Mariinsky Theatre Got to Restoring the Ballet “The Sleeping Beauty”
In the middle of March St. Petersburg was swarming with contradictory rumors: they said that instead of the “usual” “Sleeping Beauty” Mariinsky is going to put stage something extraordinary. The public prepared for assaulting the theatre. The performance, however, brought nothing special (with the exception of Svetlana Zakharova’s debut on stage). The rumors, however, don’t cease. To have the whole thing cleared “Russian Telegraph” journalist PAWEL GERSHENSON turned to the director of Mariinsky Theatre ballet troupe MAHAR VAZIEV and ballet soloist SERGEI VIKHAREV.
P.Gershenson: What brought about such a fuss in the Petersburg ballet circles? What does the announcement about the initiation of “Sleeping Beauty” rehearsals mean?
M. Vaziev: Half a year ago the theatre received from the library of Harvard University written records of Petipas’ ballet “Sleeping Beauty”, made by Nicholai Sergeev, who was manager of the ballet troupe of Mariinsky Theatre from 1903-1918. In 1918 Sergeev emigrated from Russia and took the theatre ballet archive with him. Now it is kept in Harvard.
P. G. How did the records happen to be in Mariinsky Theatre?
M. V. Discussions of “Sleeping Beauty” condition in Mariinsky Theatre have been taking place for two years now – in the art management of the theatre, among the ballet historians who give consultations to the theatre. A year ago our friend, American ballet critic Tim Sholl, was in Peterburg. He told us that he had seen Sergeev’s records and gave an idea what they were like. I sent an official request to Harvard to grant these records at our disposal and received a positive answer, however supplied with two conditions: the theatre is not to publish them (this right remains with Harvard), the records can be used only on the territory of Mariinsky Theatre which has to mention the document and the place where it is kept in the bill, if there is some practical result of it. Finally, in autumn we received a huge packet. I offered Sergei Vikharev to analyze the content, that is Nicholai Sergeev’s records. In the middle of March we started draft rehearsals of the Prologue so as to obtain the idea what the ‘old’ “Sleeping Beauty” was like.
P.G. Why did you go into the problem? Are you not quite content with the modern version of the ballet?
S. Vikharev: The question is not whether we are content or not, the question is what Mariinsky Theatre shows today under the title of “Sleeping Beauty”. Whether it has something to do with Tchaikovsky and Petipas and whether we can place these names on the bills. It turned out, as far as the example of the Prologue goes, that the version we are showing today has only one third of choreographic text belonging to Petipas. From the moment of the curtain going up till the last scene in the Prologue only the number of the cast (approximately) and the sequence of musical pieces correspond to the original. Director’s job, the geography of movement, musical accents, plastic characteristics of the parts, dance combinations were changed by Konstantin Sergeev in 1952. Of course, he didn’t invent new pas, but it turned out so that luminaries dance combinations of corps de ballet and some combinations disappeared altogether, together with the personages, for instance, pages, accompanying the fairies. Petipas’ composition was distorted.
P.G. It became clear when you read the records?
S.V. The thoughts about discrepancy between what was happening on the stage and what could make Petipas emerged as long ago as I was rehearsing the part of Desire. I remember opening the score and found a number of verbal remarks to the notes. Having read them I realized there was no such text in the performance I was rehearsing. It appeared strange for me. The same thing happened last year when I restored “Beauty” in the direction of Konstantin Sergeev.
P.G. I remember that moment: I offered you to think about the pre-Sergeev version, to watch the version of Malyi Opea Theatre, which tried to revive some of the lost materials, but you said you didn’t want to hear about it, that Kirov versions had to be kept intact. You think differently today, don’t you?
S.V. Yes, I thought that any alterations of Sergeev versions in the 50s will worsen the situation. I saw Oleg Vinogradov try to improve “Swan Lake” – it was awful. Unsuccessful, let us put it. I am convinced up today: we mustn’t alter “Swan Lake”. But I must confess: when I saw the Prologue of the “Beauty” in Malyi something moved inside me.
M.V. The production of Malyi Opera Theatre was a turning point for us. Not for the job , but for thinking and consultations, which resulted in the packet received from Harvard. So when we opened it, it became quite clear : the performance of “Sleeping Beauty” is liable to restoration close to the original made by Petipas. We saw the description of the ballet almost in full details: fully described pantomime (verbal texts of pantomime dialogues), the direction of movement of all the personages along the stage. And the most important thing was the dance combinations written according to Stepanov’s system.
P.G. Stepanov’s system stopped to be taught as long ago as before the revolution. Can one decipher them?
S.V. When I went to school on Rossi Street, a hand-written book of dance notation was kept in the School Museum. The director was Olga Maevskaia, she restored the book and kept it in a separate window case next to Nizhinsky’s costume for “Rose Vision”. Then the Museum moved and the book was lost or stolen.
P.G. Does it mean that Stepanov’s system can’t be deciphered?
S.V. Stepanov’s dance notation was taught at school by Alexander Gorsky (due to this very system he transferred “Beauty” in only twenty rehearsals to Moscow Bolshoi Theatre). Fortunately, his manual is available, published by the Direction of Emperor Theatres for the pupils. It’s this manual that I use deciphering the records made by Sergeev. At first, it was of difficulty, but then easier and easier.
P.G. How did Sergeev’s records come into being?
S.V. It’s a common story, as usual. Pertipas was getting older. The Direction of Emperor Theatres changed. Petipas didn’t get on well with the new Director Telyakovsky. The latter thought that Petipas’ times were coming to the close, however, his ballets were the basis of the theatre repertoire. For various reasons Petipas refused to attend rehearsals: either the carriage was not served in time or the schedule of rehearsals was sent too late. One should do something with the ballet inventory. In 1903 Nikolai Sergeev became director of ballet performances. Unfortunately, there is no such a person in today Mariinsky. He saw to exact fulfillment of choreographic texts and stage setting, requirements of artists, costumiers, property-men. Actors couldn’t appear on stage without his permission. In short, he was the guardian of the current repertoire. So after Telyakovsky’s decree there was formed a group under the leadership of Sergeev (with Tchekrygin and Rakhmanov) who recorded the texts of the repertoire ballets. In other words, there was sort of registering, which fixed not only dances, but also every appearance of an actor, every scene.
P.G. Nevertheless, when it was known in the Academy of Russian Ballet at the conference dedicated to 180th anniversary of Petipas that the theatre got to restoration of “Beauty” in accordance with Sergeev’s records, everyone became hysterical: “That’s not the document! We mustn’t believe it. Nicholai Sergeev was a bad man, unpopular among the actors! ” It all reminded of the hysterics, broken out round identification of the remnants of the zsar family. It was brought about by people who never saw the records (they appeared since 1918) and having no desire to see them. The public indignation is quite comprehensive: the Soviet suspiciousness to emigrants as well as bitterness about an obvious reason for numerous Ph. D.s that flew away. And the most important thing was the breach of usual state of things, according to which “bad” Mariinsky Theatre doesn’t keep the tradition, what enables “good” public to speak about it regularly. But as soon as the theatre started making real steps towards preserving its inheritance , it brought about indignation.
M.V. About “bad” Nicholai Sergeev. A brilliant ballet critic Paul Carp has recently mentioned that ‘no matter how bad Nicholai Sergeev was as a person, it doesn’t make the content of his records less significant.” Of course, they may include some inaccuracies about the premiere performance in 1890 (some actor didn’t go onto the stage from the third curtain, but from the fourth), but today when I am watching the rehearsals of the Prologue I come to realize that these records are really a document of enormous artistic value.
P.G. In order to make sure of the authenticity of the document one may need the comparative analysis, common denominators.
M.V. That’s exactly what has been offered to Sergei.
S.V. I compared five variants: Natalia Kamkova’s for Perm Theatre (the basis of the performance is served by Fiodor Lopukhov’s version, which was on in Marriinsky Theatre from 1922-1952); Piotr Gusev’s variant for Perm as well; version of Royal Ballet, which goes as far back as the famous “Beauty”, directed by Nicholai Sergeev following own records in 1921 in Diagilev’s enterprise and then in 1939in London theatre Sadler’s Wells (unfortunately, today London version is seriously distorted by Ashton’s and McMillan’s interspersions.); Grigorovich’s version of 1973 in the Bolshoi Theatre (Lopukhov took part in the work over it) and finally the recent version of Malyi Opera Theatre. I compared all these variants with Nicholai Sergeev’s notes and today I can say for sure , where Petipas is over and begin later additions.
P.G. You rehearse the old “Prologue”. What is its difference with the current performance?
S.V. Several generations of Soviet ballet spectators are used to seeing fairies in the Prologue make “sisson”, run, make “degage” and turn their back to the audience. It turned out to be simpler with Petipas: the fairies just enter, accompanied with pages, as etiquette requires, and greet the King and the Queen. Then they explain with pantomime the reason for their arrival: “We have come to bless your newly born daughter”. Having settled it they begin dancing. This is the aesthetics of Petipas’ ballet, where pose, pantomime and dance are separated in time and space: there is time to pose, mime and dance.
In 1952 according to the ballet ideology of his time Konstantin Sergeev tried to emphasize the so-called ‘dance factor’ making dance everyone. The part of Lilac is considered to have become “more dancing”. Although those few arabesques in entree and combination “sutenu-sutenu-six chene” introduced by Sergeev are hardly to be called dances. Within Petipas’ version Lilac just enters and tells the Queen “I bless your daughter”. Konstantin Sergeev deprived the fairy of her natural plastic language – that of pantomime, and didn’t grant her with anything but endless pas de bourree.. The same thing is in the whole performance. Konstantin Sergeev eliminated pantomime whereas it is a true language in “Beauty”. He shifted the accents, loosened the texture, cancelled the ballet hierarchy: no pages, the number of luminaries changed as well as some principal scenes, some accessories disappeared – so the ancient charm of the performance gradually vanished.. All these deformations were grounded by Sergeev with the necessity of introducing “creative approach of Soviet theaters toward classical inheritance”. Of course, we can argue whether it became better or worse, but one thing is obvious: it wasn’t so with Petipas.
M.V. And don’t take this passage as a speech against the memory of Konstantin Sergeev. We all are his disciples and know that he was a highly-qualified professional. Let us shift the accents: we are not speaking now about Sergeev’s version, but about the ballet of Marius Petipas. The point is not that we want to change the current version, but that we can approach Petipas’ authentic work.
P.G. How are you going to convince “the ballet circles” of the necessity of this job? It is quite clear that your opponents will try to use this as a fact of “terrible things” happening in ballet. According to the ‘golden rule’ functioning in the theatre circles: everything that isn’t done by me is unprofessional.
M.V. Firstly, if Mariinsky Theatre is to keep artistic memory and artistic will, it doesn’t have to ask anyone permission for research and restoration work. It is Mariinsky Theatre that must do it. It is its duty as an academic theatre and also being called “Petipas’ house”. We agreed that we would rehearse the Prologue and show it to ballet professionals and historians. No doubt there would take place a discussion. And that would be the time of persuasion. Besides, I am 100 per cent sure : this job will be done anyway . Whether it’ll be us or someone else it is actually of no importance. The main thing is that Nicholai Sergeev’s records returned from emigration and their existence is not to be ignored. By all means, it is a sensation and not only in the world of Mariinsky Theatre.
P.G. If Mariinsky Theatre makes decision to restore the old choreographic text, who will be decorator? And the most important (and burning) is the question who will be music director?
M.V. I think the only candidate for musical director of such an enormous project is Valery Gergiev. – we’ve already discussed it with him. As far as staging is concerned, “Sleeping Beauty” was inspired by the director of Emperor Theatres Ivan Vsevolzhsky, he wrote the scenario and designed the costumes. Petipas’ personages must be dressed in Vsevolzhsky’s costumes, and Petipas’ dances should return into the interior and landscapes of 1890. It is a strong academic tradition, from which only “Baiaderka” is left . I remember no such a performance when the public could help applauding decorations created in the old academic manner.
P.G. Mariinsky will be criticized for regressive tendenies...
S.V. We have a strange attitude to Petipas’ epoch, as if it had been before Christ. But from the moment of the premiere there have passed only 108 years – only! In the scale of historic time it is nothing! I live in a house built in the year of “Sleeping beauty” premiere.
S.V. Quite comfortable. Certainly, one can say that I live in shabby dwelling and offer me instead a block of flats on Bolshevik prospect.
But I don’t want to – I will keep on living in an old Petersburg house on Griboedov Canal. And I don’t want “Sleeping Beauty” to change into Stalin apartments with the floor made of oak or a house of Khruschev times or the Luzhkov elite house with underground garage and security. Speaking scientifically, we want “Sleeping Beauty” to regain authenticity.
© “Russian Telegraph” 11of April, 1998
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