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Tamara Karsavina: Michel Fokine’s La Danse du Flambeau (1909)….

August 1, 2013

This is newly discovered film of Tamara Karsavina dancing Mikhail Fokine’s ‘La Danse du Flambeau’ (‘The Torch Dance’). This performance was filmed in 1909. Tamara Karsavina’s shoes are not reinforced at the tip like today’s pointe shoes.  She may have had cotton or wool stuffed into the toes of her shoes….

La Danse du Flambeau. Grand piano: John Sweeney.

“Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885-1978) was trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and was a ballerina at the Mariinsky Theatre from 1902 to 1918. Joining Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1909, she provided Nijinsky’s ideal partner, until his departure from Diaghilev, and remained the company’s leading ballerina until 1922. In later years she taught in Britain, and was to coach Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev in Le Spectre de la Rose, which she had created with Nijinsky.

The original Bakst design for the costume that she wears in this film still survives, revealing that the working title for the ballet was Karsavina’s Assyro-Egyptian Dance. The dance seems to come from Fokine’s ballet based on Anton Arensky’s “Egyptian Nights”, op. 50 (1900). Most dances in the ballet are around 5 minutes long, but one, specifically called “Egyptian Dance”, is 1’40”, so almost certainly the one in the film (information from Andrew Foster). This is the music to be played by John Sweeney at the Giornate performance.

Roberta Lazzarini writes, “The Torch Dance was first performed 22 December 1907 at a charity gala in the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg. Years later Karsavina recalled the occasion but not what she danced. Confusion has arisen as to the title as the Imperial Theatres yearbook, 1907-08, incorrectly referred to it as ‘Assyrian Dance’.

“In Paris on 19 June 1909, at an important gala in the Théâtre de l’Opéra, Feodor Koslov replaced the indisposed Nijinsky in Les Sylphides, which was given with Le Festin … originally Pavlova and Nijinsky were to have performed Giselle. Le Festin was a series of divertissements and was a moveable feast – depending on which dancers were available, injured, etc. The highlight in Paris was the pas de deux “L’Oiseau d’or” performed by Karsavina and Nijinsky (also called “L’Oiseau de feu”, it was simply the “Bluebird” pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty). I suspect that as Nijinsky was ill and as Karsavina wished to dance, she substituted La Danse du flambeau.

“On the following day M. and Mme Ephrussi hosted a lavish garden party at their home in the Avenue du Bois, when the Russian dancers, again without Nijinsky, repeated the programme of the previous evening. Karsavina received 1000 francs – a vast sum in 1909. I suspect the film was made at this time.”

The dance is filmed against an apparently improvised background of luxurious curtains suspended from a pole, which could indicate that the film was shot in a private house, though the companion film with Kosloff and Baldina appears to have been made on a theatre stage, with backdrops. – David Robinson”.

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From → Dance History, Video

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