#Throwback Thursday: The Fairy Doll

This week's #ThrowbackThursday features the ballet The Fairy Doll.

Anna Pavlova, 'The Fairy Doll'

The Fairy Doll began life as Die Puppenfee (originally called Im Puppenladen, 'In the Doll Shop'), to music by Austrian composer Josef Bayer (he created around 20 one-act ballets, and also finished Strauss' score for Cinderella in 1900, but is primarily remembered for Fairy Doll). Fairy Doll premiered at the Vienna Court Opera on October 4 1888, and was the greatest success of all the Austrian court ballets.

Sketch for Fairy Doll costume, Leon Bakst

The Fairy Doll was inspired by E.T.A Hoffman's 1815 tale The Sandman, in which a mechanical doll comes to life. If this sounds familiar, it's because the story inspired three other ballets: Offenbach's score for The Tales of Hoffman, Delibes' score for Coppelia, and, much later, Massine's ballet La Boutique Fantasque. The original production of The Fairy Doll was choreographed by the Austrian Court ballet master, Joseph Hassreiter, had a libretto by Hassreiter and F. Gaul, and starred Camilla Pagliero as the Fairy Doll. In the original, the title role was mimed.

Irina Chistyakova and partner rehearse Fairy Doll, Kirov Ballet American Tour, 1987

The curtain opens on a busy toy shop. The toymaker shows a number of his creations to an English family, but they are not impressed until they see the Fairy Doll. The English family buy her and arrange for her to be delivered. Pleased with his sale, the toymaker locks up for the night. On the stroke of midnight, the dolls come alive, and perform a number of dances involving cymbals and drums. Disturbed by the noise, the toymaker rushes inside, only to find everything in order, and the toys gathered around the Fairy Doll.

Anna Pavlova in 'The Fairy Doll', watercolour by Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks, White Lodge Museum, The Royal Ballet School

There have been several other versions of the ballet. Clustine did a version for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow in 1901, and the Legat brothers, Nikolai and Sergei, staged a version for the Mariinsky in 1903. To this version was added a Pas de Trois, to music almost certainly by Drigo (either taken from Harlequinade or another unnamed work, or possibly even commissioned). The two male roles are extremely similar and may have been danced by the brothers themselves (the younger brother, Sergei, was a virtuoso for whom many of the more daring male variations were originally created). The premiere of the ballet was given, according to a biography of ballerina Lydia Lopokova (who, as one of Fokine's favourite students, danced in it at the age of 11), in the Tsar's small private theatre at what is now the Hermitage museum. Lopokova later noted that, since the Imperial family was seated in armchairs only a short distance from the stage, it had made her very uncomfortable to hear the Tsar laughing during the ballet's more comical scenes. This production also featured Anna Pavlova, who danced the Spanish variation.

Lydia Lopokova, aged 11, in costume for the premiere of the Legat brother's 'The Fairy Doll', St. Petersburg, 1903, photograph from the collection of Robert Grescovic, from the book 'Bloomsbury Ballerina' by Judith Mackrell

In 1914, Pavlova restaged an 'improved' version of The Fairy Doll with choreography by Ivan Clustine for her own company. it became one of the most famous items in her repertoire during her world tours of the 1920s. In direct competition, Sergei Diaghilev commissioned for his Ballets Russes (of which Lopokova was a part) Leonide Massine's La Boutique Fantasque in 1919, to an arranged Rossini score, which had a more satirical tone than other versions.

Above: Anna Pavlova and partner Alexander Volonine, 'The Fairy Doll', The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1923; Below: Lydia Lopokova dressed for Massine's 'La Boutique Fantasque'

Various versions continue to be performed. The Vienna State Opera still performs the Hassreiter version (or as close to that version as may be expected) today, and the ballet marked it's 750th performance with the company in 1973. In 1989, Richard Slaughter recreated Pavlova's version for Ballet Creations of London's A Portrait of Pavlova, before staging the full ballet for Bournemouth Ballet Club in 1992. The Legat brother's version survives at the Mariinsky as the Fairy Doll Pas de Trois, and both it and the full ballet are still sometimes performed as a graduation or gala piece.

Here's the full ballet in a performance by Vaganova students in 1990:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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