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#Throwback Thursday: Cleopatra

This week's #ThrowbackThursday focuses on the early 20th century ballet Cleopatra.

Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokine, 1909

Cleopatra, or Cléopatre, is a one-act dramatic ballet choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. Set in Egypt, the ballet follows the young lovers Ta-Hor and Amoun. They are meeting in secret at a temple when the high priest arrives to announce the arrival of Queen Cleopatra. Amoun falls in love with the queen, who agrees to spend the night with him on one condition - he must drink poison the following morning. Ta-Hor tries to bring Amoun to his senses, but to no avail. In the morning, Ta-Hor goes back to the temple, where she finds Amoun lying dead.

Anna Pavlova and Mikhail Fokine, 1909

The ballet originates with Fokine's 1908 production Une Nuit d'Egypte, which premiered at the Mariinsky on March 2, 1908. The production borrowed most of its sets and costumes from The Pharaoh's Daughter and Aida, though the soloists had new costumes designed by Leon Bakst. During this production, the role of Ta-Hor was danced by Alexandra Danilova. The ballet had essentially the same storyline as Cleopatra.

Anna Pavlova and Laurent Novikoff, Ivy House

Cleopatra came into being in 1909, when the Ballets Russes staged it in Paris on June 2. This was Ballets Russes' opening season, and the production starred Anna Pavlova as Ta-Hor, Fokine himself played Amoun, Ida Rubinstein played Cleopatra (one of Fokine's students, she was not a professional dancer), and Cleopatra's favourite slaves were danced by Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky. The music from the original production - by Anton Arensky - was supplemented with music by Taneyev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka, Glazunov, Mussorgsky, and Tcherepnin.

Anna Pavlova

During a tour to Latin America in 1917, the set (which had been designed by Leon Bakst) were lost to a fire. When Diaghilev decided to revive the ballet, he had Robert Delauney create new sets, while his wife Sonia Delauney created new costumes. The new production premiered in London on September 5, 1918, with Lubov Tchernicheva and Leonide Massine joining the cast.

Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917

Cleopatra was one of the Ballets Russes' most sumptuous productions, especially when performed with Bakst's set and costumes. The ballet caused a sensation, mainly because of the costumes; the dancers wore inserts called 'fleshings' to give the illusion of bare skin. The ballet, along with another of the Ballets Russes' productions, Scheherazade, fuelled the audience's enthusiasm for exoticism.

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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