Massine in a portrait by Léon Bakst, 1914
|Native name||Леони́д Фёдорович Мя́син|
|Born||Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin
9 August 1896
Moscow, Russian Empire
|Died||15 March 1979
Borken, West Germany
|Spouse(s)||Vera Savina (née Vera Clark)
Tatiana Orlova (div. 1968)
|Children||Lorca, Tatiania, Peter, and Theodor|
|Awards||National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame, 2002|
Leonid Fyodorovich Myasin (Russian: Леони́д Фёдорович Мя́син), better known in the West by the French transliteration as Léonide Massine (9 August [O.S. 28 July] 1896 – 15 March 1979), was a Russian choreographer and ballet dancer. Massine created the world's first symphonic ballet, Les Présages, and many others in the same vein. Besides his "symphonic ballets," Massine choreographed many other popular works during his long career, some of which were serious and dramatic, and others lighthearted and romantic. He created some of his most famous roles in his own comic works, among them the Can-Can Dancer in La Boutique fantasque (1919), the Hussar in Le Beau Danube (1924), and, perhaps best known of all, the Peruvian in Gaîté Parisienne (1938).
Early life and education
Leonid Fyodorovich Massine was born into a musical family on August 9th, 1895 in Moscow, Russia. His mother was a soprano in the Bolshoi Theater Chorus and his father played the French horn in the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra. Leonid was one of five children. He had three brothers named Mikhail, Gregori, and Konstantin – as well as one sister - Raissa. Due to their small age difference, Leonid and Konstantin were very close during childhood. Beginning when Leonid was seven, the Massine family spent most summers at their summer dacha in Zvenigorod-Moskovsky. In 1904, Leonid successfully auditioned for the Moscow Imperial Theater School. At only eight years old, he began his formal dance training. The next year, the director of the Bolshoi Theater, Alexander Gorsky, was looking for a small boy to play the role of Chernomor in the ballet Russlan and Ludmilla. Leonid was selected for the role. This performance and rehearsal period ignited his lifelong passion for acting. Leonid was selected for three more professional roles at the Bolshoi and Maly Theaters the 1908-1909 season. In 1909, Konstantin was killed during a hunting accident. Leonid was never able to fully recover from the shock and devastation of this personal tragedy. In August 1913, Massine graduated from the Moscow Imperial Theater School and almost immediately joined the Bolshoi Ballet. In December of the same year, Serge Diaghilev came to Moscow in search of a dancer for a new production of The Legend of Joseph. His lover, Vaslav Nijinsky, had originally been cast in the role, but Diaghilev had his contract terminated upon Nijinsky’s marriage to Romola de Pulszky. Diaghilev was attracted to Massine’s onstage presence and acting, and invited him to audition for the choreographer, Mikhail Fokine. After the audition in St. Petersburg, Massine joined Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes.
Following the departure of Vaslav Nijinsky, the company's first male star, Massine became the preeminent male star and took over Nijinsky's roles. His first ballet, in 1915, called Le Soleil de Nuit, used Russian folklore as elements. Parade premiered at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, on May 18th 1917. The ballet is based on a libretto by Jean Couteau. Parade is about a group of circus performers trying to lure a reluctant audience into the tent before the show begins. The sets and costume designs were by Pablo Picasso, who designed large cubist structures for the dancers to wear. The score was composed by Erik Satie, who used sounds from an airplane’s engine, pistol shots, and a ship’s siren to accompany the music. Le Tricorn, known as the Three Cornered Hat, premiered at the Alhambra Theater in London, on July 22nd, 1919. Manuel de Falla composed the score and Pablo Picasso designed the sets and costumes. His collaborators, all Spanish, helped to make this ballet more authentic to its subject matter. After its premier, Le Tricorn was a triumphant success. The story was inspired the novel El Sombrero de tres picos (1874) by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. In order to authentically depict the Spanish character dancers, Massine carefully studied the authentic character dance style.
Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
When George Balanchine left de Basil’s company in 1933, Massine replaced him as resident choreographer. Massine’s ballets during this period were reminiscent of Fyodor Lopukhov’s Tanzsymphonia, in that the emphasis of music drove the choreography. He also tended to use symphonic music by well-known composers.
In 1933, Massine created the world's first symphonic ballet, Les Présages, using Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. This caused a furor amongst musical purists, who objected to a serious symphonic work being used as the basis of a ballet. Undeterred, Massine continued work on Choreartium, set to Brahms' Fourth Symphony, which had its premiere on 24 October 1933 at the Alhambra Theatre in London. He also choreographed a ballet to Hector Berlioz's 1830 Symphonie Fantastique and danced the role of The Young Musician with Tamara Toumanova as The Beloved at its premiere at Covent Garden, London, on 24 July 1936 with Colonel Wassily de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
Massine & Blum's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo
Leaving Col. de Basil's company, in 1937 Massine and René Blum (himself a former associate of de Basil's) acquired financing from Julius Fleischmann, Jr.'s World Art, Inc. to create a new ballet company, with Massine as the resident choreographer. Trouble began when Massine discovered that the ballets he had choreographed while under contract with Col. de Basil were owned by his company. Massine sued Col. de Basil in London to regain the intellectual property rights to his own works. He also sued to claim the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo name. The jury decided that Col. de Basil owned Massine's ballets created between 1932 and 1937, but not those created before 1932. It also ruled that both successor companies could use the name Ballet Russe — but only Massine & Blum's company could be called Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Col. de Basil finally settled on the Original Ballet Russe.
The new Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo debuted in 1938; Massine choreographed Gaîté Parisienne, set to music by Jacques Offenbach, which premiered on April 5 at the Théâtre de Monte Carlo. Gaîté Parisienne was one of Massine's most celebrated works during this time. Instead of a whole, singluar composition for the score, Offenbach created a series of divertissements. This allowed Massine to use a wide variety in terms of number of dancers and speed, all while conveying a single narrative. Massine revived the piece for American Ballet Theater in 1970. Lorca Massine and Susanna della Pietra completed an additional revival for ABT in 1988. In this production, the costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix, who created animated and eccentric costumes that were based on his own 1987 collection.
A month later he produced Seventh Symphony, to Beethoven's score. It premiered on 5 May 1938 in Monte Carlo, with Alicia Markova, Nini Theilade, Frederic Franklin, and Igor Youskevitch as the principal dancers.
Massine left Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1943.
In 1977 Massine moved to the San Francisco/Bay Area to begin a series of choreographic workshops, as well as revive his work Le Beau Denube for the Marin Ballet. At the same time, Massine was working on plans for Parisina, which was to be performed by Natalia Makarova. However, Makarova began to suspect her part was originated on another dancer and pulled out of the project. Instead, Massine was appointed resident choreographer of the Marin Ballet. He began work on a new production of The Nutcracker, which was never seen outside the studio.
Massine appeared in two films by the British directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger: The Red Shoes (1948) and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951); and in a cameo in Powell's later Honeymoon (1959). He also starred in several ballet short subjects. For Warner Brothers, he starred with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a short Technicolor film of his ballet Capriccio Espagnol, entitled Spanish Fiesta (1942). He choreographed and danced in the 1947 20th Century Fox color film Carnival in Costa Rica, and also choreographed and appeared as Punchinello in the film Carosello Napoletano. In 1941, Warner Bros made attempt at a film version of the ballet of Gaîté Parisienne, entitled The Gay Parisian. The attempt was not well received, partly due to the fact that Alexandra Danilova was recast in her signature role by a lesser dancer, Milada Mladova.
In his youth, Massine was the protégé and lover of Diaghilev. In later life he enjoyed numerous love affairs with beautiful women and had four wives. His first two wives, Vera Savina (née Vera Clark) and Eugenia Delarova, were both ballet dancers. With his third wife, Tatiana Orlova, he had two children, a son, Lorca, and a daughter, Tatiania. He and Orlova divorced in 1968. He subsequently married Hannelore Holtwick, with whom he had two sons, Peter and Theodor, and made his home in Borken, West Germany, where he died on 15 March 1979.
In 1968 Massine published his autobiography, entitled My Life in Ballet.
Massine was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2002.
- 1915: Soleil de Nuit (Midnight Sun, music, Rimsky-Korsakov, set and costumes, Mikhail Larionov).
- 1916: Las Meninas (music, Fauré)
- 1917: The Good-Humoured Ladies (music, Scarlatti, arr. Tommasini)
- 1917: Parade (music, Satie)
- 1919: La Boutique fantasque (music, Rossini, arr. Respighi)
- 1919: The Three-Cornered Hat (music, Falla)
- 1920: Pulcinella (music, Stravinsky)
- 1924: Le Beau Danube (music, Strauss, arr. R. Desormière)
- 1930: Le Sacre du printemps (music, Stravinsky)
- 1933: Les Présages (music, Tchaikovsky)
- 1933: Choreartium (music, Brahms)
- 1936: Symphonie fantastique (music, Berlioz)
- 1938: Gaîté Parisienne (music, Offenbach, arr. M. Rosenthal)
- 1938: Seventh Symphony (music, Beethoven)
- 1938: Nobilissima Visione (music, Hindemith)
- 1939: Capriccio Espagnol (music, Rimsky-Korsakov)
- 1942: Aleko (music, Tchaikovsky)
- 1943: Mam'zelle Angot (music, Lecocq)
- 1948: Capriccio (music, Stravinsky)
- Janet Sinclair, "Massine, Léonide," in International Dictionary of Ballet, edited by Martha Bremser (Detroit: St. James Press, 1993), vol. 2, pp. 918–22. Includes biographical facts, an interpretive essay, and extensive chronologies of roles performed and works created.
- Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
- Au, Susan (1988). Ballet and Modern Dance (2nd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson LTD (pg 106-108)
- Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 1-3)
- Au, Susan (1988). Ballet and Modern Dance (2nd ed.). London: Thames & Hudson LTD (pg 110-111)
- Léonide Massine, My Life in Ballet (London: Macmillan, 1968).
- Vicente García-Márques, The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, 1932-1952 (New York: Knopf, 1990).
- "Blum Ballet Sold to Company Here," New York Times (Nov. 20, 1937).
- Andros, Gus Dick (February 1997). "Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo". Andros on Ballet. Michael Minn. Retrieved 5 June 2010.
- australiadancing through the Internet Archive
- Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (New York: Dance Horizons, 1981), p. 281.
- Frederic Franklin, interviewed by John Mueller, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 2004; bonus material on Gaîté Parisienne, a film (1954) by Victor Jessen on DVD (Pleasantville, N.Y.: Video Artists International, 2006).
- Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 198-204)
- Norton, Leslie (2004). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers (pgs 229-331)
- García-Márquez, Massine (1995), p. 381.
- Leonide Massine on Australia Dancing
- Léonide Massine on IMDb
- Leonide Massine watches a rehearsal of Parade - with images
- Archive film of Leonide Massine's Gaite Parisienne in 1948 at Jacob's Pillow
- Guide to Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo records concerning Leonide Massine at Houghton Library, Harvard University