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#Throwback Thursday: The Awakening of Flora

Today's #ThrowbackThursday is a rare gem of a ballet: The Awakening of Flora, or, as it was originally known: Le Reveil de Flore. Now performed only in Russia, the one-act ballet is one of Marius Petipa's lesser known contributions to the repertoire.

Students of the Vaganova Academy as Aurora, Flora, Diana, and Hebe

The ballet is a ballet anacreontique, that is, a lyrical ballet. It doesn't have a fairytale inspiration in the manner of other ballets of the period, like The Sleeping Beauty. Instead, the Imperial-style ballet is split into tableaux. The curtain opens on a nighttime scene. Flora, the goddess of spring, is deeply asleep, surrounded by her nymph attendants. They are guarded by Diana, goddess of the moon. As dawn approaches, the mist which surrounds them dissipates, and Diana retreats to hide in the clouds.

Anastasia Lukina and Ksenia Kulikova in 'The Awakening of Flower Pas de Quatre'

The sudden appearance of Aquilon, the north wind, brings with it a storm. Flora wakes and hastily takes refuge in the surrounding forest. The appearance of cold dew brings Flora to despair, and she turns to Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, for help.

Nika Tskhvitariia as Flora in 'The Awakening of Flora Pas de Quatre'

Aurora consoles Flora, and announces that she is being followed by Apollo, the god of the sun, who will bring warmth and light with him. Aurora, Flora, and the nymphs perform a waltz together.

Nika Tshkhvitariia, Renata Shakirova, Anastasia Lukina, and Ksenia Kulikova, 'Pas de Quatre'

When Apollo makes his appearance, the darkness retreats. Immediately taken with Flora, Apollo kisses her. He calls Zephyr, god of the mild west wind, to Flora's side. He is followed by Cupid and her little amours. The company performs a classic pas d'action, including a variation for Flora and a grand valse.

Flora and Zephyr

Mercury, the messenger of the gods, appears to announce the arrival of Hebe, goddess of youth, and Ganymede, cupbearer to the gods. They give Flora and Zephyr a cup of nectar and tell them that Jupiter has granted them eternal youth.

Renata Shakirova as Hebe, Pas de Quatre

Bacchus, the god of wine, and his wife Ariadne enter in a procession of bacchantes and fauns. Everyone performs a grand pas and an uplifting finale, before the final apotheosis is revealed: in the grand tradition of the Imperial ballets, Olympus is presented as the final scene. It is inhabited by the gods, including Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva, Mars, and Venus, among others.

The Apotheosis, Mariinsky reconstruction

Marius Petipa created the ballet to the music of Riccardo Drigo, one of his favoured composers. The libretto was written by Petipa himself in conjunction with Lev Ivanov. Their inspiration didn't come from a single story or myth, like many of Petipa's other ballets; instead, it was inspired more by the Roman gods themselves rather than any particular myth. The Awakening of Flora was first performed on 6 August, 1894, by the Imperial Ballet. It was presented at the celebrations at Peterhof Palace in honour of the wedding of Tsar Alexander III's daughter, Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, to the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich. The original cast included the great ballerina Mathilda Kschessinskaya as Flora; Olga Leonova as Diana; Alexander Gorsky as Aquilon; Anna Johansson as Aurora; Pavel Gerdt as Apollo; Nikolai Legat as Zephyr; Vera Trefilova as Cupid; Sergei Legat as Mercury; and Claudia Kulichevskaya as Hebe.

Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Flora and Vera Trefilova as Cupid, 1894

Petipa then staged the ballet at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, where it premiered to the public on 14 January 1895. This production was part of the benefit performance of the ballerina Maria Anderson, who had been forced into an early retirement after suffering burns in a theatre fire. To begin with, the choreography was erroneously credited to both Petipa and Lev Ivanov, the Imperial Ballet's second Ballet Master; when this was published in a newspaper, Petipa wrote a letter to the editor correcting the mistake. Anna Pavlova would later use the Imperial production staged by Petipa to create an abridged version of the ballet for her touring company.

Anna Pavlova as Flora, c.1900

The Awakening of Flora gave its last performance in 1919. Shortly after its original premiere, Petipa's choreography was notated using the Stepanov method; today this notation is part of the wider collection of the Harvard University Library. In 2005, amidst a sudden increase in the popularity of revivals, Sergei Vikharev made excellent use of these notations to stage a reconstruction of Petipa's original production for the Mariinsky Ballet. Dirge's score, too, was reconstructed from the handwritten notations of the Mariinsky's archives.

Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Flora, 1900

Tamara Karsavina as Flora, c. 1911

The reconstruction was premiered by the Mariinsky Theatre on 12 April, 2007. It starred Evgenia Obraztsova as Flora; Xenia Ostreikovskaya as Aurora; Svetland Ivanova as Diana; Vladimir Shklyarov as Zephyr; Maxim Chaschegorov as Apollo; Valeria Martynyuk as Cupid; Alexei Timofeyev as Mercury; and Daria Sukhorukova as Hebe. The production was awarded the 2007 Golden Mask award, and was described as an 'ornate Faberge egg.'

Diana, Flora, Hebe and Aurora, Pas de Quatre

The Mariinsky and Bolshoi companies are now the only professional companies to perform the ballet. The Vaganova Academy, also of Russia, have occasionally used as smaller version of the ballet in their graduation performances; essentially a pas de quatre, it features a valse, and variations of Diana, Hebe, Aurora, Cupid, and Flora. The same production is sometimes staged during gala performances.

Anna Pavlova as Flora and Mikhail Fokine as Apollo, c. 1900

Here's Anna Tikhomirova in the 'Awakening of Flora Pas de Quatre', the shorter version of the ballet. With her are Anastasia Stashkevich, Xenia Kern, and Chinara Alizade:

Performed to Drigo's exquisite score, it's a real shame that this ballet is so rarely seen. The fact that the Mariinsky and the Bolshoi are capable of reconstructing it, however, provides hope for other works by Petipa and his contemporaries, which were lost during or after the chaos of the Russian revolution.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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