Nijinsky as Petrushka in 1911
|Choreographed by||Michel Fokine|
|Composed by||Igor Stravinsky|
|Libretto by||Igor Stravinsky
|Based on||Russian puppet|
|Date of premiere||13 June 1911|
|Place of premiere||Théâtre du Chatelet
|Original ballet company||Ballets Russes|
Fairgoers, Gypsies, etc.
|Designs by||Alexandre Benois|
|Setting||Admiralty Square, St. Petersburg
Petrushka is a ballet burlesque in one act, four scenes. The story of the ballet was written by Igor Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois. Their inspiration was a puppet of the Russian fairgrounds called Petrushka. The little fellow was a perennial loser. The music was composed by Stravinsky. The choreography was composed by Michel Fokine. Benois designed the scenery and costumes. Petrushka was first performed by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 13 June 1911. Nijinsky starred as Petrushka, Tamara Karsavina as the Ballerina, Alexandre Orlov as the Moor, and Enrico Cecchetti as the Charlatan.
Stravinsky had completed The Firebird and was writing The Rite of Spring when he dropped everything to write a work for piano and orchestra. This piece was conceived as a fight between the orchestra and the piano with the orchestra overwhelming the piano and emerging the victor. Stravinsky was thinking of the Russian puppet, Petrushka when he conceived and wrote the piece. Ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev liked the piece, and wanted a ballet created around it. After a libretto was written and the score expanded, Petrushka was produced as a ballet. Stravinsky was delighted with the final product, praising Nijinsky and Karsavina for their performances, and Fokine for his choreography. The music was modern. C major and F-sharp major chords are heard together. This bitonality represents Petrushka's dual nature as a living being and straw-filled puppet.
In Four Centuries of Ballet Lincoln Kirstein writes about Petrushka and its creators. Fokine gave "pizzicato points" to the Ballerina, Kirstein notes, while the Moor's toes are turned out (en dehors), and Petrushka's toes are turned in (en dedans). The mechanical, flat movements of the puppets provide contrast to the natural movements of the crowd, Kirstein writes, and mime accentuates the Ballerina's vanity, the Moor's "naive pride", and Petruchka's helplessness. Fokine used Russian national dance forms in a fragmentary fashion for the various characters in the crowd. Fokine complained that the crowd was insufficiently rehearsed, Nijinsky complained that movement for the crowd was never really choreographed but was left for the dancers to improvise, and Benois complained that Diaghilev would not spend the money necessary to realize certain effects. Kirstein writes, "The metaphor of manipulated automata remains poeticallty powerful, now haloed in the nostalgia of many period memoirs. Did Benois see Diaghelev as the charlatan Showman? Was Nijinsky typecast as Petrouchka?"
The ballet was first performed by the Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Châtelet on 13 June 1911. Fokine revived the ballet in 1925 for the Royal Danish Ballet and again for Ballet Theatre in October 1942. The Royal Ballet revived the work on 26 March 1957 with Alexander Grant and Margot Fonteyn. Rudolph Nureyev danced Petrushka with the Royal Ballet in 1963. The ballet was first performed in the United States by the Ballets Russes at the Century Theatre in New York City on 25 January 1916 with Leonide Massine in the title role. The Joffrey Ballet revived the work in New York City on 13 March 1970, and the American Ballet Theater revived it on 19 June 1970 at the New York State Theater.
Scene One. The ballet is set at the Shrovetide Fair in St Petersburg circa 1830. A crowd of peasants, police, gypsies, and others wander about Admiralty Square. At the back of the stage is a puppet booth. The Charlatan appears. The curtain is drawn. Three puppets fixed to armatures begin to dance in their little cells. One puppet is a Moor, another is a Ballerina, and the third is Petrushka. The three leave their cells to perform a dumb show center stage. The Moor and Petrushka both love the Ballerina, but she favors the Moor. Petrushka starts a fight with the Moor. The Charlatan stops the show. A drum roll brings the curtain down.
Scene Two. The scene is set in Petrushka's dark, wintry little room. The door opens and the Charlatan throws Petrushka to the floor. He leaves. Petrushka scurries about the room in frustration and anger. He shakes his fist at a portrait of the Charlatan hanging on the wall. The door opens. The Charlatan brings the Ballerina into the room, then leaves. Petrushka is thrilled. He tries to court her. She is disgusted with his antics and leaves. Petrushka scurries about the room in frustration. He collapses.
Scene Three. The scene is set in the Moor's room. It is bright and colorful. The Moor lolls on a divan playing with a coconut. He draws his scimitar and tries to cut the coconut open. He fails. Thinking the coconut is a god, he worships it. The Ballerina enters with a trumpet. She entertains the Moor. He approves. They sit together on the divan and cuddle. Petrushka enters to rescue the Ballerina from the clutches of the Moor. The Moor chases Petrushka around the room with his scimitar. Petrushka escapes.
Scene Four. The scene is the Shrovetide Fair. Evening has fallen. The crowd is in high spirits. Suddenly, Petrushka runs from the puppet booth with the Moor in hot pursuit. The Moor "kills" Petrushka with his scimitar. The crowd is terrified. The Charlatan enters. He shows the crowd that Petrushka is nothing but a straw-filled puppet. The crowd drifts away, leaving the Charlatan alone. Petrushka appears on the roof of the puppet booth. He shakes his fist at the Charlatan. The terrified Charlatan slinks away. Petrushka collapses.
The bitonal "Petrushka chord" represents Petrushka's dual nature as straw-filled puppet and living being
- Balachine p. 305
- Balanchine pp. 313-4
- Boucourechliev pp. 51-2
- Kirstein pp. 194-5
- Balanchine pp. 305, 315-6
- Balanchine, George with Francis Mason. 1975. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. Anchor Books.
- Boucourechliev, André; (trans. Martin Cooper). 1987. Stravinsky. London.
- Kirstein, Lincoln. 1975. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks. Dover Publications, Inc.