The Kirov's reconstructed Sleeping Beauty

by Doug Fullington

Sleeping Beauty was first produced by the Imperial Theatres, St. Petersburg, on January 15, 1890 (January 3, Old Style) at the Maryinsky Theatre, with music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and choreography by Marius Petipa (1818-1910). The Kirov's new production of Sleeping Beauty premiered in St. Petersburg on April 30, 1999 and made its North American premiere on June 28, 1999 at the Met in New York. Staged by Sergei Vikharev, a Kirov soloist and ballet master, with assistance from dance historian Alisa Sveshnikova, the production is an effort to reconstruct the original Sleeping Beauty of 1890 or, more precisely, Sleeping Beauty as it was performed at the turn of the century. Indeed, the importance of the Kirov's new Beauty rests on the ability of its reconstructors to recreate the original sets, costumes, music and choreography. My purpose is to evaluate the production as a reconstruction.

The original costumes were designed by Ivan Vsevolozhsky (1835-1909), Director of the Imperial Theatres from 1881 to 1899 and librettist of Sleeping Beauty. His delightful and colorful designs have been beautifully rebuilt for the late-20th century Kirov bodies under the direction of Elena Zaitseva.

The original sets were designed by five scenic artists who specialized in various types of décor: Genrikh Levogt (Prologue, "Florestan's Palace"), Mikhail Bocharov (Act I, "The Palace Garden," and Act II, "A Forest Locale and Panorama"), Ivan Andreev (also Act I, "The Palace Garden"), Konstantin Ivanov (Act II, "Interior of the Sleeping Beauty's Castle") and Matvei Shishkov (Act III, "The Esplanade of Florestan's Castle and Apotheosis"). These have been reproduced with equal success under the direction of Andrei Voitenko.

Despite the amount of work that must go into a rebuild, if the original designs have been preserved, sets and costumes may be the simplest part of a ballet reconstruction. More difficult to recreate, of course, is the choreography. The choreographic reconstruction can begin by addressing musical considerations: Which portions of the music were performed? What was cut and what was added? Was music by other composers or from other works interpolated? What was the order of the numbers?

A variety of musical sources can be consulted. For Sleeping Beauty, the Kirov looked beyond Russia to the United States. Material in the Sergeev Collection at the Harvard Theatre Collection includes two printed piano reductions of the score, which by evidence of many manuscript notes penciled within, indicate their use in a variety of productions, both in Russia and abroad. While these documents are clearly important to a reconstructor, in and of themselves, their ultimate value lies in comparing them with other extant scores of Sleeping Beauty that were used in conjunction with the premiere or other early performances.

The holograph (i.e., manuscript) score of Sleeping Beauty is extant in the Central Music Library of the Theatre of Opera and Ballet named for S. M. Kirov, in St. Petersburg, as was the two-violin répétiteur (i.e., rehearsal score), which has been missing since the early-1980s. Because the répétiteur was used during rehearsals of the 1890 premiere, this loss is significant. Fortunately, dance historian Roland John Wiley was able to study the document before its disappearance and has included many details from the répétiteur in his book, Tchaikovsky's Ballets. Whether or not the reconstructors of the Kirov production made themselves privy to Wiley's invaluable secondary source is unclear.

While not completely consistent, these sources indicate that a number of musical cuts were made for the premiere and subsequent early performances of Sleeping Beauty. Brief passages of music were also added at several points. Additionally, some music was recast, either danced by different performers than originally intended or moved to a different position in the ballet.

By opening many of the musical cuts, the Kirov's new production offers more of the score than was performed in 1890. While such decisions serve to realize more of Tchaikovsky's original intentions, at the same time they create choreographic and staging difficulties which affect the alignment of the choreography with the music. Action must be extended and steps must be created or repeated to fill the extra bars of music.

Consideration of these musical sources brings a ballet reconstructor to the most difficult task - the recreation of the choreography. A choreographic notation of Sleeping Beauty, written in the Stepanov notation method, is preserved in the Sergeev Collection. The notation contains floor plans, notated steps (mostly legwork and footwork, with a few notations for arms, hands, head and torso), prose descriptions of mimed conversations and other written instructions.

The entire ballet is not notated. The Prologue and Act I are mostly complete, with Acts II and III less so. Interestingly, this pattern of completeness corresponds to the amount of music that was cut or re-arranged during the preparation of the original production of the ballet. The Prologue and Act I were left virtually intact, while Acts II and III were altered in a number of ways.

Wiley has dated the choreographic notation around 1903, in connection with a revival of Sleeping Beauty at the Maryinsky Theatre. Nikolai Sergeev (1876-1951), for whom the Harvard collection is named, was an Imperial Ballet dancer who took over notation teaching duties from Alexander Gorsky (1871-1924) in 1900 and was appointed régisseur in charge of notation and rehearsals in 1903. His exodus from Russia with the Stepanov notations and his subsequent career in the West are now legendary. Are the Sleeping Beauty notations in Sergeev's hand? Likely most of them are, but the work of other scribes appears in the notations of several of the Act III numbers. Sergeev wasn't the only notator at the Maryinsky, and a number of earlier and more complete Stepanov notations are certainly not in his hand.

In addition to written materials, reconstructor Sergei Vikharev looked to five other productions of Sleeping Beauty to confirm the reliability of the choreographic notation and to trace the evolution of the ballet's revisions. The productions that were considered include Natalia Kamkova's staging for the Perm Ballet (based on Feodor Lopukhov's version, which was in the Kirov repertory from 1922 to 1952); Pyotr Gusev's staging, also for Perm; the Royal Ballet production, originally staged for the Vic-Wells Ballet by Nikolai Sergeev in 1939; Yuri Grigorovich's 1973 staging for the Bolshoi Ballet; and the recent production of the Musorgsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet. The production in the Kirov's blood, however, is the Konstantin Sergeev (1910-1992) production, which has been in the repertory since it premiered in 1952. The Kirov appears to have turned to this, their former production, to bridge gaps in the new Sleeping Beauty that could not be filled from other sources.

The choreographic attribution of previous Kirov productions is further complicated by the fact that the Konstantin Sergeev production is in itself a derivation. The history of Sleeping Beauty at the Kirov since 1890 is complex, even in the early years before the choreographic notation was made. The ballet was revived at the Maryinsky in 1914 by Gorsky, with new scenic designs by Konstantin Korovin. Beauty was again revived by Feodor Lopukhov (1886-1973) in 1922. Whatever changes were introduced into these early revivals, the 1952 Konstantin Sergeev production nevertheless appears to have retained a number of passages from the earliest performances of Sleeping Beauty. The choreography of more than a few dances, including the so-called Garland Waltz, closely follows the notated versions.

With this variety of sources in mind, the new production can be described.

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