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The Sergeyev Collection

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I just bought a copy of the January 1976 issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin solely for the purpose of reading the article by Roland John Wiley 'Dances From Russia: An Introduction to the Sergeyev Collection" (I was very lucky, as the booklet turned 30 years old this month and is in excellent shape. According to the librarian I spoke to, there are only a couple copies left of this issue!)

The article was very insightful and fascinating, with valueable information. I had hoped however that there was a list of sorts of the things that are inlcuded in the collection. As well, I had hoped that there was an explanation as to how and why Harvard University got a hold of all the parts that make up the Sergeyev Collection......but there was not.

I think Ive asked this before - does anyone know, what ballets and dances are in the collection?

--how/why did Harvard get a hold of all of the things in this collection, and for how much?

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I visited the Pusey Library at Harvard about five years ago and I saw the notes for Swan Lake which pretty much looked like a record of the formations to me. I didn't have a lot of time so I was most likely not prepared enough.

I can't tell you the list of ballets but I do remember seeing set renderings from Ballet Russes ballets and my favorite part of the visit - a character shoe worn by Taglioni.

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Solor: you asked how the Harvard Theatre Collection obtained the Sergeyev papers. It was through an English ballerina, Mona Inglesby, who ran the International Ballet in the UK from 1940 to 1953.

I interviewed her in 2000 for the Daily Telegraph re the Kirov's reconstruction of Beauty and heard first-hand some stuff that some dictionaries have wrong. Sergeyev, theatre director of the Maryinsky and chief regisseur, left USSR 1918 with three wooden crates containing the papers of the 25-year Maryinsky notation projection commanded by Petipa. It was in the obscure Stepanov notation, mostly loose papers, and recorded the mainstay of the Maryinsky repertoire over that golden period: some 24 ballets (including all the big popular Petipas, which Petipa himself frequently freshened up) and another 24 opera-ballets. He went to various places as a jobbing balletmaster, most significantly with Diaghilev (and old friends like Fokine), then with de Valois in London, where she took the Petipa texts as her base for 'Beauty', 'Giselle', 'Coppelia' and 'Swan Lake' (hence London's claim to historic authenticity in these).

Losing faith with de Valois, who allowed interpolations and edits in classics, Sergeyev started working with Inglesby, a decent young ex-Rambert ballerina who had set up a touring company in wartime of 40-80 dancers (including Harold Turner & Moira Shearer at different times). Her International Ballet staged these "true" Petipa productions of Giselle, Swan Lake, Coppelia, Sleeping Princess, and Fokine's Carnaval (with Bakst designs), Prince Igor dance &s Sylphides too, up and down the country. Sergeyev's estrangement from de Valois deepened apparently with the Sadler's Wells 1946 Sleeping Beauty which altered the sacred text; Inglesby said the IB version was closer to the original. In personality he was described by her, de Valois & others as rather rigid, conservative, lonely; very homesick for Russia and the old Imperial days.

When he died in 1951, he did NOT bequeath the notations to Inglesby, as it says in both the Oxford Dicts. Inglesby told me he left them to a Russian friend who had no interest in dance (perhaps hoping they'd find their way back to Russia). She was alarmed, paid this friend £200 for the notations, who thought himself well rewarded. She quit ballet to have a family, kept these three crates of notations, and worried about what to do with them. After abortive talks with the Royal Ballet, RAD and the Kirov Ballet (at the Grosvenor Hotel), she was pointed by Ivor Guest towards Harvard. They paid her (they told me) around £6,000 for the collection in 1969 - she remembered that sort of figure. The collection included the notations, which were effectively gibberish without Stepanov's primer, and much IB production material: photographs, programmes, costume swatches, designs, etc.

The notations were pretty much impenetrable, and their existence pretty much unknown, until the Kirov found the old Sleeping Beauty designs in the mid 1990s, by chance Tim Scholl told them that Harvard had the old notations, and an old Stepanov primer was unearthed in the Kirov library. Hence the reconstructions became possible. But reconstructions still depend on the very small number of competent readers of Stepanov - Pierre Lacotte depended on Doug Fullington for the Pharaoh's Daughter at the Bolshoi; Lacotte's view, based on Fullington's help, was that only a small number of the 254 pages were usable, hence his extensive rechoreography.[EDITED FOR CLARITY] (The Kirov's Vikharev questions that view.) Performances changed so often, and composers & choreographers were so obliging, that establishing what was the "authentic" benchmark of any ballet is a challenge; but thanks to Inglesby & what followed, this question must now assume centre stage in the future of staging classical ballet. Ismene Brown

Edited by ismeneb
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As Doug Fullington finds time occasionally to speak for himself on this forum, I don’t think one should take second-parties speaking for him; I also doubt he feels what is attributed to him above regarding “Pharaoh’s Daughter” – in any case until he lets us know what he really thinks I don’t think we should let Vikharev, etc. speak for him (or against him).

from what i gathered at a news conf. lacotte gave in new york before the bolshoi's presentation of 'daughter of the pharaoh' he was the one who decided the information in the notations wasn't 'significant,' going so far as to say that when he saw what was revealed in the reconstructions from the notations, he decided it either wasn't 'good' petipa or 'wasn't petipa,' tho' he gave no basis for what made him so sure of his assessments.

doug fullington wrote a lengthy article on PHARAOH and its notations for THE DANCING TIMES, citing much that was in the notations, especially about the segments lacotte chose to ignore/bypass or re-make to his own tastes.

The following is from a typescript in the NYPL dance collection regarding the Sergeyev collection holdings:

1. Pharoah’s Daughter – 4 acts, 7 scenes

2. Paquita – 3 acts

3. The Awakening of Flora – 1 act

4. Raymonda – 3 acts, 4 scenes

5. The Magic Flute – 1 act

6. La Fille Mal Gardee – 3 acts, 4 scenes

7. Nutcracker – 2 acts, 3 scenes (not complete)

8. Le Roi Candaule – 4 acts, 6 scenes

9. Les Eleves Dupres – 2 acts

10. La Bayadere – 4 acts (not complete)

11. Sleeping Beauty – Prologue & 3 acts

12. Esmeralda – 3 acts, 5 scenes

13. Swan Lake – Prologue & 3 acts

14. Ruses d’Amour – 1 act

15. Coppelia – 2 acts

16. Giselle – 2 acts

17. The Fairy of the Dolls – 1 act, 2 scenes

18. Harlequinade (Les Millions d’Arlequin) – 2 acts

19. The Caprice of the Butterfly – 1 act

20. The Enchanted Forest – 1 act

21. Le Corsaire – 3 acts, 4 scenes

22. The Humpbacked Horse or The Tsar Maiden – 4 acts, 10 scenes

23. The Halt of the Cavalry – 1 act [marked ‘lacking’]

24. The Talisman – excerpt

25. Several Operas (Ballet excerpts 32 operas)

26. Small Balletic Pieces No. 1 – numerous items from the various ballets.

27. Small Balletic Pieces No. 2 – [ditto above]

28. Small Balletic Pieces No. 3 – [ditto above]

29. Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor

30. Songe du Rajah separately – from Bayadere

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Hi, everyone. Right, it was actually Lacotte's view that most of the Pharaoh notation was unusable. Pharaoh is notated like many of the ballets in the collection - mostly by N. Sergeev and mostly just for legs and feet with groundplan. But this format is generally quite usable. I've not worked extensively on Pharoah, but I was able to reconstruct everything Lacotte provided. In the end, however, he used very little.

I hope it has not gotten into print anywhere that I feel the notation mostly unusable! I believe just the opposite and continue to work with ballets notated in a similar fashion to Pharaoh.

Harvard documents list $7500US as the price paid for the collection.


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doug fullington wrote a lengthy article on PHARAOH and its notations for THE DANCING TIMES

What issue is this?!? I would love to purchase it!.....I just purchased the 11/04 issue which had an article on 'Jardin Anime'....havnt gotten it in the mail yet though.

THANKS RG! I have long wanted to know what was in the collection. I really hope that all of the notations are put to use to resurrect the old works.......and are not just left to collect dust if you get my meaning.

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I would have to check which Dancing Times issue it was (I believe sometime in 2000). My article discussed the Rivers variations, offering the choreography as recorded in the notation and discussion of the accompanying music from the two-violin repetiteur, also in the Sergeev Collection.

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doug has looked through these, i think the 'short' of it is that, no, not all the notations are full enough to aid in reasonably 'full' stagings, but some others obviously are.

here then is the citation for doug's DANCING TIMES article:

Fullington, Doug: The river variations in Petipa's La fille du Pharaon.

Dancing times. London. Dec. 2000, p. 249, 251, 253, 255. ill.

Description the choreography for the river variations from Petipas's ballet La fille du Pharaon, reconstructed by Manard Stewart and Doug Fullington for the Bolshoi Ballet's revival of the work.

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I beg Doug Fullington's pardon for some sloppy wording above, which I have edited. I did not intend to question his judgment of the usability of Stepanov notations for Pharaoh's Daughter; this was too shortly worded from Pierre Lacotte's opinion when I interviewed him re Pharaoh's Daughter reconstruction, thus: "[The quality of the Pharaoh notation is] Not good enough. It is good for Sleeping Beauty, Bayadere, and many other ballets, but for Daughter it was only good for HIS [Petipa's] memory. You have a lot of notes which I used, but choreographically it's not in detail.... I asked a friend in America (Doug Fullington) to send me a video and I was surprised, because he said, everything is not right in the score. ... Well, two variations were very clear, two girls in the pas d'action. I took them, and I asked him to do the Rivers. And he did the Rivers, but I'm sorry when I saw it, it was not right, it was not clear, it was like two steps here and nothing else, and I know Petipa and I said, I'm sorry, I don't want to do that, the notation is not very good." Lacotte finally took the advice of Semionova, the last Aspiccia, who told him (he said): "Listen, I'll give you good advice - you know the style, you know all the ballets of Petipa very well, do it yourself. Pay respect to the style but do it yourself." This clarifies that it was Lacotte who decided, based on Fullington's help, that the notation was not comprehensive enough.

Re the state of Harvard archive, there is some rather haphazard filing, since fluent readers of old Russian with a detailed knowledge of 19th-century ballet do not often turn up among the staff. When I asked Harvard in 2004 about the Pharaoh notation I was first told that only 22 sheets of fragments existed. When I queried this, they corrected and apologised (quote: "Oh dear, I'm very glad you wrote back... Thank you for your persistence"), saying the bulk of Pharaoh (a 254-page choreographic/mime score, a full 251-page orchestral score, a 7-page detailed synopsis of the ballet, etc) was filed under its composer Cesare Pugni, rather than Petipa. Misleading filing is a problem, I am told, if a clerk did not have the knowledge to place a named dance with the right ballet. Eg 'The Rivers' had been annotated by someone (possibly a reader, rather than a cataloguer) 'La Source, not Pharaoh's Daughter'. Also the Russian habit of ascribing a ballet to the composer rather than the choreographer is reversed in the West, hence perhaps the Pugni-Petipa mix-up. It is not an ideal situation, therefore, but perhaps one day it will be. Ismene Brown

Edited by ismeneb
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I asked a friend in America (Doug Fullington) to send me a video and I was surprised,

So did Doug have a dancer perform the stuff on video and the sent it to Lacotte? Just curious how one gets the notation to the feet of a dancer.

WOW - 7500 bucks isnt much for so priceless a collection.......

Speaking of the 'Songe du Rajah', did the ballet Russe ever stage a Bayadere - isnt that where that came from?

I really hope that those notations dont just sit and collect dust if you get my meaning.....besides the research and valueable info they provide, what use are they if they just sit in a library? By the way, can anyone just go to the Harvard Library and make copies of stuff from the collection?

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harvard th. coll. must have a web site and/or email address to ask about procedures. i doubt v. much one can just photocopy rare materials, tho' i suppose for a fee one can purchase copies from the coll. which given experiences w/ other libraries tend to pricey.

n. sergeyev staged 'the rajah's dream' for a little tour, if mem. serves of england in his day, thus, i assume, the reason that 'shades' is separate from the bayadere folder(s).

previous to that british 'run' - about which jane pritchard may or may not have published an article in THE DANCING TIMES - the only record i can find of a 'bayadere' in the 'west' before the 1960s, is that produced, in a much reduced version, for a gala performance in paris in the mid-1920s(?) w/ spesivtseva and peretti. (there's a miscaptioned photo in a russian-language paperback of nina tikhanova's memoirs.)

if mem. serves again, the reduced-paris version of the shades scene came from plans made and then scrapped by pavlova's co. to stage the scene, which after sergeyev did his work for anna p, was deemed by herself as looking too 'old fashioned' or some such, to be put on, thus the project went nowhere further.

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Thank you, Ms. Brown, for your graciousness. Part of the difficulty working on Pharaoh was having only the notation pages and repetiteur pages that Lacotte provided. I had perused the entire notation during my visits to Harvard, but did not own a copy of the entire ballet. As far as things not being right in the score, I was always up front with Lacotte about discrepancies between notation and score. For example, the notation might indicate a certain combination is performed 4 times, when the music would only allow for 3 times, etc. This is not uncommon, particularly with N. Sergeev's notations (the notations are not all in his hand, by the way), which are more memory aids than the early examples that appear to be intended as works of art in themselves. Some of his Russian- or French-language rubrics in the notations are followed by a question mark (his own)!

As far as Lacotte not believing, so to speak, that a particular dance could be Petipa, it must be remembered that we view reconstructed Russian classical ballet on the other side of the development of the Vaganova school and that what has been handed down as Petipa often is a combination of Petipa and a series of subsequent changes or sometimes completely 'new' choreography. Seeing choreography closer to what was originally danced, or at least danced during the Imperial era, can be very disappointing to some hoping for something more bravura in style or closer to what is commonly thought of as Petipa.

In the case of Pharaoh, the dances often seemed very old fashioned (multiple - endless! - arabesque voyagee and emboite steps) compared to steps in Bayadere or Beauty or Raymonda. This made we wonder whether the Pharoah choreography changed much between the 1860s and the early 1900s when it was written down. The steps simply did not jive with Lacotte's nouveau classical style that he was employing to create his own dances for Pharaoh.

Re: the Harvard collection. It is housed in only 31 boxes and a detailed finding aid explains where each item can be found. The ballets are indeed cataloged by composer. The notations are stored in a number of large file folders within the boxes, so it is possible that the library representative looked only at the first Pharaoh folder before realizing the notation comprised a number of folders. Most decrepancies in the cataloging have been ironed out over the years and handwritten notes on the finding aid offer explanation. Mona Inglesby did an excellent job of identifying what is what in the collection either before she sold it to Harvard or in preparing to send it to the library.

The Pharaoh river variations are actually notated in the main body of the Pharoah notation. The items that rg lists as 'small balletic pieces' include a notated variation identified both as from La Source and from the rivers section of Pharaoh. I have a copy of this document but did not use it in my reconstruction because upon looking at it I didn't think it was from Pharaoh because it didn't match what is in the main body of the notation.

Most items are actually very well identified in either Russian, English or French. The 'small balletic pieces' folder, particularly the one mentioned above, is a mish-mash or catch-all of extra bits which makes it hard to determine in some cases what is included.

The International Ballet archives are stored separately.

For the record: I believe enough is notated of Pharaoh to allow for a reconstruction of at least the principal dances and much of the action of the ballet, and this is typical of most of the ballets notated in the collection. :)


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There are several points that should be made regarding the Sepanov notations of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre's ballet repertoire. Firstly the notations were not made by Sergeyev. Secondly Sergeyev stole them from the Maryinsky Theatre. Thirdly their is no reason to believe they would not have survived the Soviet Period in Russia(witness the survival of a large numbers of costumes and other ballet material from the 19th century still in St.Petersburg). Fourthand last Sergeyev had great difficulty in deciphering the notation when working with Diaghilev's company and the Sadlers Wells, hence I suggest the reason why changes and interpolations were made. Sergeyev was generally considered to be a bad egg and thus his theft is not surprising and calls into question successive ownership of the scores.

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My immediate response is to state that the written and stylistic evidence within the contents of the Sergeev Collection virtually confirms that many of the notations in the collection are in the hand of Nikolai Sergeev. Some examples are signed and dated by him. But Sergeev was not the only notator to contribute. Some of the notations pre-date Sergeev's involvement with Stepanov notation, Sergeev worked with assistants who were also notators, and other items are in the hands of students and represent written classwork from the era when Stepanov notation was taught to the students of the Imperial Ballet School.

Sergeev also appears to have had a "neat" hand and - for lack of a better term - a "messy" or "less careful" hand. The "neat" notations offer greater detail than the "messy." Whether the difference between the two was due to time constraints, greater or lesser familiarity with a particular work, or a decline of interest in the notation system over time, I cannot answer.

I will certainly grant that Sergeev does not give the impression of being the most musical of notators. Many a waltz in the collection is notated in 2/4 time. But while these problems may cause confusion in reconstructing a dance from notation, they usually are not insurmountable.

I would finally like to state that I do not wish to defend the reputation of Nikolai Sergeev because I feel that is beside the larger point: Whether he be characterized as a criminal, musical illiterate or balletic incompetent, the fact appears to remain that Sergeev contributed a great deal to the cache of ballets notated in the Stepanov method, whether we like that truth or not. And whether malice was intended in any of his other actions, his efforts and the efforts of others notating the repertory of the Imperial Ballet appear - upon study and comparison with contemporary and modern sources - to have been sincere.

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Further, the matter of whether a given object was stolen or not is a matter for courts with appropriate jurisdiction to decide.  Allegations of crime are immaterial without law to support them.

There can be no evidence to show that Sergeyev had right of ownership to the notations and there is every bit of evidence to show that the Imperial Theatres and its succeeding owners did. The notations are after all entitled to be included in any catalogue of Russian national treasures. Given the odd tone of Mel Johnson's "snapback", I am sorry if I offend American sensibilities about museum collected articles with a dubious ownership history.

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With passionately held opinions on both sides of this matter, I think we will just have to agree to disagree. Insisting that the notations are either the rightful property of Russian institutions or of Harvard do nothing but produce a lot of repeated arguments. Both sides are represented here with clarity.

Thanks for your cooperation, everyone.

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I am sorry if I offend American sensibilities about museum collected articles with a dubious ownership history.

Perhaps you offended Mel Johnson's sensibilities, but please do not generalize on this board about entire groups of people based on the response of an individual.

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The issue of ownership of cultural artifacts removed from their country of origin is complex and highly emotional.

The Elgin marbles are just one example; there are countless others, now being litigated or at least argued about all over the globe. Most originate in chaotic times of war, revolution, military occupation and/or mass persecution -- and more artifacts are added to the list all the time (to wit, contents of the Iraq National Museum).

These very important questions are hotly debated within the US as elsewhere. For example, the latest New York Review of Books contains an article by Kwame Anthony Appiah, "Whose Culture Is It?," which takes a position in favor of selective repatriation of artifacts.

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