Michel-Fokine

Costume design for Armide, Le Pavillon d'Armide (1907). Alexandre Benois. Silver paint, brush, ink, lead pencil, white paint, watercolour on paper. Tretyakov Gallery.

Le Pavillon d'Armide is a ballet in one act and three scenes choreographed by Michel Fokine with music by Nikolai Tcherepnin on a libretto by Alexandre Benois. The work was first presented on 25 November 1907 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, with Anna Pavlova in the role of Armida.

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Elizaveta Gerdt, the Russian ballerina and teacher, was born in St Petersburg on April 29, 1891.

A daughter of celebrated dancer Paul Gerdt, she studied under Michel Fokine at the Imperial Ballet School, where her chief partner was Vaslav Nijinsky. She married another popular danseur, Samuil Adrianov (1884-1917; the first husband), who danced with Pierina Legnani and Mathilde Kschessinska, two ballerinas she sought to emulate.

After the Russian Revolution Elizaveta Gerdt and Olga Spesivtseva were the only world-class dancers who chose to remain in Russia, while others emigrated to the West.

In 1928, after 20 years of dancing, she resolved to abandon the stage and devote herself to teaching. She taught the class of perfection for the female dancers in the Leningrad Opera and Ballet Theatre together with teaching the girls in her Alma mater (1927-1934). Then she moved from Leningrad to Moscow. There she taught the class for the female dancers at the Bolshoi Theatre, coaching ballerinas of the Bolshoi Ballet and also worked at the Moscow Ballet School (1935-1942 and 1945-1960).

Among her students were Alla Shelest (in Leningrad), Irina Tikhomirnova, Maya Plisetskaya, Violetta Bovt, Mira Redina, Raisa Struchkova, Ekaterina Maksimova (in Moscow). With some of them she continued to collaborate at the theatre. Thus she coached Sulamith Messerer and later her niece Maya Plisetskaya.

Then Willis saw the black-and-white harlequin.

He was climbing the statue-group in the centre of the pool–an elaborate affair of twined mermaids and dolphins, supporting a basin which crouched an amorino, blowing from a conch-shell a high spout of dancing water. Up and up went the slim chequered figure, dripping and glittering like a fantastic water-creature. He caught the edge of the upper basin with his hands, swung for a moment and lifted. Even in that moment, Willis felt a pang of reluctant admiration. It was the easy, unfretted motion of the athlete, a display of muscular strength without jerk or effort. Then his knee was on the basin. He was up and climbing upon the bronze cupid. Yet another moment and he was kneeling upon the figure’s stooped shoulders–standing upright upon them, the spray of the fountain blowing around him.

–Dorothy L. Sayers, Murder Must Advertise, Chapter IV. “Remarkable Acrobatics of a Harlequin,” 1933.

Image: Michel Fokine in Harlequin costume, c. 1910. (x)

Ballets Russes Programme Officiel, front cover (1914). Valentine Hugo and Comœdia illustré. Columbia University Libraries.

Program for the 9th season of the Ballets Russes. Michel Fokine, choreographic director, and Vera Fokina, lead in Schéhérazade. Costumes by Leon Bakst. Watercolor on cover by Valentine Gross (Hugo). Program edited by the Comœdia illustré.

Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky as Armida and her slave in Le Pavillon d’Armide, 1907.

Le Pavillon d'Armide is a ballet in one act and three scenes choreographed by Michel Fokine. It was first presented on 25 November 1907 at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, with staging and costumes by Alexandre Benois. Principal dancers Pavlova in the role of Armida, Nijinsky as her slave, and Pavel Gerdt as the Vicomte René de Beaugency.