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Birdsall

tidbits from my St. Petersburg trip

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I am posting this, since it doesn't quite fit into another topic on Ballet Alert, but I thought it would interest many people. I wanted to mention the ballet-related sights or exhibits I saw during this July 2013 trip.

Kschessinska's mansion is a political history museum (many of you probably know this already). The mansion itself is a wonderful example of Art Nouveau or Style Moderne. So architecture lovers will enjoy visiting it. Also, history buffs will love to see the balcony where Lenin gave his speech. Currently, there is an exhibit "Fouettes of Fate" that is in one room and includes many rare photos from Kschessinska's life. The only other rooms you see are the White Hall and the entry foyer. So there isn't much to see, but I think most ballet lovers would enjoy it nevertheless. Her mansion has been joined with another mansion (by building a very modern building that joins them both) to create the museum of political history, and I personally found the rest of the museum not very interesting, but history buffs might enjoy it. To me the majority of the museum feels contrived and a real stretch at making it worthwhile for a visit. Maybe history people will disagree with me. The only part I loved was seeing the outside of the mansion, and the couple of rooms that were in Kschessinska's home. I post this info so you can decide if it is worth visiting or not. I enjoyed it. But it is not a museum I will likely ever visit again.

Nevsky Monastery and Cemetery: Tchaikovsky's and Petipa's graves are here, so go!!!! Someone left a tiny ballerina slipper on Petipa's grave! Other graves include Glinka's, Mussorgsky's, Rimsky-Korsakov's, Dostoevsky's........the cemetery has lots of trees and the tombstones are actually beautiful in many cases, so it is a nice, calm walk. I recommend this. It is a pilgrimage of sorts.

Sheremetev Palace: some fascinating violins and variations on violin instruments on display. A violin that belonged to Glinka is on display. Only a few rooms are available for viewing, and if you only have one visit to St. Petersburg I think this can be passed up because Peterhof, Pavlovsk, and the Catherine Palace are must see palaces.

Alexander Golovin exhibit at the Russian Museum. This only lasts until September 2, 2013. It included his well-known paintings of Chaliapin as Boris Godunov and as Mephistopheles as well as many stage designs and even his original design of the Mariinsky's stage curtain.

Mikhail Chemyakin's exhibit "Pavements of Paris" at the Marble Palace (on the Neva river) will be over on August 5 (in a few days), but it is an interesting exhibit. The ballet connection is that he created the Mariinsky's new avant garde Nutcracker, and I have to say that I feel this exhibit of his "Pavements of Paris" (unrelated to ballet although some ballet characters in his works in this exhibit) help me to see him as a true artist. He took images he found on the sidewalk and turned them into figures and it was amazing to see the picture of a crack in the ground and what he ended up painting from that image. He also took pieces of discarded paper/trash or leaves and then painted with that shape and made it into a figure. The same twisted type characters that appear in his designs for Nutcracker are in these works also (not the same exact characters but the same style). Beyond this exhibit the Marble Palace is worth a visit simply to see the gorgeous staircase and the Marble Room that is amazing!!!

Circus: I was snapping pics of myself in front of the gorgeous Circus building because it is the fanciest circus I ever saw (looks like an opera house), and I noticed people with children going inside. I thought the shows were only at night, but it was the weekend so I went in and caught a matinee. It was a cross between Cirque du Soleil and a circus. Lots of dancing and acrobatics, clowns, animal acts, etc. But why I post this is that many of the dancers/acrobats had the same flowing arms and upper bodies that Mariinsky dancers have. I am wondering if the Vaganova graduates who did not get into a ballet company or left the academy before finishing end up working for this circus.

My hotel was right around the corner from the Mariinsky, and I saw several dancers and coaches talking with friends or eating dinner or walking past.

There are so many things to see in St. Petersburg, and I saw much more, but those are the things that I thought might be of interest to other ballet lovers.

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I don't know if there's a pathway from the school to the circus companies, but I do know that people who are training in circus skills get a big chunk of ballet training following a Russian syllabus.

(not sure what's up with the formatting here -- the software insists I write the comment before the quote)

I am wondering if the Vaganova graduates who did not get into a ballet company or left the academy before finishing end up working for this circus.

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Thanks, Sandik! That explains it! I never saw acrobats/dancers in a circus have such artsy upper bodies! So that explains it!

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I've been reading the diaries/memoirs of Maurice Paleologue, last French ambassador to the Imperial court of Nicholas and Alexandra, which are posted online:

http://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/memoir/FrAmbRus/palTC.htm

 

The March 13, 1917 entry has this interesting tidbit at the end:

"During a day which has been prolific in grave events and may perhaps have determined the future of Russia for a century to come, I have made a note of one episode which seems trivial at first sight, but in reality is highly significant. The town house of Kchechinskaia, at the end of Kammenny-Ostrov Prospekt and opposite Alexander Park, was occupied by the insurgents to-day and sacked from top to bottom. I remember a detail which makes it easy to see why the residence of the famous dancer has been singled out by mob fury. It was last winter; the cold was intense and the thermometer had fallen to -35. Sir George Buchanan, whose embassy is centrally heated, had been unable to procure coal, which is the essential fuel for that system. He had appealed to the Russian Admiralty, but in vain. That very morning Sazonov had definitely told him it was impossible to find coal in any public depot. In the afternoon we went for a walk together on the Islands, as the sky was clear and there was no wind. Just as we were entering Kammenny-Ostrov Prospekt, Buchanan burst out: "Well, if that isn't a bit too thick!" He pointed to four military lorries opposite the dancer's house; they were laden with sacks of coal which a squad of soldiers was engaged in removing. "Don't worry, Sir George," I said. "You haven't the same claim as Madame Kchechinskaia to the attentions of the imperial authorities."

 

It is probable that for years past many thousands of Russians have made similar remarks about the favours heaped upon Kchechinskaia. The ballerina, once the beloved of the Tsarevitch and subsequently courted by two Grand Dukes at once, has become as it were a symbol of the imperial order. It is that symbol which has been attacked by the plebs to-day. A revolution is always more or less a summary and a sanction."

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My worry is that when I visited her home in St. Petersburg, which has been sort of combined with the home next door and turned into a museum of Russian history, they had started to have a room full of Kschesshinskaya's costumes, photos, etc. and it looked like the beginning of making some of the rooms a museum dedicated to her memory. I hope they continue to add more to the displays, but I worry there is a backlash. It sounds like the reaction to the movie and the winds of change are causing her to be hated once again. I personally think she is one of the most fascinating ballerinas in history for the fact that she is forever intertwined with political history (imperial Russia and then Lenin gave his speech on her balcony). Even non-ballet lovers learn about her if they study Russian history or world history!!!! She gets history buffs to think about ballet!!!

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2 hours ago, Birdsall said:

My worry is that when I visited her home in St. Petersburg, which has been sort of combined with the home next door and turned into a museum of Russian history, they had started to have a room full of Kschesshinskaya's costumes, photos, etc. and it looked like the beginning of making some of the rooms a museum dedicated to her memory. I hope they continue to add more to the displays, but I worry there is a backlash. It sounds like the reaction to the movie and the winds of change are causing her to be hated once again. I personally think she is one of the most fascinating ballerinas in history for the fact that she is forever intertwined with political history (imperial Russia and then Lenin gave his speech on her balcony). Even non-ballet lovers learn about her if they study Russian history or world history!!!! She gets history buffs to think about ballet!!!

 

Hated once again? That seems unexpected to me. What has made you think so--that is, do you have links to particular articles showing or discussing a backlash? Or is it just your sense of things from those you have spoken to etc.? I would have thought the movie just made her more widely known. 

 

Of course different people may react differently to her story when they see the movie or learn about her...When I was in Italy a few years ago I saw a historical novel about her life. I didn't buy it because it was in Italian. But if she is now more widely known, then she will be discussed and argued about more...And I am aware that some ballet fans have a negative take. But I would have said Kchessinska is having a mini vogue. I suppose Tsarist nostalgia is in her favor. Tsarist nostalgia sometimes comes with ugly baggage though, so a little backlash to THAT would be understandable...

 

(I also visited her 'Palace'--mansion really--when I visited St. Petersburg. The guide's presentation of Kchessinska's life story was rather neutral, though she did seem a bit confused about one or two details of ballet history.)

 

 

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I thought I read on BA that many Russians were upset about the movie and even some are saying the affair with the tsar never happened. But maybe I read too much into those comments.

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The film was viewed with fascination in Russia. I didn't hear or read anything negative from critics or my fellow Bolshoi ballet-goers. I recall some resistance from the official church but they seem to complain about any film or play that depicts Nicholas II and his family humans on earth because of their sainthood status.

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Regarding Kchessinska's house, a November 1971 Dance Magazine article published on the occasion of Kchessinska's 99th birthday contained this tidbit:

 

"Kchessinska subsequently brought suit against the Soviet's provisional government for 2,000,000 rubles (approximately $1,000,000) for its failure to evict Lenin's followers from her home, which was occupied during the Revolution. After a lengthy process at law, the keys of her palace were returned to her -- whereupon she complained that furs valued at 227,000 rubles were missing from it."

 

She (and her future husband, Grand Duke Andrei) would have much more to worry about than missing furs in their future . . .

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