conscious that this would happen. “The longer a ballet exists in the repertoire,” he wrote in his Memoirs, “the further it departs from its original version. . . . After my death, the public, watching my ballets, will think ‘What nonsense Fokine staged! ”michel fokine

Here is a list of some of Michel Fokine’s well-known ballets:

Even if he had not been a choreographer, Michel Fokine would have lived in history as an outstanding dancer. His achievements in one art have tended to overshadow his greatness in the other. As a choreographer he is the most influential figure of the first half of the twentieth century, matching Noverre in the importance of his reforms and providing a reference pointe for all his successors.

He traveled to Mexico City for rehearsals of another new work, Helen of Troy, in the summer of 1942 but cut his trip short after suffering a blood clot in his left leg. His condition worsened, and he contracted pneumonia. He died on the 22nd of August 1942 in New York City.

The comedy ballet Helen of Troy for the American Ballet Theatre was completed by David Lichine and was premiered in Mexico City on the 10th of September 1942.

His wife Vera Fokine, who was also a dancer and who had performed in many of his ballets survived him until 1958.

Here is some rare video footage from that era.