Léonide Massine

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Léonide Massine
Massine, Leonide (1895-1979) - 1914 - Ritratto da Leon Bakst.jpg
Massine in a portrait by Léon Bakst, 1914
Native name
Леони́д Фёдорович Мя́син
Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin

(1896-08-09)9 August 1896
Died15 March 1979(1979-03-15) (aged 82)
OccupationDancer, choreographer
Years active1915–1948
Spouse(s)Vera Savina (née Vera Clark)
Eugenia Delarova
Tatiana Orlova (div. 1968)
Hannelore Holtwick
Awards National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame, 2002

Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin (Russian : Леони́д Фёдорович Мя́син), better known in the West by the French transliteration as Léonide Massine (9 August [ O.S. 28 July] 1896 15 March 1979), was a Russian choreographer and ballet dancer. Massine created the world's first symphonic ballet, Les Présages, and many others in the same vein. Besides his "symphonic ballets," Massine choreographed many other popular works during his long career, some of which were serious and dramatic, and others lighthearted and romantic. [1] He created some of his most famous roles in his own comic works, among them the Can-Can Dancer in La Boutique fantasque (1919), the Hussar in Le Beau Danube (1924), and, perhaps best known of all, the Peruvian in Gaîté Parisienne (1938). Today his oeuvre is represented by his son Theodor Massine.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Old Style and New Style dates 16th-century changes in calendar conventions

Old Style (O.S.) and New Style (N.S.) are terms sometimes used with dates to indicate that the calendar convention used at the time described is different from that in use at the time the document was being written. There were two calendar changes in Great Britain and its colonies, which may sometimes complicate matters: the first was to change the start of the year from Lady Day to 1 January; the second was to discard the Julian calendar in favour of the Gregorian calendar. Closely related is the custom of dual dating, where writers gave two consecutive years to reflect differences in the starting date of the year, or to include both the Julian and Gregorian dates.

Choreography the art of arranging movements, such as in dance

Choreography is the art or practice of designing sequences of movements of physical bodies in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself. A choreographer is one who creates choreographies by practicing the art of choreography, a process known as choreographing. Choreography is used in a variety of fields, including musical theater, cheerleading, cinematography, gymnastics, fashion shows, ice skating, marching band, show choir, theatre, synchronized swimming, cardistry, video game production and animated art. In the performing arts, choreography applies to human movement and form. In dance, choreography is also known as dance choreography or dance composition.


Early life and education

Massine was born into a musical family on August 9th, 1895 in Moscow, Russia. His mother was a soprano in the Bolshoi Theater Chorus and his father played the French horn in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra. Leonid was one of five children. He had three brothers, Mikhail, Gregori, and Konstantin – as well as one sister - Raissa. Due to their small age difference, Leonid and Konstantin were very close during childhood. Beginning when Leonid was seven, the Massine family spent most summers at their summer dacha in Zvenigorod-Moskovsky.

In 1904, Leonid successfully auditioned for the Moscow Imperial Theater School. At only eight years old, he began his formal dance training. The next year, the director of the Bolshoi Theater, Alexander Gorsky, was looking for a small boy to play the role of Chernomor in the ballet Ruslan and Ludmilla. Leonid was selected for the role. This performance and rehearsal period ignited his lifelong passion for acting. Leonid was selected for three more professional roles at the Bolshoi and Maly Theaters through the 1908-1909 season.

In 1909, Konstantin was killed during a hunting accident. Leonid never seemed to fully recover from the shock and devastation of this personal tragedy.

In August 1913, Massine graduated from the Moscow Imperial Theater School and almost immediately joined the Bolshoi Ballet. In December of the same year, Serge Diaghilev came to Moscow in search of a dancer for a new production of The Legend of Joseph. His lover, Vaslav Nijinsky, had originally been cast in the role, but Diaghilev terminated Nijinsky's contract upon his marriage to Romola de Pulszky. Diaghilev was attracted to Massine's onstage presence and acting, and invited him to audition for the choreographer, Mikhail Fokine. After the audition in St. Petersburg, Massine joined Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.

Ballets Russes

From 1915 to 1921 Massine was the principal choreographer of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Sergei Diaghilev Russian art critic

Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, usually referred to outside Russia as Serge Diaghilev, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.

Ballets Russes

The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.

Following the departure of Vaslav Nijinsky, the company's first male star, Massine became the preeminent male star and took over Nijinsky's roles. [2] His first ballet, in 1915, called Le Soleil de Nuit, used Russian folklore elements. The ballet Parade premiered at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, on May 18th 1917. The ballet is based on a libretto by Jean Cocteau. Parade is about a group of circus performers trying to lure a reluctant audience into the tent before the show begins. The sets and costume designs were by Pablo Picasso, who designed large cubist structures for the dancers to wear. The score was composed by Erik Satie, who used sounds from an airplane's engine, pistol shots, and a ship's siren to accompany the music. [3] Le Tricorn, better known as The Three Cornered Hat, premiered at the Alhambra Theater in London, on July 22nd, 1919. Manuel de Falla composed the score and Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes. Massine's collaborators, all Spanish, helped to make this ballet more authentic to its subject matter. Le Tricorn was a triumphant success. The story was inspired by the novel El sombrero de tres picos (1874) by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. In order to authentically depict the Spanish character dances, Massine carefully studied the authentic Spanish character dance style. [4]

Vaslav Nijinsky Russian ballet dancer and choreographer

Vaslav Nijinsky was a ballet dancer and choreographer cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. Born in Kiev to Polish parents, Nijinsky grew up in Imperial Russia but considered himself to be Polish. He was celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations. He could dance en pointe, a rare skill among male dancers at the time and was admired for his seemingly gravity-defying leaps.

Manuel de Falla Spanish composer

Manuel de Falla y Matheu was a Spanish composer. Along with Isaac Albéniz, Francisco Tárrega, and Enrique Granados, he was one of Spain's most important musicians of the first half of the 20th century. His image appeared on Spain's 1970 100-pesetas banknote.

Pablo Picasso 20th-century Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer

Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, stage designer, poet and playwright who spent most of his adult life in France. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, he is known for co-founding the Cubist movement, the invention of constructed sculpture, the co-invention of collage, and for the wide variety of styles that he helped develop and explore. Among his most famous works are the proto-Cubist Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), and Guernica (1937), a dramatic portrayal of the bombing of Guernica by the German and Italian airforces during the Spanish Civil War.

Col. de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo

When George Balanchine left de Basil's company in 1933, Massine replaced him as resident choreographer. Massine's ballets during this period were reminiscent of Fyodor Lopukhov's Tanzsymphonia, in that an emphasis on the music drove the choreography. He continued to use symphonic music by well-known composers. [5]

In 1933, Massine created the world's first symphonic ballet, Les Présages, using Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. [6] This caused a furor amongst musical purists, who objected to a serious symphonic work being used as the basis of a ballet. Undeterred, Massine continued work on Choreartium, set to Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which had its premiere on 24 October 1933 at the Alhambra Theatre in London. Massine also choreographed a ballet to Hector Berlioz's 1830 Symphonie Fantastique and danced the role of The Young Musician with Tamara Toumanova as The Beloved at its premiere at Covent Garden, London, on 24 July 1936 with Colonel Wassily de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. [7]

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Russian composer

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, was a Russian composer of the romantic period, whose works are among the most popular music in the classical repertoire. He was the first Russian composer whose music made a lasting impression internationally, bolstered by his appearances as a guest conductor in Europe and the United States. He was honored in 1884 by Emperor Alexander III, and awarded a lifetime pension.

The Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was composed between May and August 1888 and was first performed in St Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre on November 17 of that year with Tchaikovsky conducting. It is dedicated to Theodor Avé-Lallemant.

Johannes Brahms German composer and pianist

Johannes Brahms was a German composer, pianist, and conductor of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria. His reputation and status as a composer are such that he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

Massine & Blum's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo

Leaving Col. de Basil's company, in 1937 Massine and René Blum (himself a former associate of de Basil's) acquired financing from Julius Fleischmann, Jr.'s World Art, Inc. to create a new ballet company, [8] with Massine as the resident choreographer. Massine soon discovered that the ballets he had choreographed while under contract with Col. de Basil were owned by his company. Massine sued Col. de Basil in London to regain the intellectual property rights to his own works. He also sued to claim the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo name. [9] The jury decided that Col. de Basil owned Massine's ballets created between 1932 and 1937, but not those created before 1932. [10] It also ruled that both successor companies could use the name Ballet Russe — but only Massine & Blum's company could be called Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Col. de Basil finally settled on the Original Ballet Russe . [9]

René Blum was a French theatrical impresario. He was the founder of the Ballet de l'Opéra at Monte Carlo and was the younger brother of the Socialist Prime Minister of France, Léon Blum.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of both England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

The Original Ballet Russe was a ballet company established in 1931 by René Blum and Colonel Wassily de Basil as a successor to the Ballets Russes, founded in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev. The company assumed the new name Original Ballet Russe after a split between de Basil and Blum. De Basil led the renamed company, while Blum and others founded a new company under the name Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo. It was a large scale professional ballet company which toured extensively in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, the United States, and Central and South America. It closed down operations in 1947.

The new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo debuted in 1938; Massine choreographed Gaîté Parisienne , set to music by Jacques Offenbach, which premiered on April 5 at the Théâtre de Monte Carlo. [11] [12] Gaîté Parisienne was one of Massine's most celebrated works during this time. Instead of a whole, singular composition for the score, Offenbach created a series of divertissements. This allowed Massine to use a wide variety of dancers and tempi, all while conveying a single narrative. Massine revived the piece for American Ballet Theater in 1970. Lorca Massine and Susanna della Pietra mounted an additional revival for ABT in 1988. In this production, the costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix, who created animated and eccentric costumes based on his own 1987 haute couture collection. [13]

A month after premiering Gaîté Parisienne Massine produced Seventh Symphony, to Beethoven's score. It premiered on 5 May 1938 in Monte Carlo, with Alicia Markova, Nini Theilade, Frederic Franklin, and Igor Youskevitch as the principal dancers.

Massine left Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1943.

Bay Area

In 1977 Massine moved to the San Francisco/Bay Area to begin a series of choreographic workshops, as well as revive his work Le Beau Danube for the Marin Ballet. At the same time, Massine was working on plans for Parisina, which was to be performed by Natalia Makarova. However, Makarova began to suspect her part was originated on another dancer and pulled out of the project. Massine was appointed resident choreographer of the Marin Ballet. He began work on a new production of The Nutcracker, which was never seen outside the studio. [14]

Film work

Massine appeared in two feature length films by the British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger: The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). He also had a cameo appearance in Powell's later film Honeymoon (1959). Massine starred in several films of ballet short subjects. For Warner Brothers, he starred with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a short Technicolor film of his ballet Capriccio Espagnol, entitled Spanish Fiesta (1942). He choreographed and danced in the 1947 20th Century Fox color film Carnival in Costa Rica , and also choreographed and appeared as Pulcinella in the film Carosello Napoletano. In 1941, Warner Bros made an attempt at a film version of the ballet of Gaîté Parisienne, entitled The Gay Parisian. The attempt was not well received, partly due to the fact that the signature role, played by Alexandra Danilova in the original work, was recast on a lesser dancer, Milada Mladova.

Personal life

In his youth, Massine was the protégé and lover of Diaghilev. In later life he enjoyed numerous love affairs with beautiful women and had four wives. His first two wives, Vera Savina (née Vera Clark) and Eugenia Delarova, were both ballet dancers. With his third wife, Tatiana Orlova, he had two children, a son, Lorca, and a daughter, Tatiania. He and Orlova divorced in 1968. He subsequently married Hannelore Holtwick, with whom he had two sons, Peter and Theodor, and made his home in Borken, West Germany, where he died on 15 March 1979. [15]

In 1968 Massine published his autobiography, entitled My Life in Ballet.


Massine was inducted into the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame in 2002.

Major works

See also

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  1. Janet Sinclair, "Massine, Léonide," in International Dictionary of Ballet, edited by Martha Bremser (Detroit: St. James Press, 1993), vol. 2, pp. 918–22. Includes biographical facts, an interpretive essay, and extensive chronologies of roles performed and works created.
  2. Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
  3. Au, Susan (1988). Ballet and Modern Dance (2nd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson LTD (pg 106108)
  4. Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 13)
  5. Au, Susan (1988). Ballet and Modern Dance (2nd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson LTD (pg 110111)
  6. Léonide Massine, My Life in Ballet (London: Macmillan, 1968).
  7. Vicente García-Márques, The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1932-1952 (New York: Knopf, 1990).
  8. "Blum Ballet Sold to Company Here," New York Times (Nov. 20, 1937).
  9. 1 2 Andros, Gus Dick (February 1997). "Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo". Andros on Ballet. Michael Minn. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
  10. australiadancing through the Internet Archive
  11. Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (New York: Dance Horizons, 1981), p. 281.
  12. Frederic Franklin, interviewed by John Mueller, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 2004; bonus material on Gaîté Parisienne, a film (1954) by Victor Jessen on DVD (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Video Artists International, 2006).
  13. Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 198-204)
  14. Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 229-331)
  15. García-Márquez, Massine (1995), p. 381.