January 29, 1916
Page 3

“The Most Artistic and Original Presentation So Far Made by Our Visitors from Russia”—Stravinsky’s Music Exceedingly Complicated, Wholly Original and Effective—Schumann and Chopin Music Adapted to the Purpose of the Dance

ON Monday night an almost capacity house welcomed the first novelty of the week produced by the Diaghileff Russian Ballet, in the shape of “Pétrouchka,” described as “Scènes Burlesque en 4 tableaux,” by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois; music by Igor Stravinsky, scenes and dances by Michel Fokine.
In this, the leading rôles, that of Ballerine was taken by Mlle. Lydia Lopokova; that of Pétrouchka by Leoni de Massine; that of the Moor by Adolf Bolm; while the Old Charlatan was presented by Enrico Cecchetti; the Nurse by Mme. Tchernicheva, in addition to which there were nurses, coachmen, various dancers, soldiers and others.
This ballet may be described as a burlesque on a mixed theme, illustrated in “Contes d’ Hoffmann” and in “Pagliacci.” It is also a satire on life itself, indicating that we are all of us but puppets in a play in which the strings are pulled by others, and that closely allied to the tragedy of life is its comedy.
The general opinion appeared to be that this was the most artistic and original presentation so far made by the company. That it made a profound impression upon the more cultured and intelligent part of the audience is unquestioned.
At the close the continued applause brought Mr. Ansermet, the conductor of the exceedingly original, brilliant and interesting music, before the curtain to receive a wreath.
The opening shows a public square in St. Petersburg. The people, interspersed with coachmen, nurses, ladies of fashion, dancers, soldiers, are having a fête, and are entertained by the various shows customary on such an occasion.
Presently, at the back of the stage the curtains part, and the great Charlatan appears. With much mystery he shows his three puppets: Pétrouchka, the Moor, and the Ballerine.
They are all hanging, these sawdust dolls, attached to their supports. As the great Charlatan points to them, and the music starts, the puppets come to life and dance in most realistic fashion. Then they leave the supports and come to the front of the stage and dance with the crowd behind them.
In the second tableau, we see Pétrouchka, the marionette, shut up, alone, endeavoring frantically to escape. The Ballerine, marvelously played by Mme. Lydia Lopokova, comes in for a moment, only to disappear again, leaving Pétrouchka to his despair.
In the third tableau the Moor is discovered on his back, with legs in the air, playing mechanically with a wooden ball. The Ballerine enters, and there is a delightful scene of flirtation between the two, in which the comedy of these animated marionettes is wonderfully maintained. Pétrouchka surprises them, but is thrown out by the Moor, who pursues him with his sword.
In the last scene we return to the crowd in the square, where the jollity continues. Amid a number of dancing droschke drivers, nurses, Cossacks, peasants, a big brown bear is led in. Again the curtains of the little theater at the back are parted, and Pétrouchka rushes out, pursued by the Moor, who cuts him down and departs. Pétrouchka dies slowly to agonizing squeaks by the orchestra. The great Charlatan, the show man, comes along, picks up the limp sawdust body, drags it off, and as he does, the spook of Pétrouchka appears in the moonlight at the top of the theater, gesticulating violently, and then collapses, limp.
The show man, startled, horrified at the apparition, steals away. The crowd disperses. The play is over.
As Pétrouchka, Leonide Massine gives a remarkable performance, perhaps more artistic, more clever, than anything he has, so far, done.
As the Moor, Mr. Bolm again showed his wonderful power as an actor.
In fact, these with Mlle. Lopokova, gave a performance so unique as to go far beyond anything of the kind ever seen on the stage here.
As far as Stravinsky’s music goes, there are times when its terrible dissonances almost strain one’s nerves, but it is all so original, and so absolutely effective in accompanying the burlesque and comedy of the action as to make it wholly inimitable. The orchestration is masterly. There is very little melody in it to relieve the throbbing senses, but it is so apt in illustrating every phase of the action as to leave a marked impression.
Incidentally, mention should be made of a piano solo which accompanies one of Pétrouchka’s scenes, and which is very well played by Marcel Ansotte.
The orchestra deserves high praise for its almost faultless performance of this exceedingly difficult, complicated, but wholly original music.
Lopokova’s Dancing a Delight
Wednesday night’s program presented for the first time in America Schumann’s “Carnaval” in choreographic form. Lydia Lopokova, who is a familiar figure in our theater world, danced the Colombine delightfully. Mr. Bolm’s Pierrot and Mr. Idzokowski’s Arlequin were also admirable. Unfortunately the artistic value of this ballet is not large, since Schumann’s music sounds poorly in the orchestral setting given it by Rimsky-Korsakoff, Liadoff, Tcherepnine and Glazounoff. Not that these Russian masters have not done their orchestrating well; it is because these sublime short pieces are shifted from their frame into one which suits them ill. Schumann’s musical ideas in his “Carnaval” are not orchestral; had they been he would doubtless himself have written a symphonic orchestral suite rather than a masterpiece for the piano.
The remainder of the evening was given over to Stravinsky’s “L’Oiseau de Feu,” Tschaikowsky’s “La Princesse Enchantée” and Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Solei! de Nuit.” Frederic Fradkin, the brilliant young violinist, played the solo in “La Princesse Enchantée” with lovely tone and Sybil Vane, soprano, sang the short solo in “Solei! de Nuit.”
The indisposition of several principals of the Ballet last Saturday evening caused a change in the schedule of works presented. Instead of “L’Oiseau de Feu,” there was seen “Scheherazade,” while “Les Sylphides” supplanted “La Princess Enchantée.” The audience was large and favorably disposed, applauding with especial vigor after “Les Sylphides” and “Solei! de Nuit.” Schumann’s “Carnaval” completed the entertainment.
A Venture into Chopin
On Thursday evening of last week, the Russians followed up their excursion into Schumann with a venture into Chopin by bringing forward a “romantic revery” called “Les Sylphides.” In conjunction with “Scheherazade” this was seen at the Winter Garden some years ago, Lydia Lopokova and Alexander Volinine dancing the principal parts. Miss Lopokova appeared again last week and to excellent advantage. She has vastly more in the way of personality, lightness and technical skill than any member of the new troupe. Mr. Bolm falls far short of Mr. Volinine in all respects and made only an indifferent showing. The ballet itself consists merely of conventional toe evolutions by a group of young women in the usual tulle dancing skirts. The scenic set, painted by Golovine, represents a garden with a couple of pavilions. It is night, and the dominant color scheme is blue and purple. On the back drop appear huge, fluffy masses like banks of clouds, presumably intended for trees. The total effect is one of crudity though the white dresses against the dark background are not ineffective. Where the romance or the revery come in is difficult to decide except, perhaps, by virtue of the fact that Chopin is of the romantic school and that the scene is nocturnal.
Not being of the number of those who feel the need of a visualized interpretation of Chopin, we cannot decide whether the A Major Prelude, the waltzes in A Flat and C Sharp Minor and several mazurkas were properly elucidated. And we could but recall the celebrated remark that Chopin’s waltzes should not be attempted by dancers unless half of them were countesses. Glazounoff made the orchestral arrangement of the compositions used and one heard inner voices and effects of which poor Chopin never dreamed. Chopin in orchestral dress and played with metronomic rigidity compares with Chopin in his only true medium and at the hands of a sensitive pianist as a paper flower does with a full-blooming rose.
The audience applauded Miss Lopokova heartily, but, on the whole, displayed no transports of excitement. The other offerings of the evening were the “Scheherazade,” the “Prince Igor” dances and “L’Après midi d’un Faune,” which aroused as much amusement as a capital burlesque.
Comments of other critics on the New York première of “Pétrouchka”:
“Pétrouchka” seemed a work of art singularly successful in achieving the precise purpose that its authors had in view. —The Times.
Stravinsky’s music is delicious. If it were performed as a concert piece it would give rise to all sorts of learned debate and men would sit up till small hours arguing with each other about it. Heard in connection with the action for which it was designed, it becomes a string of glittering gems of burlesque humor. —The Sun.
The music of Stravinsky proved to be intensely interesting. Its very discords were of great appropriateness in view of the fantastic nature of the story. In the ballet and above all the ballet of the fantastic or the macabre, the music of the futurists has its proper sphere. —The Tribune.
Stravinsky’s music is by far the most important feature of the ballet, f or the action is rather incomprehensible. But the music is the last word in modern brilliancy. It is cleverness to the nth degree in musical color effects. —The Herald.
The weird color of the score, which shrieked dissonance in every manner possible to the modern composer, was amazingly appropriate in its conception and in the instrumentation employed. —The World.
One should beware of taking Stravinsky too seriously. Such a work as “Pétrouchka,” no matter how striking in its effects, no matter how ingeniously constructed, does not bear the hallmark of inspiration. —The Press.


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