#Throwback Thursday: The Red Poppy

Today's #Throwback Thursday features Soviet-era ballet The Red Poppy.

Soviet postage stamp showing Tai-Choa from 'The Red Poppy'

Sometimes called The Red Flower, The Red Poppy is set in a Chinese port in the 1920s. Ships have docked from all over the world, including a ship from Soviet Russia. The Captain of the Soviet ship notices a group of half-starved labourers being overworked by the harbourmaster. One night, the dancer Tai-Choa (sometimes Taohua) notices the Captain attempting to free the labourers while she entertains the sailors. Impressed by the Captain's kindness, Tai-Choa gives him a red poppy as a symbol of her love. When Tai-Choa's fiancé Li-Chan-Fou learns of this, he becomes jealous and orders her to kill the Captain. Tai-Choa refuses, and is killed later that night during a riot at the docks. As she dies, she gives another Chinese girl a red poppy as a symbol of love and freedom.

Scenes from the 1927 premiere of 'The Red Poppy'

The full-length ballet (in three acts, eight scenes and an apotheosis) was created in 1927 to be the first Soviet ballet with a modern revolutionary theme. The original ballet was choreographed by Lev Lashchiline (Act I & III), and Vasily Tikhomirov (Act II), to music by Reinhold Gliere and a libretto by Mikhail Kurilko. The ballet premiered at the First People's State Theatre for Opera and Ballet (previously the Bolshoi Theatre) on June 14 1927. The original cast included Lashchiline as the Harbourmaster, Alexei Boulgakov and Mikhail Dudko as the Captain (shared role), Yekaterina Geltzer and Viktorina Kriger as Tai-Choa (shared role), and Ivan Smoltsov as Li-Chan-Fou. The ballet was a frequent performance piece for obvious reasons, and was often used as propaganda, showing as it did ideology of the Soviets in a benevolent and inevitable light. By December 23 1928, it had already been performed 100 times.

Scenes from the 1927 premiere of 'The Red Poppy', including the celebrated Russian Sailor Dance (below)

In 1943, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo staged a one-act version of the ballet in Cleveland, Ohio, which premiered on October 9 1943. Since the production occurred during wartime, the ballet was changed to reflect the alliance between the Americans and the Soviets; American and British sailors were included in the famous Russian Sailor Dance scenes, while the villain, Li-Chan-Fou, was turned into a Japanese bar owner. This production starred Frederic Franklin and Alexandra Danilova. In 1957, the ballet was extended by Vasily Tikhomirov and Mikhail Kurilko under the title The Red Flower. It premiered on November 24 1957.

Galina Ulanova as Tai-Choa, c.1949

Previously, in 1949, Leonid Lavrovsky had choreographed a new version of The Red Poppy to a libretto by AlekseyYermolayev. The ballet premiered on December 30 1949 at the Bolshoi Theatre, starring Alexander Radunsky and Galina Ulanova. This version also introduced a new character, Ma Lichen. In 2010, two new versions premiered within months of each other. A production with choreography by Nikolay Androsov premiered at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma on February 12 2010, with a cameo appearance by the legendary ballerina Carla Fracci as the new character Nuwa, goddess of fertility. Meanwhile a new production choreographed by Vladimir Vasiliev premiered on November 23 2010 at the Krasnoyarsk Ballet and Opera Theatre.

Daria Khokhlova as Tai-Choa

Here's the full-length work in a Czechoslovakian television screening from 1955 (and thus performed in the original Soviet style):

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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