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#Throwback Thursday: Le Spectre de la rose

Today's #ThrowbackThursday focuses on a short and sweet ballet named Le Spectre de la rose, or The Spirit of the Rose.

A Mariinsky revival

The story is a simple one. The curtain rise on a girl's bedroom. The Young Girl enters, dressed in a white gown. She has just returned from her first ball, and she holds a red rose as a memory of the evening. Exhausted, she drops into a chair and falls asleep. The rose falls from her hand, and The Spirit of the Rose appears at her window. He enters the room and approaches The Young Girl. Still asleep, she dances with him. He kisses her and leaps out of the window, back into the night. The Young Girl wakes, picks up the rose she has dropped, and kisses it. The curtain falls.

A Mariinsky revival

The ballet premiered on 19 April 1991, danced by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Tamara Karsavina danced The Young Girl, and Vaslav Nijinsky danced The Spirit of the Rose. Diaghilev was surprised by the ballet's success; he thought it only a little trifle, but it became one of the company's most beloved ballets.

Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, of the Ballets Russes, 1911 premiere

Originally, Diaghilev had planned to stage Nijinsky's Afternoon of a Faun, but the ballet was not yet ready. In 1910, writer Jean-Louis Vaudoyer had sent Diaghilev an idea for a ballet, which he had based off a verse by Theophile Gautier. It was developed into Le Spectre de la Rose, which became Afternoon of a Faun's replacement.

Nijinsky and Karsavina

Mikhail Fokine choreographed the ballet to an 1819 piece for piano by Carl Maria von Webber, called Afforderung zum Tanz. He used an 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz. The ballet was completed in three or four rehearsals, and Fokine later wrote that it was almost an improvisation. The costumes were designed by Leon Bakst; Nijinsky's was essentially a silk elastic leotard covered with silk leaves, which the wardrobe mistress would touch up after every rehearsal with her curling iron. He had to be sewn into the costume for every performance. Sometimes, the petals would come loose as Nijinsky danced and fell to the floor; Nijinsky's servant Vasili would collect them and sell them to fans.

Nijinsky in costume as The Spectre of the Rose

The ballet was famous for Nijinsky's exiting leap, which looked spectacular through the illusion of height. The skirting board around the window which he jumped through was very low, giving the impression of great height. By the 20th century, the work had become a stunt ballet, with audiences only paying to see the leap at the end.

Margot Fonteyn and Alexis Rassine, 1944

Since Nijinsky, many dancers have interpreted the role of The Spectre of the Rose, but it is generally agreed that none of them have matched Nijinsky's brilliance in the role; this is partly because the ballet was created on him to match his particular strengths. The role of The Young Girl has steadily become routine, and is often referred to as 'the forgotten woman of ballet'.

The original Young Girl, Tamara Karsavina, coaches Margot Fonteyn in the role

Le Spectre de la Rose was one of the first ballets danced by Rudolf Nureyev on his arrival in the West. He first performed it in 1961. He and Margot Fonteyn danced the ballet for their last performance together, in 1979, when Fonteyn was 60. The work has also been performed by the New York City Ballet, the Australian Ballet, and the Mariinsky Theatre.

Another rehearsal shot of Margot Fonteyn and Tamara Karsavina

Here's Mikhail Baryshnikov and Marianne Tcherkassky performing the ballet at Wolftrap Farm Park, in Vienna, Virginia, 1976:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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