(Excerpts from Lev Ivanov's memoirs,
from St. Petersburg's Theatre Museum)
I was born in 1834. My earliest recollection of myself is at six or seven years of age. My father was a rather severe and serious person. My mother was extraordinary kind and very quiet. My parents had had other children, but I don't remember them, because they died in infancy. My father , a merchant of the first «guild», was a contractor. He built houses, roads, highways and so forth. He was not uneducated, simple man, as are the majority of constructors. He was educated, intelligent and cultivated. As I remember, we lived in a rather modest apartment at first. Later, with improving circumstances, we moved to a large, elegant apartment. Finally, my father acquired his own stone house and horses. At the age of eight I was sent to boarding school. After two or three years there, I joined the Theatrical Academy.
This is how it came pass: Father loved theatre, particularly the Alexandrinsky
Theatre, where he once took all of us. The performance consisted of several
one-act plays, and of a small ballet, «Don Juan». This ballet,
along with the play «The school Teacher», made a great impression
on me. The students of the Theatrical Academy were among the performers.
When we returned home, Father asked me what I had enjoyed most. I enthusiastically
began to praise the presentations, and declared that I wanted to be a young
actor like the ones that appeared in the play. My family laughed, and my
mother added that being an artist was very difficult work and required
much study. My father reacted differently, saying, «Why not send
him to the Theatrical Academy? Perhaps this is his destiny and his career».
Thus, I came to the Theatrical Academy, and my father's words were justified,
since I became not an entirely bad artist.
The drama pupils performed predominantly classical plays, but sometimes
also comedies and vaudeville. The ballet pupils performed small dancers
and divertissements. The music pupils played concerts on different instruments
during intermissions. There was even a student orchestra conducting by
old man Mauer, the well-known director of all theatrical orchestras. Famous
artists taught the drama classes: Sosnitsky, P.A. Karatygin, P.I. Grigoriev
and V.V. Samoylov. Later, this class was taken by the man-of-letters Vasilko-Petrov.
Even later it was taught by elocution teacher N.I. Svedontsov. He taught
me to have a good appearance and an aptitude for reading most dramatic
works effectively. At that time, all pupils had to study drama and elocution.
However, I refused, since I truly loved ballet.
Finally, my work at the theatre began. I was given my freedom. How wonderful,
that word «freedom» is to one who had spent eight years in
an enclosed institution. Incidentally, my work began even before graduation.
At the age of sixteen, still a student, I danced in the ballets: Catarina,
La Esmeralda, La Filleule des Fees (staged by the choreographer Perrot)
with the famous star Fanny Elssler.
Suddenly, I began to dance several roles. In «Esmeralda» I
danced Kshessinsky's part, the role of Claude Frollo. In «Faust»
I took over Johansson's role as Valentin. In «Coppelia» I took
over Stukolkin's role as Doctor Coppelius, and many other small parts which
I now do not even remember. From then on, I acquired a reputation as a
young premier danseur. When M. Petipa was appointed as choreographer, I
fully replaced him in his roles as first mime dancer and as first dancer.
I will allow myself to provide one more bit advice: Do not be overly vain. Do not consider yourselves better than others. Be modest, since through great vanity and egoism you can lose it all. This is the same as the physical worker who undermines his strength by carrying excess weight. Excess vanity can equally destroy your talent. I beg of you, kind friends. Do not ignore my less-then-literary tale. I do not pretend that this is a great literary work. These are only my notes, and memoirs, which I wanted to share with you. I also wanted to point my young colleagues on correct life path. Therefore, I hope that you will be well-disposed towards me.
Having concluded my memoirs, I would like to ask you to accept kindly my suggestion about how to relate to your work and to your art. I am always surprised at your careless and cold approach to it. Let us, for instance, take the matter of our rehearsals. You are always appearing later than expected, and with the preconceived idea of finishing and leaving right away. You never think about the fact that you make the choreographer and the director wait for half-an- hour or more. You are not interested in your profession. During rehearsals you do as you please. You gossip, you walk, you fool around, you joke. You do everything except what you are there to do. Why is this? Because you are not artist but marionettes, who can't move, no matter how hard one pulls on the string. You rehears unwillingly and lazily. As a result, you remain equally wooden during performance. Because of this, our art suffers.
Of course, there are some among you who do not act this way. However, these are very few. If all of you, to the last line of the corps the ballet, performed as you should-that is, as the choreographer taught you, then you could consider yourselves to be artists. All of this stems from your vanity. Each of you considers yourself to be more talented that you are in reality. Whoever among you ends up in the last line of the corps, immediately thinks that he or she can slack off and perform any which way. Whoever acts like this sins against his or her work, against his or her art and even against her vanity and self-respect. Because the public sees all this and laughs at you. Not in vain does the public call you «the dancers by the water». This is a slap to your self-respect. Sometimes, you, the corps, perform some passage beautifully, as if a gleam of light had fallen on you. However, it is as if a meteorite had flashed by and then disappeared. You tell me that part was well-staged. You are wrong. There are no bad parts. Everything depends on dancers. If you perform artistically, then good dancing and dancers appear on the stage.
Excuse me, good co-workers, if I speak these truths sharply. Do not get
angry at an old man for this. I would like for you not to be like statues.
would like to see some life and energy within you. I would like for you
to stop looking at art as simply an occupation that provides you with a
salary and feeds you. I would like for you to love ballet and to hold its
How wonderful it would be if you, my kind co-workers, were to listen to
my advice and adopt it as rule. Then our work would become better. Now
our ballet company stands high, but it would then stand even higher when
compared to foreign companies. Please forgive me once again that I have
said to you, and that so often I get angry with you during rehearsals.
However, all this comes because I so love my work and my art. I wish for
it to continue flourishing, and wish you much success and all the best