Through the work of “Pulcinella” Diaghilev Ballet Russe entered a new period in the history of ballet, the ‘modernist’ approach was unlike anything that had gone before, and the company became an innovation to test out new and experimental ideas. Diaghilev helped to rejuvenate ballet. From the outset, the legendary company enraptured the scandalised dance world with new ballets in every aspect -modern choreography, music, design and the structure of the ballet, helped to alter the course of dance history, making the Ballet Russe the vanguard of distinctive twentieth century art.
Ballet in the last quarter of the ninetieth century across Western Europe, the forum of Romantic ballet had reached an all time low point. The great choreographers of the romantic era were dead, and no other choreographers had risen to take their place. Ballet seemed to have lost all of its creative momentum and the public had seized to regard it as a serious art form. It was no longer considered to be the mainstream art form that it had been in the 1830’s and 1840’s; it appeared to have lost touch with the modern times. . Indeed, Ballet appeared to be an art form about to die of exhaustion. However, in the early twentieth century, Diaghilev rejuvenated the world of ballet, not only in his ideas, his modernistic approach but also in through the combination of music, dance and visual art. The legacy of the work of “Pulcinella”, first performed in 1920 was that it revived the interest in the techniques and interests of the past at a time when it would seem that many artists were more concerned with progress and technical ability than a perspective of history. More, importantly it demonstrated that music can comment itself and come to terms with it’s own history, through neo-classicism. This was one of the most important artistic movements of the twentieth century, and one that continues today.
“Pulcinella” like “Petrouska”, was one of those rare theatrical works which, came with all of the ingredients to make it a success. Picasso’s neo-commedia dell’arte designs, Massine’s choreography, scenario and demi-character style of dancing and the wonderful dancing of Massine, as the eponymous rogue Pulcinella and the delicate femininity, romantic beauty and cordial spontaneity of Karsavina, Pulcinella’s mistress; Pimpinella. Every part of the structure declared the restoration of Russian ballet to its full form. With no hint of the classical ballet period, which had dominated the last centuries of ballet and the recent work of the Ballet Russe, there was a lack of nostalgia for the traditional, archaic forms of ballet of leaning polovisians or sinuous sherazades (even if some of these works were still in the companies repertoire). “Pulcinella” set the stage for the shift in focus of the Ballet Russe retrospective ballets; Diaghilev had accidentally found the new dimension to the company, which he had been searching for. The company had always specialised in “space travel” the structure of the dances had brought the audience closer to the exotic worlds of Persia, India and Russia, and although the audience still applauded these works, Diaghilev, wanted to stay one step ahead of the audience.
Since, there were no new places to travel to incorporate into his productions, Diaghilev introduced a new concept into his dance repertoire, what Lambert calls “time travel.” In previous, ballets, Diaghilev had been re-crating old ballets, with new talents; while the choreography was new, it was still no where near ‘modernist’ and the music and design, were essentially faithful to the original modes. However, through the work of “Pulcinella” Diaghilev finished with music by Stravinsky, which was essentially 18th century music in essence, but was rendered away so that the audience could see it through twentieth century eyes. The same is true for Massine’s choreography and Picasso’s set designs. In this ballet, Diaghilev sent artists with the ‘tools’ of the present to the past to work.
The result of ‘Pulcinella” was that everything harmonised the artistic elements- dance, subject, music and artistic setting to form a coherent and homengeous whole. Which is a true representation of Diaghilev’s guiding principle of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ or ‘total artwork’ meaning that all of the art forms and their representatives were seen as equals in his productions.
Stravinsky found appropriate music for dancing and to underpin the ballet’s scenario. Even some of the sections are named after dances, for example the tarantella (section fifteen), the gavotte (section 18) and the minuet (section 22). The overture, which Stravinsky used to introduce the ballet, is also a common feature of ballet. The pieces of music were chosen to move along the action and reflect the mood of the scene set by Picasso’s designs and Massine’s choreography, both through music visualisation and direct correlation. In certain sections the music also helped to move, the ballets narrative along, for example the plaintive Seranta that follows the overture fitted Cavellios and Florindo’s heartsick declarations of love beneath the balconies of Rossetta and Prundenza.
In Pulcinella’s first appearance on stage, Pulcinella appears on stage and dances and play a violin, so Stravinsky added the solo part of the violin to the allegro (section four). Stravinsky also acknowledged the commedia dell’arte origins, the trombone and double bass in the Vivo (section twenty one) carry out a slapstick duet, ripe with the bawdy humour, which is traditional for the commedia dell’arte movement. The words of the singers also comment on the aspects of love between men and women for example “With such kind words, so delicious, you touch my heart, to its depths, oh beautiful one stay here.” There are times when the words directly correlate to the action, as oppose to providing a commentary; for example “I will certainly die.” Stravinsky’s neo-classicism through bringing the past music into the present by using discordant harmonies, melodies, rhythms and other elements. The result was the Baroque style of Pergolesi remaining predominant throughout, but with Stravinsky’s own personality being stamped on the music, a witty and satirical piece which led to Stravisnky’s neo-classicism period.
There were many critics, who regarded Stravinsky as having offended the eighteen-century music and destroying Pergolesi music. Yet many other enthusiasts, including myself believe that he did not ruin the music, but rather through his own technique, modernised and added a twentieth century compositional style, that the audiences could relate to. Stravinsky managed not only to modernise a piece of baroque music but also to leave his own stamp on it and breathed new life into the music, through a process of alienation.
Massine’s choreography created a new sensation for the audience, never before had they experienced the ‘demi-character’ style that appeared in Massine’s work, as opposed to the strict ballet vocabulary, which had dominated the classical period, and indeed despite the modernistic approach, Fokine ballet was still heavily influenced by ballet and balletic techniques. Massine did not merely rely upon the traditional steps of ballet, he included balletic steps such as ballones but the majority of his movements actually derived from folk dancing or ethnic dances. Massine breathed new life into ballet, with his stylised components of dance consisting of angular movements with rhythmic combinations, which required fast and prise footwork. An established actor, he managed to bring the world of acting to dance, characterising the traditional, memorable characters of commedia dell’arte into ballet. The audiences were fascinated by his spontaneity of movements, and how they reflected both the mood and the timing of the music and his energy and smooth interpretations.
Massine also worked closely with Picasso and Stravinsky in his choreography. Massine had to alter his choreography, to fit Stravinsky’s music through music visualisation and direct correlation and when he realised that Stravinsky’s orchestration was to be a chamber orchestra as opposed to the full orchestration he had been expecting, he changed the compositional structures and movements to fit the reduced volume. Massine as a dancer had an incredible ability to understand and interpret the motivation of his characters, and this enabled him to create the eponymous rogue Pulcinella, who was a burlesque representation of the working class in Naples. As an actor, he had a beauty and expressiveness, which led him to hold Pulcinella, in a remarkable and memorable way.
Karsavina was a Russian ballet dancer, who played the role of Pulcinella’s mistress Pimpinella. Although, having a strong and well-established background in more classical roles in ballet, this did not prevent her from experiencing with the new innovative ideas of the Ballet Russe, and the modernistic and neo-classical approach to dance. In the ballet of “Pulcinella” she conquered the public’s affection and this testifies the range of her interpretations and her ability to turn every role, into poetry. Her delicate femininity, cordial spontaneity and her romantic beauty helped to mark the beginning of modernistic dance. She collaborated with the choreographer Massine, on an equal basis, much like today with works by Richard Alston and other choreographers. Through her calm temperament, she was able to transpose Massine’s movements into accurate types of characters, portraying Pimpinella with sensitivity and respect. This characterisation created a realistic portrayal of characters, which resulted in a ‘new and exciting’ sensation for the audiences.
The audience experienced new sensations through the designs of Pablo Picasso. Diaghilev wanted to place the action in the ambivalence of the travelling actors show capturing the atmosphere of the Neapolitan folk buffoonery in the eighteenth century, thus helping the designs to share the mood created by the neo-classical choreography, music and dancing. Picasso designed a Neapolitan street design, in a cubistic and traditional commedia dell’arte scene. He brought a contemporary air to the production, and the set is always highly regarded because of the cubistic black, blue-grey and white, which admirably conveyed an economic method of portraying a moonlit street, overlooking the Bay of Naples. This helped to re-enforce the mood of the dance and accompanied by the music added both a modernistic and realistic touch to the production. Picasso, also worked with Massine, who together created masks which de-emphasised human elements of ballet. Thus, marking a step away from the formalist classicism of romantic choreographers such as Pepita, and towards the modernising of ballet.
The Ballet Russe was an innovative company, who through the structures of the ballets, helped to change the course of ballet, and indeed dance. Never before had a company created a neo-classical and original ballet. The company revolutionised the ballet through rejuvenating ballet, an art form that appeared to have lost its creative momentum. Through the work of “Pulcinella” and indeed other works by the Ballet Russe, the public once again became intoxicated by the world of ballet, and as “Pulcinella” testifies, the artists created new and exciting sensations for the audiences. Indeed, through the structure of “Pulcinella” – the sparkling neo-classical designs of Picasso, the inventive choreography of Massine, the delicate femininity and grace of Karsavina and the modernistic music of Stravinsky, the Ballet Russe was able to create an avant-garde work that was previously unheard of.