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#Throwback Thursday: Le Pavillon d'Armide

This week's #ThrowbackThursday features a little-known ballet from the turn of the 20th century, Le Pavillon d'Armide.

Above and below: Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky in the Mariinsky premiere of 'Le Pavillon d'Armide', 1907

The story, set in the reign of King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715), follows the young Vicomte Rene de Beaugency, who takes refuge at the castle of the Marquis de Fierbois during a storm. The Marquis, an old magician, shows the Vicomte to rooms known as Armide's Pavilion for the night. There he finds a Gobelins tapestry on the wall, showing the sorceress Armide and her court. He falls asleep and dreams that Armida and her courtiers come to life and perform a series of dances. At the encouragement of King Hidraot (a member of Armida's court who bears a suspicious resemblance to the Marquis de Fierbois), the Vicomte falls in love with Armide. She gives him her scarf as a token of her love. When he wakes up, the Vicomte is shocked to discover that he is holding Armide's scarf, while her image on the tapestry is not.

Above and below: Alexandre Benois' set designs for 'Le Pavillon d'Armide', Mariinsky, 1907

Le Pavillon d'Armide (The Pavilion of Armida) is a one-act ballet based on Theophile Gautier's 1834 short story Omphale. It was choreographed by Mikhail Fokine to music by Nikolai Tcherepnin with a libretto and designs by Alexandre Benois. The ballet premiered on November 25 1907 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. The original cast included Anna Pavlova as Armide (a role that, rumour had it, was originally going to go to Mathilde Kschessinskaya), Vaslav Nijinsky as Armide's favourite slave, and Pavel Gerdt as the Vicomte Rene de Beaugency. Benois initially proposed the subject as a topic for a ballet to the director of the Imperial Theatres, but was denied. However, the director approved of Tcherepnin's score, and thus Fokine was allowed to create the ballet. The work was originally created for the 1907 graduation performance of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet Academy, before expanding it as a piece for the Mariinsky company. The famous virtuoso role of the slave was added as part of the graduation performance for Vaslav Nijinsky.

Above: 'Russian Ballet', Pavlova and Nijinsky in 'Le Pavillon d'Armide', oil on canvas, by Sergei Sudeikin; Below: Anna Pavlova as Armide in 'Le Pavillon d'Armide', Mariinsky premiere, 1907

The ballet was the very first to be performed by Sergei Diaghilev's newly formed Ballets Russes. Their version premiered at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on May 19 1909. The cast included Vera Karalli as Armide, and Mikhail Mordkin as the Vicomte, with Nijinsky reprising his role as the slave. The work was a great success, partly because of its French theme. The ballet was then lost as the Ballets Russes began to perform ever more modern ballets, and the Mariinsky Theatre's repertoire was cleaned out after the Revolution in 1917. A reconstruction was staged in 2007, and is still occasionally performed, mostly as a graduation piece, or more notably at a gala celebrating the life of Nijinsky.

Above and Below: Tamara Karsavina as Armide in the Ballets Russes production, dates unknown

Thanks for reading!

- Selene


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