Australian Screen

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Murray-Will, Ewan: Ballets Russes: Petrouchka: Carnaval: Aurora’s Wedding (c.1936)

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Petrouchka education content clip 1

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Three puppet figures – the Moor (Thadee Slavinsky), the Ballerina Doll (Helene Kirsova) and Petrouchka (Leon Woizikovsky) – suddenly come to life and dance onto the stage. They perform a Russian-style dance amongst the crowd at the fairground.

Curator’s notes

This famous Russian ballet, with music by Igor Stravinsky, takes place in a Russian fairground setting. This clip shows the opening scenes of the ballet and we witness a small but sprightly Helene Kirsova in a role for which she was much admired.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This silent black-and-white clip shows home-movie footage taken during a performance of Petrouchka by the Ballets Russes on their tour to Australia of 1936–37. The stage is set to resemble a fairground, where a magician brings to life three 'puppets’, the clown Petrouchka (Leon Woizikowsky), the dancer (Hélène Kirsova) and the Moor (Thadee Slavinsky), who perform a traditional Russian dance. An appreciative carnival crowd observes them and later joins in. The clip includes an intertitle introducing the ballet and the three principal dancers.

Educational value points

  • The Ballets Russes, shown in this clip on a tour to Australia in 1936–37, evolved from the original Ballet Russe founded by Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris in 1909. Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe revolutionised ballet not only by giving equal emphasis to dance, music, drama and design, but also through his collaborations with artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Cocteau, and composers such as Satie and Stravinsky.
  • The ballet company shown in the clip was officially known as 'Colonel W. de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo’. Following the death of Diaghilev in 1929, his Ballet Russe disbanded. However, successive touring companies were formed by Colonel Wassily de Basil and René Blum, generically referred to as the Ballets Russes. Three of these companies toured Australia between 1936 and 1940.
  • Petrouchka was a favourite ballet among Australian audiences, and between 1936 and 1940 the three touring Ballets Russes companies performed it more than 70 times in Australia. The ballet was commissioned for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe and when it premiered in Paris in 1911 it featured Vaslav Nijinsky (1890–1950), considered by many to be the greatest male dancer of the 20th century, as Petrouchka.
  • The Ballets Russes tours generated much excitement among the Australian public. In 1937 the Brisbane Courier Mail enthused that the Ballets Russes 'comes as a vitalising experience to a country so young in artistic endeavour and achievement’ (http://www.nla.gov.au). The company challenged perceptions about ballet and the performing arts, but also introduced Australians to very modern forms of dance, music and design.
  • The Ballets Russes tours had a huge effect on Australian culture, and contributed to the formation of the Australian Ballet in 1962. Hélène Kirsova, one of the principal dancers, stayed in Australia after the tours and formed a ballet school in Sydney. Dr Michelle Potter, former curator of dance at the National Library of Australia, says the company 'opened up a new world to Australians working across the arts. Choreographers, composers, designers, painters, printmakers and photographers … created new work of their own inspired by what they saw and heard on stage’ (http://www.nla.gov.au).
  • The clip shows the first scene from Petrouchka, a ballet choreographed by Michel Fokine and first performed in 1911. Set in a Russian fairground in the 1830s, it centres on the wooden puppet Petrouchka, a tragicomic figure who, on being brought to life, experiences human emotions and falls in love with 'the dancer’. However, he competes for her affections with 'the Moor’, who 'kills’ Petrouchka, reducing him to splinters. Petrouchka’s ghost appears in the final scene to show that his human side was real.
  • Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) wrote the score for Petrouchka. Stravinsky composed a series of scores for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe that ignored the conventions of Western music by incorporating discordant sounds, emphasising rhythm rather than harmony. In Petrouchka he created the bi-tonal 'Petrouchka chord’, in which two different chords (C major and F sharp major) are played simultaneously to represent Petrouchka’s human and puppet sides.
  • Sydney dermatologist Dr Ewan Murray-Will, who formed a close friendship with members of the Ballets Russes, used a 16-mm camera to record not only home-movie footage of the troupe’s stage performances but also their informal gatherings at picnics, visits to the beach and trips to Canberra, Melbourne and the Snowy Mountains. The footage provides a record of the troupe’s Australian tours and a rare glimpse into the lives of the dancers while on tour.
  • Although historically regarded as amateur and only of interest to their creators and immediate family and friends, home movies have gained the status of historical documents. As with most home-movie footage, the camera in this clip is hand-held, editing is achieved 'in-camera’ by turning the camera on and off, and the content is shown in real time. Travel and domestic life comprise the main subjects of home movies; however, cultural events such as this performance also feature.
  • Amateur filmmaking became popular after the 16-mm camera was introduced in 1923 and the 8-mm camera in 1932 as relatively inexpensive alternatives to the conventional 35-mm film format. These cameras were still priced beyond the reach of most people and it was not until Kodak introduced the more affordable Super 8 camera in 1965 that home-movie making became more widespread.

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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