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Boris Kniaseff (written Kniasseff on print) photo

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the attached scan shows a full stage grouping from a 1927-ish production for "Boris Kniasseff Company [according to handwriting on the back of the photo] of THE FAIRY DOLL by Boris Kniaseff (1900 - 1975).

there is no other captioning, but i suspect this might well document a French staging of the Hassreiter/Legats/etc. work.

my hunch is that the male dancer with his hand around the waist of the young fairy? doll herself to the left of center in the grouping might well be Kniaseff himself (this from seeing a few photos of a young BK via a google search).

until a little follow-up today, i hadn't realized he had been married to Spesivtseva from, if my source is correct, 1932 - 34.

apparently from 1926-8 he had his own company called Les Ballet Stylisés, which may or may not be the group in the picture identified as BK's 'company'.


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rg, you photos are always amazing entry points to ballet history.

This one has introduced me, for example, to the "Kniaseff method" of barre au sol. I had heard the term but had no idea about what it referred to. For those who would like to learn, here is a 2008 interview with a former student (and disciple), Jeaqueline Fynnaert:


As an aside, she says that Kniaseff was in "a two-year relationship" with Spessivtseva.

Who was Boris Kniaseff?

J.F. Boris Kniaseff was a mysterious Russian who met Diaghilev in 1925, he subsequently met Cechetti and Spessivtseva, with the latter he conducted a two year relationship. It was Spessivtseva who declared - " he has the passion for the dance" and encouraged him to teach. He began teaching in the mid thirties in Paris, two years later Yvette Chauviré joined his class; it was the establishment of a new teaching method in France. In 1943 Chauviré introduced a 17 year old Zizi Jeanmaire to Kniaseff, which leads to my connection with him.

I sense a story coming, how did you connect with him?

J.F. When vacation break came while I was working with Zizi; I didn’t know what to do. Zizi insisted that I go to Athens and look up her friend Boris (who by this time had fled France for Switzerland, where he developed the barre au sol and subsequently to Greece) at the same time delivering a letter. I went and after searching for a long time found this incredible man. You must remember I was not dancing at this time, but after staying for four weeks I got all the solutions to my defects. It was the discovery of the keys of classical placement; how to manage turnout. I witnessed the change in me – I was longer, more balanced, It was a personal revelation. Magnifique et logique! In retrospect it was the most important moment of my life.

I love the phrase "mysterious Russian." I wonder what the story behind THAT is.

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Probably the Kniaseff method would not work for everybody, but there is definitely something in it.

When I was studying in London I met a few girls who had all studied in Geneva and they swore by the method. I never did it myself - wish I had - but I could clearly see great benefits, especially when it came to adagio and placing. For jumps and turns there were no such pronounced benefits, but of course good placing is good for everything.

Why is that method not more widely spread? I think that today no one even mentions it.

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In the early sixties (I think) I happened to hear, from people who had studied with him in Paris, that Boris Kniasseff was teaching in Athens. During a trip there, after taking some time to track down where he was teaching, I took some classes from him, probably for less than two weeks.

He was not teaching any floor barre at this time. The barre was long, complicated, and it seemed to me it would take a while to really learn. I don't even remember the centre exercises, the barre was so exhausting.

His barre reminded me of Igor Schwezoff's barre: complex and extremely challenging. I was told his fifties Paris classes were similar.

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His barre reminded me of Igor Schwezoff's barre: complex and extremely challenging. I was told his fifties Paris classes were similar.

Fynnaert, in the interview linked above, writes something that sounds like your experience, chiapuris. In spirit if not in every detail. It also ties in with Pamela's memories and the emphasis on placement.

Could you describe the barre au sol a little?

J.F. Where people get confused sometimes is that the barre au sol is not meant to replace the normal class, but be added to it. Therefore the class is in three parts instead of two. If it were to done on its own it would merely be re-education. The technique was developed by combining Graham style floor exercises with the classical technique, but has become quite sophisticated, giving a complete workout of the classical repertoire of exercise, on the floor, focusing especially on placement. After that you continue with a normal barre and centre with enchainments and allegro.

Regarding "The Fairy Doll," I came across a 10-minute clip of the Vaganova students in performance. It is not the sort of ballet I'm used to, so I must admit I don't know what to make of it. I wonder how similar their style would have been to the Kniiasseff company's in the 20s.

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When I first started studying in the early 70s, I was taught a version of his floor barre during regular classes. We were all absolute beginners, and it was an effective way to isolate the lower body and work on rotation and flexion without the complication of actually standing on your legs!

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