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Ivanov -- did he or didn't he?

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I recall reading that there is a revisionist theory that Ivanov didn't, in fact, choreograph the "white acts" of Swan Lake, and that his contribution to the ballet was greatly exaggerated during the Soviet years to give more credit to a native Russian artist, rather than the effete French import, Petipa.

I recall reading in Beaumont's Swan Lake book of contemporary newspaper accounts explaining that Ivanov had choreographed these acts because Petipa was indisposed at the time. It certainly sounds like a pretty well-documented historical fact to me.

I would love to hear some details from anyone familiar with any attempts to downplay Ivanov's contribution to the ballet in recent years.

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Manhattnik, DanceView (then Washington DanceView) published a piece by George Jackson that suggests (but doesn't try to prove) that Petipa had more to do with "Swan Lake" than he's credited with. One of his fields is Viennese ballet history, and he began to question Ivanov's authorship based partly on posters and other material he found in Vienna, as I remember it. This article has gotten into a lot of Swan Lake press kits over the years, and we reprinted it a few years ago (but I haven't put it up in the Archives yet). Another source was material in Petipa's diaries (published in German but not, as far as I know, in English), and yet another, I write without checking, is the fact that Ivanov was not in St. Petersburg during at least some of the rehearsals.

Two other points I remember were that if you look at Act II as it WAS, before it became a ballet blanc and had huntsmen and mime, it looks very much like a Petipa ballet. Those who've only seen the ballet blanc version, especially as it's become swannier and swannier, see the contrast between that and Acts I and III and assume they're by different hands -- but the same contrast is in Bayadere. Act IV comes from Outer Space, after the parrot dance and the Red Indians Tom Tom Extravaganza.

Also, the question of "what exactly did the assistant do" is always knotty. There are assistants who think they do all the work (and may put in the bulk of the time), and there are chiefs who take all of the credit. I don't know what it is in this case. It is feasible that if Petipa weren't in rehearsals because of illness, he gave Ivanov specific instructions -- he was noted for blocking out everything before he came into the rehearsal room.

I revere Beaumont, but a lot of his work has been superseded simply because he didn't have access to all of the papers that later historians, like Wiley, had (and I can't remember if Wiley addressed this, although I think Jackson's article points out that Wiley omitted some of the information that was available.)

I think other people besides Jackson have raised the question that Ivanov's place in Russian ballet history became somewhat exaggerated during the Soviet era. That theory is that Petipa was French, a foreigner, and it was an embarrassment to have a Western imperialist/capitalist whatsit be the main choreographer. Another side to this might be that some clever Maryinskians (soon to be Kirovians) thought they might have a better case for keeping the Petipa repertory if there were a Russian angle.

Personally, I've always been bothered by the question that, if Ivanov really did write those beautiful second and fourth acts, why don't we have more of him? There's nothing in "Nutcracker" (as seen in the recent British revival, with Wilely and Stepanov notation help) that matches it. But Petipa did produce "Shades."

My guess is the jury is still out on this one.

Others may well have more information.

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Argh - I just wrote a response the size of a tome and deleted it.

In short, Wiley discusses this issue at length. His evidence generally favors the traditional attribution of work, although it seems that Petipa had outlined the lakeside scenes and even contributed written descriptions of certain choreography, including the entrance of the swans.

A number of Ivanov's ballets were notated, particular the one-acts. His larger works like TULIP OF HAARLEM appear to be lost. Some didn't continue in rep and some have been preserved simply because they were in rep during the notation period.

Wiley has made a couple of attempts to compare Petipa and Ivanov and has used Petipa's Shades compared to Ivanov's Snowflakes. In my opinion, this is like comparing apples to oranges. A better comparison might involve Petipa's waltz from LE JARDIN ANIME and Ivanov's Snowflakes, which are both large waltzes using minimal properties (no stools, but either garlands or wands). The SLEEPING BEAUTY waltz could also be used but it is less "dancy" than the other two. This comparison reveals a choreographic similarity, but possibly the similarity is a result of the normal choreographic response of the time to music of the same genre (a waltz).

All in all, Ivanov was the assistant, Petipa was more famous and was doing more work. He was the dominant figure at the Maryinsky. Petipa also appears to have been much more driven than Ivanov, who liked to play cards during rehearsal (even rehearsals he was running :)). If Petipa felt the newspaper had printed an incorrect attribution of work, he would write to the editor and say so.

SWAN LAKE wasn't the big deal in its time that it has since become. I think the contributions of the choreographers have been magnified and more importance has been attached to Ivanov's reputation based on SWAN LAKE than is warranted in view of his entire ouevre. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but simply that SWAN LAKE is/was not the make-or-break ballet of Ivanov's career.

[ 07-02-2001: Message edited by: doug ]

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In the eternal Ivanov/Petipa debate, I thought it might be interesting to quote some things Karsavina wrote about them. I found them in a brief article she wrote in the 1906's about the Maryinsky La Fille Mal Gardee. She says "Having danced Swan Lake, La Fille, and Graziella and having had besides a fairy close knowledge of Ivanov;s blighted career, I always longs for his claim to greatness to be acknowledged. I was too late to have worked under his direction: the year of my graduation was the year of his death. But his mehtods of work and the systematical repression by Petipa of his opportunity for a full self-expression I learned from my seniors and my father who was a staunch friend of Ivanov. The ageing Peitpa needed a hack worker under him and with this aim in mind he nominated Ivanov as the second ballet-master. The policy of Petipa, the all-powerful master of our stage, had been to turn over to Ivanov only the curtain-raisers or a few items in his own ballets for which Invanov never got the credit with the public...Even then Petipa would look over Ivanov's work, sugggest, add or alter and, on the strength of this "editing", put his name on the programme. The artists all along knew that those jewels of Swan Lake, the second tableau and the last act, were Ivanov's work, but the public was not told so."

Of course, this is not unnecessarily an unbiased account, but it seems to suggest that crediting Ivanov more than a Soviet idea to build up the Russian angle.

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