THE PROBLEM OF RECONSTRUCTION
OF PETIPA CHOREOGRAPHY
Yuri Burlaka (translated from Russian)
New stage directorial and choreographic versions of ballets from the classical heritage emerged long ago. But recently, discussions on this subject have become especially relevant due to the appearance “ballet reconstructions” on stage. The first of these was “Sleeping Beauty” and “La Bayadere” at the Mariinsky Theatre. Later, St. Petersburg audience witnessed the premiere of an “authentic restoration” of Marius Petipa’s ballet “The Awakening of Flora”, and the Novosibirsk Theater introduced “Coppelia”. The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow went its own way, not claiming to be “authentic” (considering it impossible), creating only an image of a performance from a certain time.
The most intriguing aspect of these projects was the transcription of choreographic texts by Marius Petipa, written down by the Director of the Mariinsky Ballet company Nikolai Sergeev in the 1900s and his assistants who knew the Vladimir Stepanov’s ballet notation system.
Most likely, the Stepanov notations kept more written records, but more than 24 ballets and solo pieces, and 24 operatic divertissements have been saved. These notes were taken from Russia abroad during the troubled years of the Revolution by Nikolai Sergeyev, who ended his days in France. But he did not use these materials as much as he wished. Nikolay Sergeev made the first attempts to restore dancing from these notes in Riga, then helped Diaghilev’s entreprise with the reproduction of “The Sleeping Beauty ” in London, and the Paris Opera in the restoration of “Giselle”. Based on Sergeyev’s documents, a repertoire was created which became the basis of the “International Ballet” and “Sadler’s Wells” companies. He worked with these companies, and, in fact, in the current repertoire of the English Royal Ballet, ballets like “Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan lake”, “the Nutcracker”, “Coppelia” and “Giselle” stem directly from Nikolai Sergeyev as a choreographer.
Then Sergeyev’s notes were auctioned off to the United States and stored in the library of Harvard University. The conservation of the documents and the details of ballet’s handwritten notes are different. These invaluable notes were taken out of Russia. They became the starting point for the choreographers, who in this case turned into researchers and, so to speak, into “ballet archaeologists».
However, much earlier, the problem of the moral and aesthetic approach of modern choreographers who begin to stage ballets of the Classical Heritage was acutely raised in the literature of ballet studies. The spearhead of discussion among famous figures in ballet was directed against alterations of the choreographic text. For example, the major ballet historian Yuri Slonimsky claimed with all responsibility that the choreographic “text is as inviolable as the text in a stage play or opera. Remaking it leads to an irreparable loss of choreographic treasures that are component of the Classical Heritage”.
Further, Slonimsky specified that the wave of alterations, however, swept all theaters, including foreign ones. Taunts about the “anachronism” of narrative ballets with music by L. Minkus, R. Drigo, and Ts. Puni led to increased interest in the multi-act choreographic performances of the past. These ballets have become the basis of the repertoire of many theaters, they are well received by the public and by artists. The explanation is simple: classical dance lives in them as something valuable and attractive. At the same time, such a ballet performance as synthetic art represents a synthesis of various types and genres of subordinate arts that give rise to a complete image of the whole.
When answering the question about the specifics of working on restoring old ballets, the famous theorist Pyotr Gusev said: “The most important thing is the memory of veterans. It can be called a real “encyclopedia of dance”. Of course, photos and descriptions of scenes in memoirs help as well.” The notes on the margins of old sheet music are also very valuable.
However, nowadays the focus of discussions about the renewal of old ballets has shifted towards their authenticity. There are serious arguments that it is more correct to speak not about restoration, but about the reconstruction of ballets from the Classical Heritage, which have lost a significant part of the choreographic text.
In the opinion of Gusev, “the restorer is a very complex profession that requires a high level of professional and musical culture, impeccable knowledge of the heritage, ideological and aesthetic principles, and the choreographic language of the choreographer whose work is being restored. And most importantly, as Petipa said, it is necessary to «be able to subordinate the personal to the interests of the author»”.
All of the ballets that we have inherited are somehow related to the name of Marius Petipa. Thanks to his insight, intelligence, talent, and respect for his colleagues, he retained the masterpieces, fully understanding the value of the work of his predecessors on the one hand and the necessity of the changing times on the other.
In the XX century, the ballets of the Classical Heritage have been corrected. In the XXI century, choreographers who have accumulated a set of knowledge can return to the images of Petipa’s performances, which, in the art of choreography included the “Golden Section”, balancing the storyline, technique, pantomime, the proportionality of classical and character dance into harmony