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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Sad Tale of Petrouchka

Petrouchka is a colourful and lively ballet, but also has sad overtones. This is one of the ballets that is most closely connected to Vaslav Nijinsky, who was the greatest male dancer of the age. He played the part of the cruelly treated puppet so well that it reminded us of his own sad fate. He only had a dancing career of ten years, and then lived on for another thirty three years with mental illness.

Petrouchka was one of the first ballets created by Mikhail Fokine under the guidance of Serge de Diaghilev. Michael Fokine was born in St Petersburg in 1880 and became a dancer in the Imperial theatre. He began to choreograph in his early twenties. In 1907 he created the Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova and then started working with Diaghilev. He also created Les Sylphides, The Firebird and Scheherazade. Fokine and Diaghilev left their homeland and made their home in Paris, as they had more freedom of expression in France. The more Modern ballets grew in this way.

For Petrouchka, Mikhail Fokine worked with Igor Stravinsky who became a very important composer of music for the ballet. He eventually became strongly identified with George Balanchine and American Ballet. His music was regarded as outrageously modern when he first exposed audiences to it.. When he wrote for Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring, there was such a riot in the audience, that the dancers couldn’t hear the music and Nijinsky had to stand in the wings counting for the dancers for them to carry on.

Petrouchka is the story of a sad puppet who is owned by a charlatan showman. He calls onlookers at the Butterweek Fair in St Petersburg to come and see his sideshow. The curtains part to reveal Moor, the Ballerina and the sad figure of Petrouchka. Petrouchka has almost human feelings and is in love with the silly Ballerina, but she is more interested in Moor.

After the show the puppets return to their booths. As the fair continues outside, the three puppets inside continue their relationship. The Ballerina taunts Petrouchka and then leaves him to visit the stupid Moor who amuses himself by playing with a coconut. Petrouchka becomes insanely jealous and chases Moor out into the crowd with a scimitar. The crowd are amazed when the dolls rush out. Moor then strikes Petrouchka to the ground and the horrified crowd want to call the police. The showman lifts up the lifeless body of Petrouchka and shows the crowd that it is just a doll. The crowd leave satisfied as night falls and the fair closes. The showman tidies up his stall, and as he leaves the figure of Petrouchka is seen over the sideshow in a horrifying mocking gesture.

Petrouchka;: The story of the ballet,
Petrouchka: A Ballet Cut-Out Book

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