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Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, choreographer


 

(Compiled February 1999)

 

Born in Moscow February 18, 1834, Lev Ivanovich Ivanov was the son of Tio Adamova, possibly of Georgian origin. Ivanov had a sad childhood in which he was shunted around by his mother between a foundling hospital and a merchant’s family before being removed to a boarding school. At ten years old Ivanov was enrolled at the Imperial School of Ballet where he was a pupil of Marius Petipa’s father, Jean Petipa. As a student he danced with Fanny Elssler in Catarina, Esmeralda and La Filleule des Fées. Ivanov was a natural musician; he could play, by ear, the entire score of a ballet on the piano. This talent was not universally respected. The director of the theater school threatened to "let him rot for his uncontrollable inclination toward music." Despite invitations to join the Conservatoire of Music, he showed no enthusiasm for music theory. Although he composed several pieces, he never learned how to write them in manuscript.

On his sixteenth birthday, two years before he graduated from school in 1852, Ivanov had joined the Imperial Ballet under the direction of Jules Perrot. His only reward for such early employment was his continued education at the school. After graduating, his yearly salary was 300 roubles. Ivanov eventually rose to the rank of principal dancer, making his mark as a mime and creator of numerous character roles. In 1858 Ivanov began to teach at the theater school and in 1882 became the chief regisseur of the Maryinsky Theater. 1883 brought him the Gold Medal with the Stanislaus ribbon in recognition of his outstanding services. In 1885 he was appointed second ballet master, the assistant to Marius Petipa. In 1891 he was awarded the Order of Stanislaus, 3rd Class, and in 1893 the Order of Anne, 3rd Class. In 1991 he received the Order of Stanislaus, 2nd Class.

Ivanov married twice and had three children by each wife. His first wife was Vera Lyadova, an actress, dancer and singer whom he married in 1859. They had danced together in what may have been Ivanov’s first piece of choreography, a bolero during Auber’s La Muette de Portici in 1857. Vera fell ill and died in March 1870, one year after the two had separated over personal differences. His second wife in 1875 was Varvara Ivanova, whose stage name was Malchugina. His was a constant struggle for financial stability, and even at the end of his life he was forced to petition for money. The authorities always seemed to forward him the requested money, even though there was little chance of repayment. Even after his death they continued to support his family for many years.

While preparing a new production of Sylvia, Ivanov was seized with periods of intense fatigue and became ill. He died in St. Petersburg on December 11, 1901.

History has conspired to make the naturally retiring Ivanov even more of an enigma. He danced at a time when all attention was paid to the ballerina, his choreography was always in the shadow of the more renowned Petipa and he was a Russian at a time when Russian ballet paid greater respect to foreigners. By his own admission Ivanov was never one to make a decision himself. Having been a premier danseur, then ballet master and eventually Petipa's assistant, he became a choreographer by command of his superiors. The terms of his agreement with Petipa were such that his choreography was always subject to Petipa’s approval, who often altered or edited it. Though perhaps lacking in self confidence, Ivanov did produce some wonderfully poignant choreography. His most famous contributions to ballet are The Nutcracker (1892) and the 'white' acts of Swan Lake (1894-5); however, he also choreographed versions of La Fille mal Gardée (his first full ballet), The Haarlem Tulip (1887), The Magic Flute (1893), The Awakening of Flora (1893) and Coppélia.

Choreographically, Ivanov's taste lay closer to the Romantic era in which he grew up than the new Classical era of Petipa. However, he never truly escaped from under Petipa’s wing. Dance critic Barbara Newman wrote "Momentarily freed from the constraints of the [Petipa] libretto, for The Dance of the Snowflakes Ivanov focused his attention on the physical look and emotional feel of a snowstorm, and came up with a masterpiece of simplicity that embodied the music perfectly and drew unanimous praise."

Although he did not leave a large legacy of dance works, Ivanov’s influence did bear fruit in the revolutionary work of Mikhail Fokine for The Ballets Russes.

Perhaps it is fitting to remember a late entry in Ivanov’s own diary: "May you ever be blessed with the spirit and strength not to regard your profession merely as a means of livelihood, but as an Art to which you are resolved to dedicate your very soul."

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