Born just after the turn of the twentieth century, Vasily Vainonen is one of the most notable choreographers in Russian Ballet history. Throughout his dancing career, Vainonen created dances for some of the most remarkable ballets the world has ever seen. In fact, his style and innovations in dance were so profound his ballets are still performed today, more than a century after he was born.
It is said that when Vainonen was a dancer he was continually given roles that were “grotesque,” and these experiences might be why his dancing has been described as having an ability to take an ordinary life and transform it into a beautiful ballet. Here are a few works that Vasily Vainonen himself choreographed that have impacted the ballet world.
1. The Nutcracker
Even though Marius Petipa is the choreographer who first put together this holiday classic by Tchaikovsky, the version Vasily Vainonen created in 1934 is his utmost revered creation. He choreographed a dance that has been in the repertoire of the Mariinsky Ballet – the St. Petersburg company where Vainonen began his professional career – when it was known as the Kirov Ballet. Other dancers have borrowed his style when recreating their own version of the Nutcracker.
Some say he was the first creator to insinuate that the journey Clara takes is a dream and the first to replace all the child roles and fill them with adults. The latter gave the story a romantic twist. Besides Petipa and Vainonen, other choreographers that have choreographed this beloved ballet are Alexander Gorsky, who produced his version long before Vainonen. He is also credited with using adults opposed to children before Vainonen.
George Balanchine, another great name in dance, premiered his version in 1954 at the New York City Ballet. It was this production that would ignite the ritual in the United States to present this ballet at Christmas time. Yet, the very first performance of The Nutcracker in the United States was performed by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944 on December 24th.
Here is a list of 10 ballet companies that frequently perform The Nutcracker.
2. The Golden Age
Written by composer Dmitri Shostakovich is a ballet that premiered in 1930 at the Kirov, now Mariinsky Theatre. It is written in three acts: Vasily Vainonen choreographed the first act for the premiere, the second was staged by Leonid Jacobson, and the third by V. Chesnakov. Rumors go that it performed less than twenty times due to a censorship issue; the utilization of dance stylings out of Europe were too “modern” for the time.
The plot mocks the civil and social conversion in Europe during the previous decade. A football team from the Soviet Union are competing away from home. After they come across characters that have unsavory names. The Russian group is subjected to cheating and unnecessary trouble from the authorities. When they are released from their cell, they fight against capitalism. The ideologies are synonymous with the Soviet philosophies of the time.
There have been several productions of this ballet since Vainonen first choreographed the first act. A new libretto was created in 1982 for a revival of The Golden Age by choreographers Yury Grigorovich and Isaak Glikman. They also added new music. It premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in November of that same year.
The most recent revival had another new libretto written by Russian playwright Konstantin Uchitel, with a contemporary setting. It opened on June 28, 2006, at the very theater where Vainonen first choreographed the ballet, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
3. Flames of Paris
Vasily Vainonen choreographed the entirety of this ballet, composed by Boris Asafyev. With a plot based on the French Revolution Nicolai Volkov and Vladimir Dmitriev based the libretto on a story by Felix Gras, a French novelist. It is based in Marseilles and surrounds a provincial family who is collecting logs for a fire when the Count come by and he attempts to get close the wife.
When her husband tries to stop him the Count’s assistant thrashes him and then the husband is taken away. This dramatic story about injustice premiered on November 7, 1932, at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad. Dancers who filled the roles included Natalia Dudinskaya, Vakhtang Chabukiani, Olga Jordan, and Nina Anisimova.
Flames in Paris moved on to the Bolshoi Theatre in 1933, this time the Bolshoi Ballet would perform. The roles featured Aleksey Yermolayev, Anastasia Ambramova, and Marina Semenova. Vainonen’s original choreography is available on DVD from a 2008 performance at the Bolshoi. Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova starred in this Alexei Ratmansky production.
The triumphant protest on Paris that began with the invasion of Tuileries Palace. This type of technique, to create ballets with subject matters that inspired revolution, was common during Soviet times. The idea was to express revolutionary themes.
When designing the dance, Vainonen utilized different styles along with classical ballet. Folk dances, solos, and pantomime were all applied.
A comedy, Marius Petipa was the first choreographer to create this ballet. Yet Vainonen recreated his own version in 1945. Composed by Riccardo Drigo, this ballet premiered at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in February of 1900. Vainonen wouldn’t put his mark on it until forty-five years later.
It is said that he was fond of utilizing folk styles of dance mixed in with ballet and pantomime. Marius Petipa also wrote the libretto. The first production, full cast and all, had a second premiere in the same year at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre on February 26th.
This ballet was published by Zimmerman, a German publisher of music. Some of the music written for Harlequinade has become a standard in some repertoires at various ballets in Russia. There have been many productions after the Vainonen piece in 1945. When the ballet turned 65, the New York Ballet, under the choreography of George Balanchine, held a production of Harlequinade on February 4, 1965, at the New York State Theater.
Take a look at the upcoming performances 2019 for American Ballet Theater’s Harlequinade.
Our last ballet on the Vasily Vainonen list today is another that he redesigned with his own style for a performance in 1957 at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. It was originally choreographed by Nina Aleksandrovna Anisimova, wife of the librettist, Konstantin Derzhavin. The music was composed by Aram Khachaturian, who was a top musician in the Soviet Union.
The first performance of this ballet premiered at the Kirov Ballet on December 9, 1942. The composer used some inspiration from one of his earlier works titled Happiness in 1939. This work is important for the time because this was a grim period yet the company was still able to create ballets.
It is set in Armenia with our title character and her family who work very hard. Giko, Gayane’s husband, who drinks too much and doesn’t do any work. Gayane gets angry with her husband and they get into a fight. One part of the third suite from Gayane was included in the popular movie 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick.
Watch Vasily Vainonen’s world-known choreography of The Nutcracker performed by the Mariinsky Theater Ballet Company.