Fun Fact: Ballet Class Isn’t What it Used to Be…Thank Goodness!

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I need an ice pack just thinking about this…

A ballet barre from the 1820s:

“48 pliés followed by 128 grand battement, 96 petit battement glissé, 128 ronds de jambes sur terre and 128 en l’air, and ending finally with 128 petit battement sur le cou-de-pied. One inevitable consequence of this extreme training was a sharp rise in injuries.”

– Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels, 2010, p. 129-130

Oh, and all of this was repeated in center. Yikes. Do not try at home.

Extreme Ballet Training Image Clara's Coffee Break
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image – Not a Painting of an 1820s Ballet Class, in Case You’re Wondering 😉

Let it Snow!

snow-scene-nutcracker-petipa-quote-claras-coffee-break
Created with Wikimedia Commons Public Domain Image.

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Well, that probably depends on where you live…

But, weather aside, who doesn’t love an indoor blizzard in the theater?

The Nutcracker‘s snow scene has been a hit since the ballet’s beginning.

That very first Nutcracker actually got off to a sticky start when it debuted during a St. Petersburg December in 1892. Critics had mixed feelings about many aspects of the production from its large cast of children to the overall structure of the ballet. But the frosty fantasy of the snow scene was warmly recieved.

Choreographer Marius Petipa wrote the following outline for the original Waltz of Snowflakes:

“28 Snow begins to fall. Suddenly a snow-
storm occurs. Light white snowflakes
blow about (60 dancers.)
They circle everlastingly to a ¾ valse.
The form snowballs, a snowdrift, but at
a strong gust of wind, the drift breaks up
and becomes a circle of dancers.

The End

The snowflakes fall, larger and larger and
are lit by electric light.

Tableau

For No. 28 and encircling Valse: during
the ¾ valse a strong gust of wind breaks
the dancers into a circle.”

(The Nutcracker Ballet, Jack Anderson, p. 36)

Petipa, however, was not able to bring the Waltz of the Snowflakes from page to stage. Illness forced him to withdraw from the creation of The Nutcracker soon after rehearsals began. His assistant Lev Ivanov was left with the task of creating the balletic snowstorm. He ended up taking a different approach to the scene. Jennifer Homans explains:

“[…] Ivanov’s extant sketches for this windblown dance open a small window onto his often forgotten talent. Dancers were flung together in complicated formations that then fractured and dissolved into new and equally intricate designs: stars and Russian round dances, zigzags, and a large rotating Orthodox cross with a smaller circle, like a bejeweled ornament, around its center and rotating in the opposite direction. This dance was not like Petipa at all: the symmetries were there, but the formations were more tenuous and airy, less formal and ceremonial. They had an impressionistic urgency and spontaneity that never would have flowed from the French ballet’s master.” (Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans, p. 280)

Impressionism or ceremonial order, Ivanov and Petipa both imagined glorious winter wonderlands for The Nutcracker.

Here’s a clip from a Staatsballett Berlin production that used the original 1892 costume and set designs as inspiration as well as surviving choreographic records. However, this production isn’t a “reconstruction” since those historic choreographic records are patchy and incomplete. Nonetheless, this scene is a little wintry blast from the past that provides a glimpse of what the first Waltz of the Snowflakes might have resembled…

Check out those headdresses! (See the original costumes here.)

Jumping Like a Toad?

Image Adapted From Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Image
Image Adapted From Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Image

It wasn’t always considered bad technique to perform ballet jumps with bent knees! Maria Taglioni, the Romantic Era ballet icon, actually thought it looked better that way:

“But (unlike today’s dancers) she jumped with bent knees […] She disparaged dancers who straightened their knees too stiffly in the air, springing up “like toads”. The idea was to make the jump appear effortless and soft, rounded and feminine—never stiff or strained with effort.”

Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans, p. 140