by mikhail fokine

Tamara Karsavina as Zobeida in Scheherazade. Photo by E.O. Hoppe, 1911.

Choreography by Mikhail Fokine. Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Costumes by Léon Bakst inspired a fashion for harem pants, turbans and floor cushions.

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885-1978) was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev.

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Valentin Serov - Portrait of Ida Rubinstein, 1910.

And caricature on it by Alexei Radakov

The portrait by Serov marked a new, art nouveau, period in his art. The nude image of a Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein caused a scandal in Russian cultural society and became an object of criticism and joke. “A galvanized corpse” - such a short and harsh comment on it made Ilya Repin.

Also Ida herself was a rather scandalous person - she began her dance career too late for a professional and  got fame for her unusual for that time erotic manner of performance. This portrait depicted her as Salome, her debut role in 1908, in which she stripped  nude. In 1910 she was already a European celebrity after joining Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and successfully working with Nijinsky, Bakst and Fokine.

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A few days ago, Vaganova Ballet Academy posted an excerpt from Vladimir Teliakovski’s (Director of the Imperial Theatres) diary entry, concerning the ballet “Armida’s Pavilion”. I found it very interesting and amusing but didn’t have the time to translate and post it until now. I’ve also added a few more images of Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky wearing the costumes in question.

Nov 7, 1907:

“Today, from four to six, I was present at the examination of Benois’s costumes for the ballet “Armida”. The costumes are true and stylish, but ugly, and they all carry some vague erotic overtones. Besides, the ballet is so expensive that had I known about the cost, I never would have agreed to stage such a ballet.”

The ballet premiered on the 25th of November, 1907. It was choreographed by Mikhail Fokine to the music of Nikolai Tcherepnin. The costumes were designed by Alexandre Benois.

Benois selected strongly contrasting colours of black and orange with details of white, to create this dramatic costume for a musician. The studs, which define the pleats of the skirt, are echoed in the round beads on the bodice. The white edging and studs would have sparkled in the stage lights:


“Armida’s Pavilion” was the first production of Diaghilev’s company. During the ballet, twelve spirits perform the “Dance of the hours”, representing the passing of time. Their costumes were made from inexpensive cotton and embellished with gold lamé, braid, fringing and paint to create an impression of luxury and refinement typical of the Rococo period of the ballet:

Portrait of the Ballerina Natalie Krassovska (1934). Savely Sorine (Russian, 1878-1953). Watercolour, heightened with white, coloured crayons and pencil on paper, laid on canvas.

Krassovska joined the Ballet Russe de Paris in 1935 and René Blum’s Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1936. In 1938, she became a member of the Massine-Denham Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. During her time with the troupe, Krassovska worked closely with Mikhail Fokine who coached her for roles in Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la Rose and other ballets. She advanced to the position of principal dancer.

Costume design for Salomé in ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ (1908). Leon Bakst (Russian, 1866-1924). Oil on canvas. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Ida Lvovna Rubinstein (Russian, 1885-1960) was a wealthy and beautiful actress, dancer, patron and Belle Époque figure who had, by the standard of Russian ballet, little formal training. Nevertheless, she proposed her role as Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, in which she would strip nude in the course of the Dance of the Seven Veils. Tutored by Mikhail Fokine, she made her debut in 1908 in a single private performance in which she stripped completely.

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Svetlana Zakharova (Bolshoi Ballet), “The Dying Swan” choreography by Mikhail Fokine, 2015 Gala des Etoiles, Grand Théâtre Luxembourg, Luxembourg City, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (May 15-16, 2015)

© Jack Devant

Mikhail Fokin and Vera Fokina in Scheherazade (Stockholm, 1914). Collection of Anna Winestein.

Scheherazade, Op. 35, is a symphonic poem composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, this work features dazzling, colorful orchestration. A ballet adaptation premiered in 1910, at the Opéra Garnier in Paris by the Ballets Russes, with choreography by Michel Fokine.

Mika Yoshioka, Vladimir Malakhov and corps de ballet in Les Sylphides, choreography: Mikhail Fokin, music: Frederic Chopin. 
Jack Devant
Deutsche Oper Berlin.