Monday, May 14th, 2012...9:30 am
Dancing on the edge of forever
Based in an oral tradition, ballet is the most difficult of the performing arts to document. What remains to us from the time before film? Printed or manuscript music, librettos and scenarios, mise en scène, dance notation, images of sets and costumes; manuscript notes from choreographers, composers, or stage directors; newspaper and personal descriptions … when you add it all together, precise details about choreography are scarce. Reconstructions of historical ballets are contingent on all of this highly ephemeral evidence, so when a cache of ballet documentation appears, collectors take notice.
John Milton Ward (recently deceased William Powell Mason Professor of Music emeritus at Harvard University) purchased just such a treasure trove of Imperial Ballet from St. Petersburg from famous ballet collector George Verdak, which Ward eventually donated to the Harvard Theatre Collection. Elaine Shiner and Andrea Cawelti have recently collaborated in cataloging 36 ballet scenarios premiered or performed in St. Petersburg between 1875-1907. The original scenarios (prose descriptions of the scenes, action, and choreography) for our most beloved Tchaikovsky ballets are included, with choreography by Marius Petipa. Other choreographers include Lev Ivanov and even early Michel Fokine. Cast lists mention such superstars as Pierina Legnani.
The titles are as follows: Vol. 1. Dochʹ Faraona; T͡Sarʹ Kandavl; Dochʹ snegov; Bai͡aderka; Don-Kikhot; Mlada; Zoraĭi͡a mavritanka v Ispanīi; Bandity = Les bandits; Frizak t͡siri͡ulʹnik, ili, Dvoĭnai͡a svadʹba = Frisac barbier, ou, La double noce; Nochʹ i denʹ; Prikli͡uchenīi͡a Pelei͡a = Les aventures de Pélée; Roksana krasa Chernogorīi; Kalʹkabrino; Talisman; Prikaz Koroli͡a; Sini͡ai͡a-boroda; Prival kavalerīi; At͡sis i Galatei͡a. Vol. 2. Silʹfida; Pakhita; Nai͡ada i rybak; Konek-gorbunok, ili, T͡Sarʹ-Di͡evit͡sa; Fīammetta; Spi͡ashchai͡a krasavit͡sa; Shchelkunchik; Lebedinoe ozero; Raĭmonda; Zolushka; Dochʹ Mikado; Shalostʹ amura; Garlemskīĭ ti͡ulʹpan; Vestalka; Pavilʹon armidy; Print͡s Sadovnik; Neni͡ufar; Sylvia, oder, Die Nymphe der Diana. While the volumes are excessively fragile, the information they provide us is priceless.
[Thanks to Andrea Cawelti, Ward Project Cataloger, for contributing this post.]