Russia Theatre Ballet Le Pavillon d’Armide

Le Pavillon d’Armide

In 1903, Alexander Benois conceived the idea for a romantic ballet-pantomime based on Théophile Gautier’s novella Omphale. At the start of the 1900s, he and the other members of the World of Art regarded the theatrical artist as more than just a designer, but also the artistic director, defining the general style of the performance. The first ballet created from start to finish by Benois was Le Pavillon d’Armide. He first of all wrote the libretto of a three-act ballet in the traditions of Marius Petipa. The music was then composed by Benois’s relative, the composer Nikolai Tcherepnin. The still relatively unknown Mikhail Fokine, who had mounted one act of the ballet Le Gobelin Animé at the Imperial Theatrical School in St Petersburg in April 1907, was invited as choreographer. In the autumn of that same year, Le Gobelin Animé was staged in one act and three tableaux at the Mariinsky Theatre. Returning to St Petersburg from Paris in 1907, Alexander Benois began work on the sets and costumes, claiming that this opened up the “possibility of presenting, in the most seductive tones, my beloved eighteenth century.” The artist spent the summer designing the decorations, while rehearsals began in the autumn. In his set designs, Benois proved himself to be an expert authority on France in the early eighteenth century. The heroes of his famous Versailles series and the series of graphical works immediately predecessing the production seem to come to life on the stage in real costumes. The ballet design was subordinated to the main concept – the contrast of the real world and the world of magical fantasy. Mikhail Fokine later recalled Benois’s contribution: “Both the subject of the ballet and the theme of each dance came out of his head.” Le Pavillon d’Armide was staged at the Mariinsky Theatre and constituted Mikhail Fokine’s first major success in choreography. This joint project with Alexander Benois provided the impetus for the future Saisons Russes in Paris. The ballet was staged by Sergei Diaghilev at the Théâtre du Châtelet in 1909 in altered stage sets. Le Pavillon d’Armide had the French public in raptures over its “combinations of lines and colours” and “majestic, bright contrasts.” Against the background of the new movements taking shape in painting at that time, the ballet was described as “a bouquet of paints, thrown like a cry into the tense atmosphere.”


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