Sergeyev Collection

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A Drawing of Nicholas Grigorovich Sergeyev, made in 1929. Although the collection mostly documents the ballets of Marius Petipa, the collection is named after Sergeyev.

The Sergeyev Collection is a collection of choreographic notation, music, photos, décor and costume designs, theatre programs and other materials relating to the repertory of the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia at the turn of the 20th century (the company is known today as the Kirov or Mariinsky Ballet). The majority of the choreographic notations document with varying degrees of detail the original works and revivals of the renowned choreographer Marius Petipa. Notation and scores of the ballets by Petipa's assistant Lev Ivanov are also included, as well as the dances from various operas by both Petipa and Ivanov, respectively.

The Sergeyev Collection is named after Nicholas Sergeyev, the régisseur of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres from 1903 to 1918, who brought the collection out of Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Today, the Sergeyev Collection is housed in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection, where it has been since 1969.

The origins of the collection[edit]

At the end of the nineteenth century, the dancer Vladimir Stepanov developed his own method of documenting choreography, which he later detailed in his book L'Alphabet des Mouvements du Corps Humain. In 1893 Stepanov proposed a project to the ruling committee of the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School and its parent company, the Imperial Ballet, that would record the choreography of the company's repertory for posterity. The committee, which made decisions on the appointment of dancers, repertory, etc., consisted of Marius Petipa (Premier Maître de ballet of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres); Lev Ivanov (second Maître de Ballet); Ekaterina Vazem (former Prima ballerina of the Imperial Theatres and teacher of the classe de perfection); Pavel Gerdt (Premier danseur of the Imperial Theatres); and Christian Johansson (former Premier danseur of the Imperial Theatres and teacher of the male students at the school). The committee required that Stepanov first present demonstrations of the effectiveness of his method (known as "certifications") before the project would be fully implemented. The first of these was the notation of the one-act ballet La Flûte magique, a work originally produced in 1893 by Lev Ivanov and the composer Riccardo Drigo for the students of the Imperial Ballet School. Stepanov then presented a second demonstration of his method by mounting a reconstruction of Jules Perrot's one-act ballet Le Rêve du peintre, originally staged in 1848 to the music of Cesare Pugni. The notations were created by Stepanov after consulting Christian Johansson, who participated in the 1848 production and many performances thereafter. The reconstruction of Le Rêve du peintre was performed by students of the Imperial Ballet School on 23 April [O.S. 2 May] 1893. Based on the success of these notations, Stepanov's project was approved and he soon began to notate the repertory of the Imperial Ballet. Among the first pieces to be documented was Petipa's 1894 ballet Le Réveil de Flore and the scene Le jardin animé from the ballet Le Corsaire. Stepanov's method of notation was also included for a time as part of the curriculum of students of the Imperial Ballet School.

After Stepanov's death in 1896, the dancer Alexander Gorsky took over the notation project and perfected Stepanov's system. After Gorsky departed St. Petersburg in 1900 to take up the post of Ballet Master to the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow, the former dancer of the Imperial Theatres Nicholas Sergeyev took over the project as supervisor. By 1903 Sergeyev was appointed régisseur of the Imperial Ballet. It was Sergeyev's two assistants who created the majority of the notation—Alexander Chekrygin (ru: Чекрыгин, Александр Иванович, who joined the project in 1903) and Victor Rakhmanov (who joined the project in 1904), Nikolay Kremnev (ru: Николай Кремнев), S. Ponomaryev (ru: С. Пономарев) etc.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Nicholas Sergeyev left Russia with a great number of the notated choreographies. In 1920 he was invited by Sergei Diaghilev to stage the Petipa/Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty from the notations for the Ballets Russes in Paris, but Diaghilev's insistence on altering passages of Petipa's choreography apparently caused Sergeyev to withdraw his services.

A Page of the Stepanov choreographic notation from the Sergeyev Collection for the Petipa/Minkus La Bayadère, circa 1900

In 1921 Sergeyev took over the post of régisseur to the Latvian National Opera Ballet in Riga, and during his appointment with the company he added a substantial amount of the music belonging to the notated ballets. Orchestral parts for some of the ballets was also added, such as Paquita by Eduard Deldevez, The Little Humpbacked Horse by Cesare Pugni, and Adolphe Adam's scores for Giselle and Le Corsaire.

In 1924, Sergeyev utilized the notation to mount Petipa's definitive version of Giselle for the Paris Opera Ballet, with the ballerina Olga Spessivtseva in the title role and Anton Dolin as Albrecht. This was not only the first time the Parisian ballet had danced Giselle since the 1860s, but also the first Western production of Petipa's version, which is the traditional choreographic text that most ballet companies have always used as a basis for their own productions to date. The choreographic notation of Giselle documents when Petipa himself took Anna Pavlova through rehearsals.

With the aid of the notations, Sergeyev made what is perhaps his most substantial contribution to the art of ballet: at the invitation of Ninette de Valois, he restaged Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, the Petipa/Cecchetti Coppélia and The Nutcracker for the Vic-Wells Ballet of London, the precursor of the Royal Ballet, who still perform these ballets, if in edited form. In 1942 Sergeyev began staging classics for the International Ballet, a British touring company founded in 1941 by the ballerina Mona Inglesby, who offered to stage the productions as close as possible to Petipa's imperial stagings. When in 1946 the Sadler's Wells Ballet staged a new edited Sleeping Beauty [1] to reopen the Royal Opera House, Sergeyev left to join Inglesby, remaining balletmaster with International Ballet until his death in 1951. His stagings for both British companies formed the nucleus of what is now known loosely as the "classical ballet repertory", and as a result these works went on to be staged all over the world in versions largely derived from the Vic-Wells Ballet's own productions.

When Sergeyev died in Nice, France on 23 June 1951 the notations passed on for a brief time to a Russian associate of his, from whom Mona Inglesby purchased them, continuing to stage his productions with International Ballet until its closure in 1953. Inglesby, through the London theatrical dealer Ifan Kyrle Fletcher, sold the Petipa Swan Lake notation to Harvard University in 1967, followed by the rest of the notations in 1969, for a sum claimed to be around £6,000. Today the collection is known officially as the Nikolai Sergeev Dance Notations and Music Scores for Ballets, though it is commonly referred to simply as The Sergeyev Collection. For some time the notations were useless, as no one in the world had any knowledge of how to read Stepanov's method. It was not until Stepanov's original primer was found in the archives of the Mariinsky Theatre that the notations were able to be deciphered.

Not all of the notations are complete, with some being rather vague in sections, leading some historians who have studied the collection to theorize that they were probably made to function simply as "reminders" for the Ballet Master or régisseur already familiar with these works. Aside from the choreographic notations, the collection includes photos, set and costume designs and music for many of the ballets in their performance editions (mostly in piano and/or violin reduction), many of which include a substantial number of dances, variations, etc. interpolated from other works. One example of this is the music and notations for the ballet Le Corsaire, which contain additions from some of Marius Petipa's original works and revivals, some of which were no longer in the active repertory at the time the notations were prepared—La Vestale (1888), Satanella (1848), Les Aventures de Pélée (1876), Pygmalion, ou La statue de Chypre (1883), Trilby (1870), and Cinderella (1893).

Noted use of the collection[edit]

Few ballet companies have utilized the collection in modern times. In 1984 the historians Peter Wright and the musicologist/professor Roland John Wiley staged an adaptation of the original 1892 choreography for The Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet.

In 1999, Sergei Vikharev, former dancer with the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet, graduate of the Vaganova Academy and dance historian, used the notations to stage a reconstruction of Petipa's original 1890 production of The Sleeping Beauty (while still retaining elements of the choreography as revised in Soviet times). In 2001 Vikharev also mounted a reconstruction of Petipa's 1900 revival of La Bayadère, again for the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet. In both cases the productions proved to be controversial with the Mariinsky Ballet, and Vikharev was met with heavy resistance by the company's dancers and coaches who did not want to alter the revised editions of the choreographic texts they had learned.

In 2000, the choreographer Pierre Lacotte created a new version of the Petipa/Pugni ballet The Pharaoh's Daughter for the Bolshoi Ballet, which was last performed in 1928. Lacotte called upon the Stepanov notation expert Doug Fullington to reconstruct the so-called "River Variations" from the ballet's under-water scene and a few other pieces. Fullington was only able to reconstruct five out of the original six variations from the notation, none of which Lacotte used. In the end, Lacotte re-choreographed nearly all of the ballet himself "in the style of the epoch", and retained only a few pieces Fullington reconstructed from the ballet's second act, and two variations that Lacotte learned from former dancers.

In 2004, with the assistance of Manard Stewart, Fullington staged a reconstruction of Petipa's original choreography for the scene Le Jardin animé from the ballet Le Corsaire for the Pacific Northwest Ballet School's annual recital at the Seattle Opera House.

In 2006, Fullington reconstructed twenty-five of Petipa's dances from the ballet Le Corsaire for the new production of the Bayerisches Staatsballett.

The Bolshoi Ballet's director Alexei Ratmansky and the historian Yuri Burlaka also made use of the notations of Le Corsaire for their revival of the ballet, which premiered in 2007 to great acclaim. The notation, however, was merely used as a starting point for a completely new staging.

In 2007, the Pacific Northwest Ballet presented a lecture-demonstration using the Sergeyev Collection. Doug Fullington reconstructed various dances from the notations which were performed with examples of George Balanchine's choreography in order to demonstrate Petipa's influence on the work of Balanchine. A variation from the Petipa/Glazunov Raymonda and the Galop générale from the Petipa/Drigo Le Réveil de Flore were among the pieces revived for the performance.

In 2008, the Bolshoi Ballet utilized the notation to stage Petipa's Grand Pas classique, Pas de trois and Mazurka des enfants from Paquita, as well as the Petipa/Cecchetti Coppélia.

In 2009, Yuri Burlaka utilized the collection again for the Bolshoi Ballet's revival of Petipa's version of the Perrot/Pugni ballet La Esmeralda.

For their 2011-2012 season, the Ballet of the Teatro alla Scala presented a complete reconstruction of the 1898 production of the Petipa/Glazunov Raymonda, using the notation.

In June 2011, Pacific Northwest Ballet utilized the notation to mount a reconstruction of Giselle.

For their 2013-2014 season the Staatsballett Berlin mounted a partial reconstruction of the original 1892 production and choreography of The Nutcracker.

For their 2014-2015 season, Doug Fullington and Alexei Ratmansky are staging a complete reconstruction of the Imperial Ballet's production of Paquita as staged by Petipa. The notation was created circa 1903 when Petipa himself taught the role to Anna Pavlova and took her through rehearsals.

Works documented in the collection[edit]

  • Paquita Petipa, after Mazilier (music: Deldevez) – 3 acts
  • Giselle Petipa, after Coralli and Perrot (music: Adam) – 2 acts
  • The Sleeping Beauty Petipa (music: Tchaikovsky) – Prologue and 3 acts
  • The Nutcracker Ivanov?; Petipa? (music: Tchaikovsky) – 2 acts/3 tableaux
  • Le Réveil de Flore Petipa (music: Drigo) – 1 act
  • La Fille mal gardée Petipa and Ivanov, after Taglioni (music: Hertel) – 3 acts/4 tableaux
  • Swan Lake Petipa & Ivanov, after Reisinger (music: Tchaikovsky; rev. Drigo) – 3 acts/4 tableaux
  • Coppélia Petipa & Cecchetti(?), after Saint-Léon (music: Delibes) – 2 acts
  • Les Caprices du Papillon Petipa (music: Krotkov; ; additional music by Drigo) – 1 Act
  • The Little Humpbacked Horse Petipa (1895) and Gorsky (1912), after Saint-Léon (music: Pugni; additional music by Drigo) – 4 acts/10 tableaux
  • Le Halte de Cavalerie Petipa (music: Armshiemer) – 1 Act
  • Raymonda Petipa (music: Glazunov) – 3 acts/4 tableaux
  • La Esmeralda Petipa, after Perrot (music: Pugni; rev. Drigo) – 3 acts/5 tableaux
  • The Pharaoh's Daughter Petipa (music: Pugni) – 4 acts/7 tableaux
  • Le Corsaire Petipa, after Mazilier (music: Adam, etc.) – 3 acts/5 tableaux
  • Les Millions d'Arlequin (a.k.a. Harlequinade) Petipa (music: Drigo) – 2 acts
  • Les Ruses d'Amour Petipa (music: Glazunov) – 1 act
  • The Pupils of Dupré Petipa (music: Vizentini) – 2 acts (this is an abridgement of Petipa's 1886 ballet L'Ordre du Roi)
  • La Bayadère Petipa (music: Minkus) – 4 acts
  • Le Roi Candaule (a.k.a. Tsar Candavl) Petipa (music: Pugni; additional music by Drigo) – 4 acts/6 tableaux
  • La Forêt enchantée Ivanov and Petipa (music: Drigo) – 1 act
  • La Flûte magique Ivanov (music: Drigo) – 1 act
  • The Fairy Doll Nikolai Legat and Sergei Legat (music: Bayer, etc.) – 1 act/2 tableaux
  • Songe du Rajah (1930 - Nicholas Sergeyev's revised version of the scene The Kingdom of the Shades from Petipa's La Bayadère)
  • Small Balletic Pieces - numerous items from various ballets.
  • Ballet sections from 24 Operas


  • Fullington, Doug. Petipa's Le Jardin Animé Restored. The Dancing Times: September, 2004. Vol. 94, No. 1129.
  • Fullington, Doug: The River Variations in Petipa's La Fille du Pharaon. The Dancing Times: December, 2000, Vol. 91, No. 1083.
  • Wiley, Roland John. Dances from Russia: An Introduction to the Sergeyev Collection Published in The Harvard Library Bulletin, 24.1 January 1976.

External links[edit]