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The Presidential Library is digitizing the “History of Dance”

29 September 2014

The Presidential Library website will soon post the four-volume "History of Dance" by S. N. Khudekov, provided for digitization by the St. Petersburg State Theatre Library. Perfectly issued and supplied with color illustrations, the books provide full encyclopedic information on the history of Russian character dance from its inception to the early 20th century.

Of particular interest is the last, fourth volume as it reflects the state of the Russian ballet in the transfer from the imitation of classical European dance to its reform by the innovators of ballet -Isadora Duncan, Mikhail Fokin, Sergei Diaghilev's troupe.  

In the early 20th century domestic choreography experienced a turbulent time: in the famous Russian ballet school profound changes were brewing. Staging academicism had to give way to something new, something that had been long riping in the cultural and socio-political life of the country.

"In the early 20th century in the area of choreography was sneaking another trend, quite opposite in nature, reads the fourth volume of the "History of Dance." There was a "barefoot Duncan", who wanted to revive the primitive dances of ancient Hellas. She created her own school, the essence of which was symbolism, particular expressiveness and internal content of each dance. Duncan sectarians argued that the only artistic and natural dance could be the half-tiptoe dance, not the one on artificially elongated toes. …Some of the Petrograd periodicals, carried away by a new influence, tried to promote the "modernism", explaining its meaning and arguing that "dunkanizm" sounds as "the thrill of a living human soul."

Due to the mode for natural, introduced by Duncan, the dance was freed from the strict canons of clear hand positions, leg positions. However, not all shared a commitment to this new craze in the ballet. And first of all those who had seen performances with Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina and appreciated their technique and the "flight made by soul" - this purely Russian investment in the specifics of the scenic plastics. "Child of nature, illiterate Duncan was a pygmy before Pavlova, reads further the same volume "History of Dance." At the sight of this great artist it became clear that the expression of both external and internal life in dance is only possible by the actress, who had gone through all the stages of the strictly classical school, which the followers of Duncan groundlessly ridiculed."

The most interesting features of the Russian ballet on the world stage were shown by the great impresario Sergei Diaghilev. According to the "History of Dance": "Reform of the choreographic art happened in Paris, in 1909: on the stage of the Theatre du Chatelet, images of the "new art" were first presented in their entirety. A group of Russian artists arrived from Petrograd (entreprise of Mr. Diaghilev) created new forms of choreography."

Update of ballet language concerned not only its plastic component. Ballet-symphony was replaced by choreographic drama, full of symbolism and psychology; and the main co-author of choreographer was now a painter, not a composer. Typical bulky decorations were replaced with the design marked by elegance and style, which itself had artistic value. Actors’ toggeries meticulously recreated historical epoch. Performances were designed by the best artists of the time: Benoit, Bakst, Roerich, Golovin, Korovin.

A new era in the ballet music was opened by young Igor Stravinsky. His first ballet "The Firebird" continued and developed the traditions of the national school of music in the theme of Russian folk tales. Later in "Petrushka" and "Rite of Spring" the composer put forward a new system and a new artistic genre: a complete one-act ballet.

Reforms of the Russian Ballet in the early 20th century rescued it from stagnation. The experience of the academic school, however, helped to preserve the classical values and created a foundation for future bold experiments – ballets of Leonid Yakobzon, Leonid Lebedev, Boris Eifman. The history of the world-famous Russian ballet and Russian theater chronicle in general as an indispensible part of culture, which unites the nation, joined the content of the Presidential Library, whose holdings number today over 320,000 units.