Boris Romanov and the Russian
Prokofiev at work
Romanov at work
The Ballet: Scenario and Music
The Ballet: Performances
1 Prokofiev has been famously described by futurist artist Vasily Kamensky, who recalled how the young man, after appearing at The Stray Dog in 1917 and performing his Suggestion Diabolique, was enlisted as a futurist composer. See Shlifstein, Israel, ed., S. Prokofiev: Autobiography, Articles, Reminiscences, (Moscow), p. 323, n. 65.
2 There is no extant documentation to suggest that Romanov ever worked on that ballet. In a diary entry of 2 June 1924 Prokofiev refers to him as “that Romanov who was supposed to do the ballet Ala and Lolly”.
3 Biriuch Petrogradskikh Gosudarstvennykh Teatrov, No. 17-18, (Aprel’ 1919), p. 310.
4 This title, found in a letter (28 August 1922) from the Serge Prokofiev Archive, was soon replaced with that of The Russian Romantic Theatre.
5 See Kelsey, James, ed., Braunsweg’s Ballet Scandals: the life of an impresario and the story of ‘Festival Ballet’, (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1973), p. 39.
6 Letter to Serge Prokofiev, 28 August 1922, unpublished, from the Serge Prokofiev Archive.
7 Pomerantsev was the son of long-lasting friends of Prokofiev’s parents and a former pupil of Taneev at the Moscow Conservatory. He had initiated the 10 year old Prokofiev in theory and harmony during the budding composer’s visit to Moscow with his mother in the winter of 1901/02.
8 Kelsey, 44.
9 While living in New York in 1920, Prokofiev selected pieces from Schubert’s music for piano, and transcribed them as a continuous suite. These were published by Gutheil in 1923.
In 1924 choreographer Boris Georgevich Romanov (1891-1957) commissioned from Prokofiev the music for a new ballet, later to be named Trapèze. The two men had briefly met in pre-revolutionary St.Petersburg through common associates, principally Serge Diaghilev and the composer, Boris Asafiev. In Russia, Romanov is remembered as a representative of the ultra modernist movement in dance that developed in the early years of the twentieth century. A striking character dancer, Romanov choreographed and danced a number of small scale, one-act ballets which gained him the reputation of a caricaturist, a satirical and even blasphemous artist, with the more conservative critics who were then fighting to preserve the classical school of Russian ballet as established by Marius Petipa. Romanov was one among many prominent artists involved with The Stray Dog [Brodiachaia Sobaka], the famous cabaret also known as The Poets’ Café, which had opened in St. Petersburg on 31 December 1911, soon to become the hub of the ultra modernist circles in poetry, music, theatre and dance.(1) Romanov also danced at the Mariinsky Theatre where he came to the notice of Diaghilev, who later entrusted him with the choreography of La Tragédie de Salomée (12 June 1913, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées) and the dances in Stravinsky’s opera, Le Rossignol (26 May 1914, Théâtre de l’Opéra). This was also the time when Diaghilev commissioned Prokofiev’s first ballet Ala and Lolly, and it is therefore no surprise that he suggested Romanov should choreograph it. In the event, Diaghilev rejected Ala and Lolly, disliking both the music and the “trite” plot.(2) In October 1914 Romanov became one of the two ballet masters at the Mariinsky, while pursuing his controversial career with his own small scale ballets in other theatres. After Fokine’s permanent departure abroad in 1918, the Mariinsky promoted Romanov to the position of principal ballet master; and in April 1919, he joined the management board of the theatre’s dance section.(3) The post revolution years at the Imperial Theatres were tough and unsettled as the clash between proletarian demands and the Theatres’ artistic independence intensified. Romanov soon resigned from his position in January 1920 and, after considering a move to the Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow, he and his wife, star ballerina Elena Smirnova, decided to emigrate to Berlin late in 1921.
Berlin, along with Paris, was a centre of Russian emigration but, unlike the French city, it did not boast an established ballet company such as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Romanov was a very energetic and enterprising man and within a few months, a new company was established, The Russian Theatre.(4) This large company of some fifty dancers was financed by a Mr Gutchoff, a German millionaire who entrusted its management to a variety dancer, Elsa Krüger.(5) In its early days, the Russian Theatre had an ambitious agenda, aiming to represent what “was new and wholly dedicated to the propaganda of Russian art, in particular in its newest forms”.(6) Dedicated to “ballet, opera and pantomime”, it also offered concerts of Russian chamber music. Most of the artists involved were former acquaintances of Prokofiev’s such as the music adviser Iury Pomerantsev.(7) The main dancers under Romanov’s direction were his wife Elena Alexandrovna Smirnova, Elsa Krüger and Anatoly Nikolaevich Obukhov. Based in Berlin, the company toured various countries including Austria and England where in 1924 it secured a seven-week engagement at the London Coliseum. According to the company administrator, Julian Braunsweg, “the Coliseum bill was a mixture of dancing, drama and knock-about variety”.(8)
Upon their return from England, Romanov and Pomerantsev made contact with Prokofiev through a former acquaintance from St.Petersburg, the pianist Alexander Borovsky, and soon after Romanov commissioned Trapèze. This ballet, he told Prokofiev, would be the highlight of his next season, along with a choreography he proposed to base on one of Prokofiev’s piano pieces, the Schubert Waltzes.(9) Early in June 1924, when the two men met once more to finalise the project, Prokofiev jotted down a basic scenario on a small piece of paper.(10) He also scribbled the terms of a contract that gave Romanov the exclusive performing rights for two years (1925-1926), specifying that the music would be available for concert performance as from the autumn of 1925. Next Back