Sunday, February 6, 2011

Prima Ballerina: Anna Sobeshchanskaya

This unit I will once more somewhat deviate from my composer themed blog posts and plunge into Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake to talk about it's prima ballerina, Anna Sobeshchanskaya.

First off it is important to mention that although Tchaikovsky's beloved (albeit ill-recieved during its time) ballet was written and meant for Madame Sobeshchanskaya, she was originally booted from its cast. Apparently Madame caused quite a scandal by accepting a jewelry from a government official before choosing to marry a fellow dancer and selling her gifts for cash. She was subsequently replaced as the “Swan Queen” by Pelageya Karpakova for its premier on March 4, 1877. (Side note: the man she lost her job over was allowed to retain his role as Prince Siegfried... how is that fair?!)

So you might be asking yourself, why is Sobeshchanskaya so important if she wasn't even at the premier?

By the fourth performance of “Swan Lake”, Sobeshchanskaya was allowed to return to the stage: however, the prima ballerina was very unsatisfied with the presented with the choreography. One of the critics had the following to say about the original choreographer, Julius Reisinger's, work.

"Mr. Reisinger’s dances are weak in the extreme.... Incoherent waving of the legs that continued through the course of four hours - is this not torture? The corps de ballet stamp up and down in the same place, waving their arms like a windmill’s vanes - and the soloists jump about the stage in gymnastic steps. The designs were borrowed from other productions or made cheaply. Conceived by three different men, who did not work together, the result was a shabby and incoherent look.”

In order to salvage the ballet, Sobeshchanskaya went to St. Petersburg to seek the help of the illustrious choreographer Marius Petipa. She requested that he create a new third act pas de deux for her, which he did to the music of Ludwig Minkus. Tchaikovsky was obviously furious when he found out her plan to insert another composer's music in his score and after much debate he agreed to write additional music, basing it "bar for bar, note for note" on the Minkus music so that Petipa’s choreography could be retained. So thrilled was Sobeshchanskaya with Tchaikovsky’s composition that she requested an additional variation, which he composed for her. Indeed, this is the version that is played in modern productions.

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