Prof. Dr. Monika Woitas Léonide Massine - The Impact of Leonide Massine on 20th Century Ballet

"No other choreographer has succeeded in experimenting in such a diverse way while at the same time always able to achieve work that is interesting, perhaps vivacious at times, but never inferior. What Massine did is something other choreographers have also done - however they did it much later", is what a critic of the German specialist dance magazine, Der Tanz, already had to say way back in 19381. Given this attestation it is all the more surprising that to this day Massine of all choreographers has not been able to achieve the same level of popularity as the likes of George Balanchine or Vaslaw Nijinsky. Although reconstructions of his ballets2 and the almost simultaneous publication of two of his monographs3 led to a certain "rediscovery" of Massine - even if you happened to be an interested lay person - he continued to remain almost unrecognized.

Everything began in 1913 with Serge Diaghilew's frantic search for a replacement for Vaslaw Nijinsky on whom the current prestigious project The Legend of Joseph has in fact been based. As a choreographer and fellow campaigner for the German-Austrian team of authors made up of Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss and Harry Graf Kessler, it was once again possible to obtain Michail Fokine. After all Fokine was instrumental in gaining fame for co-founding the Ballets Russes with ballets such as Les Sylphides (1909), Schéhérazade (1910) and Petruschka (1911). However the leading role of Joseph had not been filled, which must have caused Diaghilew several sleepless nights. Diaghilew eventually discovered him in a production of Swan Lake by the Moscow Bolschoi Theatre. The 'nobody' with the 'Byzantine' look and charisma that was probably already evident then, was hired by him even though he was planning to become an actor and turn his back on ballet. [Image1: Massine as Joseph]. "Massine cannot dance. However the way in which he makes his way across the stage will capture the attention of any audience", is actually what was said in one review4 of the premier.

This stage presence would later be described as absolutely hypnotic by newspapers. "In fact it turned out that the two halves of my training were to complement one another", Massine was to discover in retrospect in his autobiography. "My theatrical portrayal benefited from my knowledge of movement, and my acting experience helped me with the creation of live character studies when I danced."5 Throughout his life Massine, who was quickly able to compensate for any technical shortcomings in dance, would be very critical of performing with virtuosity for his own benefit. For him, choreographic composition above all had to serve the purpose of a convincing portrayal of the figures and interpretation of the subject. Most notably his ballet comedies, which are seldom undermined, afford a whole series of brilliant character studies which Massine virtually tailor-made for 'his' dancers.

"I responded particularly well to his type of choreography since all the movements felt as though they were part of me", recalls one of Massine's favourite ballerinas Lydia Sokolowa, in her compelling memoirs and she wistfully adds: "When Massine stopped inventing his exceptional movements for Lydia [Lopokowa], Stas [Stanislaw Idzikowsky], Leon [Woidzikowsky] and for me, we too were lost. We never created6 anything remotely comparable since then! Massine - dancer and performer - admittedly created the best roles for himself. Aside from the miller in the Spanish farce The Three Cornered Hat - Tricorne, noteworthy in this regard are the parody of the can-can dancer in La Boutique fantasque, the Peruvian tourist to Paris in Gaité Parisienne with all its irony and obviously the leading role in Pulcinella. This is what the spellbound ballet author and eye witness Cyril Beaumont has to say: "It was exciting to be part of an experience in which Massine was capable of conveying his thoughts and feelings with a tilt of the head, with his posture, or through a change in speed or variation in movement."7

Now let us take a journey through time to the beginning of his career. Already in 1915 Diaghilew appoints his latest find to head choreographer and leading dancer of the Ballets Russes. In so doing, he takes him through a systematic 'education' process that not only involves very stringent dance training at Enrico Cecchetti, but regular visits to museums, language studios and last but not least; close collaboration with the Russian Avant-garde painter Michail Larionow, who will become instrumental in guiding Massine through his first choreographies. These early talent trials appear to raise the confidence Diaghilew has put in him, because the optimistic undertones with which he announces his new aesthetics orientation to composer Maurice Sandoz in 1915 is unmistakable: "What we need now are 'emancipated' dancers, who are au fait with the formal school technique, but have liberated themselves from it. They will develop gestures to a new music as never heard before."8 It took only two years for Diaghilew's confidence to be corroborated - threefold, all at once.

Enter a New Aesthetics
In 1917 the Ballets Russes brought out three very different productions shortly after one another. They all have one thing in common in that they finally leave behind the Russian Oriental image prevelant in the early years, which was essentially determined by the ideals and protagonists of the artists' circle "Mir iskusstva" (World of Art). Arguably Les Contes Russes to Anatoli Ljadow's Symphonic Miniatures are still based on Russian fairytales and folk dances, but neither Massine's choreography nor Larinow's futuristic set avail themselves of the usual Russian clichés, which were justifiably celebrated in the early years. The world of the witches Kikimora and Baba-Yaga or that of a swan princess clad in a monstrosity of a hoop skirt, from which many signets eventually scurry forth, comes across as strangely distorted and annoyingly modern.

Distance and alienation permeated with irony characterise the second ballet of this season Le Donne di Buon Umore (The Good Humoured Ladies) even more, with the comedy of the same name from Carlo Goldoni. Although Massine does not 'invent' any new movements in it like Nijinsky, he does implicitly renounce Fokine's romanticism. In actual fact, Massine's fast-paced choreography uses authentic material from various dance tracts from the 18th century that transforms the excited patter of Goldoni's figures in motion. Admittedly these steps and arm movements are combined in an unusual way and at a downright frantic speed. It is the 'birth' of this typical Massine style that was to permeate especially the earlier ballets, tending to demand far too much from the audience, critics and dancers alike. "The movements in this ballet were completely new and were distinct from both classical and character dancing. They were so unfamiliar to us that after the rehearsals our bodies ached liked never before. Your knees would be flexed constantly and your arms remained angled all the time. This meant your limbs were never in a straight line", Lydia Lopokowa, prima ballerina of the time later recalled.9 These movements, which were already complex in themselves, were additionally strung together in a way that evidently took as a vantage point Bach's Art of Fugue and Mozart's artistic ensembles, thus bringing about a new sense of equilibrium between dance and music. However that which led musicians and music critics to rave, had a tendency to alienate traditionally predisposed ballet fans for a long time yet. There was a yeaning to revert to Fokine's flowing movements and even to Nijinsky's shocking experiments. Massine's ballets are criticised as being too complex; one tends to experience them as "cold" and "mechanical" because they refuse the audience the denouement that it is familiar with and can identify with. Way back in 1962 on the occasion of the London revival, Richard Buckle could not help highlighting this aspect of alienation in his review. He elucidated his critique as follows: "The erratic and doll-like movements are reminiscent of the time of Guardi [and Goldoni] seen in a distorting mirror and spare us from a sickly sweet cliché image of Venice."10

It is Parade - with the provocative sub-title of "Ballet réaliste" - that will ultimately push this rejection of the tried and tested visual and audio routines we have become familiar with to the limit, by breaking with tradition on every level. Theme, set, music and mise-en-scène become the inspiration for a new aesthetics: The theme conceptualised by Cocteau in the dichotomy between the greyness of the big city and commerce on the one hand, and the colourful world of the circus on the other, addresses modern man's alienation from his inner "poetic" being, which has found a last refuge in the world of artists and children; Picasso's set takes up this antagonism by juxtaposing the colourful world of the acrobats with the "false reality scene" of a cubically presented big city backdrop, which with its figures representing managers has already infiltrated the world of poetry and threatens to destroy it11; in Satie's music, pistol shots, sirens and clattering typewriters can be heard entering into a very outlandish alliance with Fugue, choral and ragtime music; moreover Massine's choreography mixes everyday movements with quotations from the silent motion pictures and circus acts of the time. Incidentally, it is to this short dance performance that Guillaume Apollinaire first applied the term "surréalisme" and that led to modern ballet finally breaking away from the traditions and conventions of the 19th century, turning it into "total theatre" comprising poetry, music, painting and dance.

To a certain extent Parade marked the end and climax of this unusual season in May 1917. A season which responded to the changing art scene like a seismograph.

"Our world view has changed. The demands we make on people, our perception on the essence of art have transformed themselves. There is a deep yearning for new belief making itself felt among the whole of humanity. We are keeping a lookout for art that will herald something of this new belief. We are looking for new benchmarks", is what the music critic, Paul Bekker, observed in 1919, making a stand for art that would step down from its ivory tower as the only possible outcome.12 In view of a catastrophe that has turned large parts of Europe into a devastated landscape and has traumatised entire generations, critical involvement with the present is now being called for: An overhaul of the illusionary dream worlds of Fokine's stockpile of romantic and exotic subjects, even making them look suspect in much the same way as Nijinsky's pleasure trips to the fertility rituals of prehistoric cultures. In contrast, Massine's ballets are always about the relationship to the present, which is increasingly becoming a prerequisite - be it in the anti-naturalistic handling of historical material, or be it to do with the choice of themes itself, or in the productive involvement with the current developments in contemporary art. In retrospect, the 1917 hat-trick turned out to be the seed from which not only the further development ensued of Massine the choreographer, but from which decisive inspiration for the history of dance of the 20th century will emerge. Some of these inspirations are outlined below.

Laughter Makes a Comeback
With the Goldoni adaptation of Le Donne di Buon Umore laughter makes a comeback to the dance stage - after all of a century - and exemplifies Massine as the master of an art that is vying to be recognised to this day. Those who "only" want to entertain are often considered as frivolous, labelled as commercial art suppliers aimed at the masses and must therefore be classified as inferior per se. "True" art does not entertain, but provides answers to life's fundamental questions. Having said this, it is anything but easy to get people to laugh. There is a great risk in having to pay dearly for a punch line aspired towards because of cheap effects resulting in comedy degenerating into slapstick. There are however tried and tested methods to avoid having to dispense with quality in this way, which brings us to one very important point. It is precisely that which is funny, which has to be taken seriously, both by the writers and the performers alike. Massine's ballet comedies do justice to this fundamental rule virtually without exception. Starting with conscientious preparatory work, which always precedes the actual choreography; through to the conception of the characters, whose complex expression of movement by far dispenses with all superficial and one-dimensional typecasts; all the way to the portrayal methods and composition techniques used, which in no way "differ" from those of "serious" subjects.

The call by leading theatre reformers such as Edward Gordon Craig or Wsewolod Meyerhold for a reversion to representational options of forgotten or even frowned upon performance variations - such as the Commedia dell´arte or the grotesque - should in actual fact take advantage of two crucial elements that are prevalent in all varieties of comic theatre performances in a more or less obvious manner: On the one hand the emphasis on physical portrayal; on the other the distinct tendency towards alienation and ironic distancing, without which the laughter would stick in your throat even at the sight of very radically performed mishaps and foibles. Massine's ballet comedies distinguish themselves through the combination of both aspects. In this way Massine's portrayal of the Neopolitan buffoon Pulcinella can serve as a prime and simple example of a return to the expressiveness of the body. The body's movements and poses are devised by the choreographer in front of a mirror, and in so doing the mask - which came about in Naples thanks to an old Pulcinella performer - quickly develops a life of its own. Decades later, director Giorgio Strehler - while working on Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters - would have a very similar experience. He portrayed it as a transformation process, which has in its grasp and is able to change the body and soul of the performer once the mask is donned. Not only is Massine's metamorphoses a success but so too does his choreography as a whole prove to be so convincing that even Stravinsky, who is always difficult to please, is full of praise and even categorises Pulcinella as a "rare stroke of luck" of a production with a successful outcome all round.13 Also here, as was already the case with Le Donne di Buon Umore, it was the harmonious combination of music and dance that would catch the eye of the occasional critic in particular: "It is hardly necessary to place any extra emphasises on Stravinsky's adaptation of Pergolesi as not exactly having come about as the result of self-denial. Even so, gliding across from the purity of Italian melodics to unadulterated Stravinsky does not come across as disturbing, since Massine's wonderful choreography keeps track of this change in such a natural manner for it to look as though the dancers are taking the lead and that the orchestra is simply following their spontaneous movements."14 For its part, Picasso's set not only complements the music and choreography in an ideal manner, but to this day probably ranks among the most beautiful décor in the history of ballet.

The seriousness with which the authors approach the various themes becomes apparent in the prolonged preparations, which precede every production. Studies conducted in archives or on site must not only serve as an inspiration, but supply very concrete material that is worked into compositions, choreography and the set. With this being the case, the actual work on The Three Cornered Hat was preceded by a trip through Spain that lasted several weeks, in the course of which its composer, Manuel de Falla, recorded countless melodies in cafés, bars und from street musicians, while Massine studied folk dances and the language, and took Flamenco lessons for weeks. Picasso on the other hand grappled with the paintings of Goya, the light and colours of his home country, as well as the initial choreographic drafts, before even attempting to sketch a picture of the stage, the costumes and give make-up instructions. Ultimately the result that presented itself was a side of Spain beyond all clichés.

The impact of all these productions is however not only contingent upon the conscientious preparation and choosing of theme and material, but it goes without saying that essentially everything hinges on how the aforementioned is worked. For in effect it is the compositional presentation of time and space that ultimately becomes the deciding factor of the quality of a piece. Herein lies the core of a new kind of aesthetics that no longer favours the 'God-given spark' of inspiration and the genius that comes with it, but prefers the virtues of an artisan who works the material (which he himself may also have chosen) at his disposal according to all the laws that govern art. Massine's character comedies do not differ from his remaining ballets in this regard. Differentiating between 'light' and 'heavy' here would be as absurd as differentiating between 'entertaining' and 'serious'.

A look into the mirror
"It is neither possible nor necessary to develop a completely new technique. With the old one as a basis, there are endless possibilities to enrich choreography; a rich stockpile of movements that has barely been tackled."15 What is being expressed by Massine here in a 1934 interview and what has already become recognisable in the triads of 1917 (in all their diversity when it comes to choice of theme and presentation) sounds like a programmatic presentation of neoclassical principles. Playing with different materials and composition techniques from a rich stockpile of dance, theatre and the history of music is however radically at odds with that late romantic art ideal, which understands the creative process as being governed by inspiration and because of this, it is ultimately mystified.

Consequently the opponents, with Theodor W. Adorno at the helm, are quick to defame neoclassic that identifies itself with the name Stravinsky, as "aimless destructiveness" and a loss of creativity16; in so doing, not only does Adorno overlook the fact that creativity cannot be solely defined by 'invention', but that it can also be defined according to how something is 'worked'. Stravinsky, Picasso or Massine happen to be emphasising the re-organisation of precisely these 'building blocks' that are already available and whose origin appears to be secondary when it comes to the final analysis.

Now borrowings of this nature have a rich tradition to look back on. Palestrina, Bach and Mozart had no problem whatsoever using their own or foreign material for new compositions, not to mention working popular melodies in all musical genres from just about every period; and it was precisely in ballet that the recycling of successful passages was customary, in much the same way as arrangement of music that was alien to dance was customary (what immediately comes to mind is Fokine's Les Sylphides to orchestrated piano pieces by Chopin). There were other reasons for the subsequent cry of indignation at Pulcinella. Lack of respect, which was the allegation that formed the focal point of the criticism, clearly indicates what exactly this controversy was about - namely the preservation of masterpieces as sacrosanct museum pieces. However neither Stravinsky, nor Picasso or Massine are aiming at a reconstruction of the past or simply the harmonisation and re-working of material. In Le Donne di Buon Umore the incorporation of historical elements was already intended to serve the experimental expansion of portrayal possibilities. "The theatrical revival of an epoch remains fiction if you limit yourself to mere 'emulation'. For this reason I do not want to imitate the 18th century style, but give my own rendition based on my very own view of the world of Goldoni", is what Leon Bakst wrote in a programme guide article in 1917 in reference to his set of Donne.17 According to this the distance between yesterday and today must not be concealed, but clearly emphasised with awareness thereof being created. It is precisely this dichotomy between Baroque step art on the one hand, and the contorted poise, tempo and dynamics of the modern on the other from which Massine's choreography ultimately lives. Goldoni's time is effectively seen through a 20th century looking glass. This grappling with the past, which was once labelled as a "necessary look in the mirror" by Stravinsky", becomes the key experience for all involved to put into motion new developments, while at the same time unleashing irritations and instigating protests. While in Le Donne di Buon Umore this new approach becomes mainly discernible in the choreography, Pulcinella aims at making the calculated distance to the past recognisable on all levels: 'Authentic' costumes are combined with a cubist stage; lines of Baroque melody find themselves in a contemporary environment of 'false' harmonies or are entrusted with a jazz formation; classical ballet, folk dances from Naples and masquerades literally crash into one another. Yet one cohesive whole emerges from all these contradictions, defining and shaping the spontaneous nature of the Commedia dell´arte for the present. The playful use of style, motifs and traditions, in brief: After Pulcinella the free availability of material rapidly evolves into a new art scene credo, which no longer has any fear of contact and discovers ballet as the ideal experimental ground for itself.

Experiment Equals Elixir of Life
It is this relentless delight in experimentation and the working of ever new inspirations that will become Massine's trademark. Of all the choreographers of his time "he is the most difficult to pin down a style on, since he masters and uses them all in much the same way as his friend Picasso", observed one critic in 193818. However, not all his contemporaries reacted as positively to this pluralism - which as with Picasso or Stravinsky - often tended to be interpreted as a chase for the 'latest craze'. There was already a dichotomy of views when it came to Parade. "Had I known that the story was going to be so simple, I would have brought along the children" was what one indignant visitor to the premier supposedly had to say.19 Other members of the audience apparently felt so taken aback by the trampling managers and the seemingly undemanding circus theme that they came close to stampeding the stage to bring an end to this cubist concoction. On the contrary for most of the artists present Parade came across as an absolute revelation.

"The impact on conventional Paris was far more serious than the war. Paris was totally confused and at a loss as to whether it should be laughing or crying, so in the end it did both", is how the correspondent from Theatre Arts Magazine described this explosive atmosphere. "Obviously nobody who was on the same modern wavelength as the authors was in the least surprised at this ballet. It offered a synthesis that many among us have long been waiting for."20 Contemporary painters and composers, who were inclined to deny themselves the theatre and especially the ballet until now, are suddenly discovering dormant possibilities here.

The list of artists that worked for Diaghilew or one of the competing ensembles, which were becoming more prolific, reads like a "Who is Who" of 20th century art. Even well after Diaghilew's death, Massine remained a sought after partner - particularly for projects that dispense with familiar terrain.

"I would have been at a loss to find a better co-worker to implement my ideas", Stravinsky admits in an interview on the occasion of the new version of his Sacre du Printemps in 1920. "The new choreography does not in the least take into consideration the anecdotal details or any literary developments. It does nothing but construct an architectural building in harmony with the music.21 With this focus on the interplay of the musical and choreographic structures Massine makes inroads into a development that he continues in his symphonic ballets as from 1933. However it was George Balanchine, who would leave his trademark on ballet of the 20th century by rigorously dispensing with literary content and (almost) elevating any set to the fundamental design principle. For his part Massine soon realises that this purely formal approach is ultimately in contradiction to his own disposition and that the 'abstraction' tested in Sacre or Choreartium (to Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 4) was only one of many paths that can be taken in the search for contemporary dance theatre.

Unlike Balanchine, Massine is always prepared to subjugate the choreographic presentation options to the concept as a whole. In 1928 this leads to Diaghilew's multimedia spectacle Ode, in which film projections and lighting effects enjoy the same right as the choreographic presentation and at times even appear to dominate these. A year earlier the finale of Prokofjew's Soviet ballet Le Pas d´Acier elicited ambivalent reactions not only because of the provocative theme; but Massine was accused of melding his dancers with parts of Jakuloff's moveable stage structure, intentionally turning this into a hymn lauding factory work and the beauty of the machines. Also in later years Massine did not seem to mind subjugating his choreographic fantasy to the concept as a whole - especially if this concept stemmed from the likes of brilliant artists like Picasso (Mercure 1924) or Salvador Dalì (Bacchanale 1939, Labyrinth 1941, Mad Tristan 1944).

A further facet of this passion for experimentation is also represented by those productions that involve religious themes and the tradition of the sacred dance, which has meanwhile been suppressed. Massine's first ballet that did not come to fruition was to have represented a theatricalisation of the Russian Liturgie in which original songs (arranged by Stravinsky), dance actions without music and a futuristic noise orchestra were to have been combined. It was only in 1938 that Massine revisited this approach and this time had a scoop when he obtained Paul Hindemith as composer and Pawel Tschelitschew - who already showed an inclination towards certain mysticism in Ode - as co-author. Nobilissima Visione gave impetus to stages of the life of Francis of Assisi, to which Giotto's frescos act as leading exponent, as do inspirations from modern dance. Eventually in 1952, with Laudes Evangelii a production followed that can to a certain extent be regarded as precursor of John Neumeier's St Matthew Passion. Religious songs from Upper Italy from the 13th century (the so-called Laudes) serve as the template for text and music, while the text and music in their turn orientates themselves on the frescos and Byzantine mosaics of the Middle Ages. It must however be said that here too it is not about the reconstruction of mystery plays from medieval times, but about their retrieval for the 20th century as is expressly emphasised by Giorgio Signorini: "The intention behind the Laudes Evangelii was to bring into a new form of theatre, the 'history' reconstructed from the manuscripts, a contemporary version of the language they spoke22.

The premier takes place in a church (San Domenico) in Perugia and "evokess something that is so indefinably simple and so overpowering that it forces us to our knees" as publicist and dance critic Walter Sorell writes.23 What ultimately links Laudes Evangelii with ballets such as Parade, Le Pas d´acier, Ode or Choreartium is their experimental approach and their departure from tried and trusted thought and observation patterns.

"Art possesses eternal youth, changes constantly and must continuously look for new paths", is perhaps Diaghilew's most important maxime24 - and for a lifetime Massine remains committed to the motto of the man who discoverer and mentored him. True to this conviction he constantly turns to ever new areas and works together with the most diverse artists - with Martha Graham, as well as Max Reinhardt and Lucchino Visconti; the most diverse painters such as Max Ernst, Joan Mirò and Marc Chagall can be found among his stage backdrops; and the music of his ballet shows a stylistic bandwidth stretching from Stravinsky, Paul Hindemith and Georges Auric, all the way through Wagner, Brahms und Rossini to Oswald von Wolkenstein.

In retrospect Massine actually came across as someone who is constantly driven, never satisfied with that which has been achieved, but always on the go to discover new theatre worlds - and leave these up to others to exploit and develop.

The World is his Oyster
It therefore hardly comes as a surprise that this talent oscillating between styles and genres made the world his oyster. Under Diaghilew's leadership this shy boy from Moscow quickly blossomed into a polyglot and a well educated citizen of the world, who stage managed operas for La Scala in Milan, shot films in London and became a guest who was welcomed with open arms at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, in much the same way as he would be welcomed in Edinburgh or Buenos Aires. This cosmopolitan side of him makes its appearance in those ballets in particular that deal with transformation and topics that are deeply rooted in the folk art of very different countries and regions. However, already the Contes Russes conceptualised in collaboration with Larionow indicate that here it is no longer about the decorative application of inspiration from the folkloristic but about the formulating of a new language that supersedes all clichés. The Spanish farce The Three Cornered Hat - Tricorne immediately elevated itself to an audience favourite. Since its premier in 1919 it has been able to display an almost uninterrupted performance history, which may be ascribed to the fact that all Massine's virtues appear to be collected here: Comedic play and irony, an absolutely natural musicality of movement that really bring to life Picasso's costumes and above all the equally sensitive and effective synthesis achieved from Spanish folk dance, elements of the Flamenco and classical ballet. Put together in their entirety, a more authentic atmosphere than the guest appearances of many a Spanish dance ensemble is achieved. Experiment and innovation additionally make their appearance unobtrusively - Picasso is more inclined to deploy cubist processes subliminally, while Manuel de Falla's music does not shock with provocative appropriation tendencies à la Stravinsky or with sirens howling, jazz sounds and pistol shots like Satie's Parade. The comedy of intrigue revolving around the love-stricken mayor, who tries to usurp the miller's wife in vain, comes across as pointedly lightweight. This emphatically provides proof that a piece that commits to modern design principles can also be popular, and that entertainment and artistic demands have been anything but excluded.

Diaghilew's Legacy
After the untimely death of Diaghilew in 1929, the developments initiated by the Ballets Russes seem to come to an abrupt end since nobody is prepared to or capable of stepping up to the challenge of the legendary ensemble. However, 1932 eventually sees the first of such revivals with the likes of Réné Blum and Colonel de Basil, who attempt to emulate the great hero with varying degrees of success. However, it is mainly Massine and Balanchine who make a lasting impression on the international ballet scene as artistic innovators of the different Ballet Russes formations and as choreographers, well into the fifties. For Massine, the 'mid-period of his work' beginning in 1932 with Jeux d´enfants is characterised by his intensive involvement with symphonic music. "I am firmly of the opinion that there is more to dancing than conveying a legend, story or fairytale, and more than simply a display of virtuosity. I believe that the harmonious form of the human body is capable of creating dynamic and graphic shapes to coincide with with a symphony, in a way that is as convincing and significant as the symphony itself", is how Massine summarises his intentions in 195725, which already found expression in two ballets in 1933. While Les Présages to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 is still accepted by the critics and audiences favourably and with interest, Choreartium elicits heavy criticism only months later. The reason for the indignation making waves in music circles, on the one hand lies in the choice of music: Neither did Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 fit into the formula for programme music in the broadest sense like Beethoven's Pastorale or Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, nor could it be interpreted as "The Apotheosis of the Dance" (Richard Wagner) of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. On the other hand, the choreography emphasised as having been kept 'abstract', is specifically aimed at overcoming conventions and creating a suitable movement score. "As with Les Sylphides, Choreartium goes to show that a setting is only needed for those lacking in imagination", polemicises Arnold L.Haskell, who sees "birth and triumph of pure dance" coming to fruition in Massine's Brahms ballet.26 By contrast guardians of absolute music regard Choreartium as sacrilege. An attitude, which music critic Ernest Newman of all people debunks as being as inconsequential as it is hypocritical. "If 'pure' music cannot be used by ballet, how can Les Sylphides for example therefore be justified? Chopin's music is no more programme music than Brahms'. I think we must acknowledge that the combination of 'pure' music with dance lines, groupings and movements is not paradoxical a priori", is how Newman begins his reflections, which ultimately culminate in a downright defence of Massine. "Strictly speaking no art form is transferable to another, not even poetry to music. We can only perceive certain parallels between two art forms. The fact that some parallels are more difficult to discern than others and therefore consequently have been avoided until now, is no reason to deprive a brilliant choreographer like Massine of the right to this experiment."27 The way in which dance history has developed should prove Newman and Massine right: As a final breakthrough a short while later, Balanchine would play a key role in putting on the map the visualisation of musical structures without a theme and set; and already for the next generation of choreographers like Maurice Béjart and John Neumeier, the interpretation of symphonic music would become a matter of course. After Choreartium, Massine for his part returns to his symphonic ballets, albeit to 'tell' dramatic stories. If nothing else, because of this, his scenic interpretation of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique marks a highlight for Massine's 'symphonic' creations.

Those creations in which Massine adapts works of world literature for the dance theatre can be considered as counterparts and antipodes of the symphonic ballets.

Aleko based on Puschkin's Poem The Gypsies marked the debut of this group of works in 1942, tying in with his home country by falling back on folk and gypsy dances and on the folkloric ballets à la Dreispitz or Les Contes Russes all at once. Even though the set was Marc Chagall's responsibility and Carmen as the subject matter actually ought to strike a cord with the audience, Aleko receives comparatively little recognition. In the interim Balanchine and his New York City Ballet would have been more than successful in establishing this puritan perception of dance, which was tested as one of the first by Massine himself in Choreartium. As many as ten years after this experiment, ballet with a dramatic plot came across as "old fashioned" per se to audiences at large, as well as to the critics. In the mid-fifties Usher based on Edgar Allan Poe and Mario e il Mago based on Thomas Mann ensued. Two very demanding productions whose reception is negligible.

Finally in 1960 Massine once again plucked up the courage to do an adaptation of two literary templates in such a contradictory way that was hardly conceivable. In collaboration with Jean Anouilh, a choreographic adaptation of his Bal des voleurs was compiled, to which Georges Auric, an old familiar name from the Ballets Russes days, contributed the music. Likewise, for the festival organised by Massine in Nervi (near Genoa) seven stories from Bocchaccio's Decamerone are collated into an animated fresco with the title La Commedia Umana. The majority of critics respond negatively and already appear to have forgotten Massine's merits when it comes to 20th century ballet. A pupil of Cecchetti and dance historian Friderica Derra de Moroda, who is visiting the festival on behalf of the Dancing Times London, is hardly impressed. Even so, her report from Nervi found in a manuscript, which was evidently not published, certainly gives expression to how high the expectations being made on Massine now 65 years old still were.

"Much of it is truly Massine at his best and I cannot condone those critics who want to condemn the piece [La Commedia Umana] in its entirety. Even if one Nervi critic had the nerve to label it as 'Massine's Finale', not only is this horrible, but completely unjustified. There is indeed hardly any choreographer whose ballets all turned out to be resounding successes; and I am certain that Massine can look back on more great successes than most other renown choreographers."28

The Master
From a history of dance perspective this assessment has to be absolutely acknowledged. Hands-down Massine was one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century: He created works in collaboration with leading artists of the modern age, which gave new impetus to the evolution of the dance theatre - from Parade in 1917 to the new version of Sacre du Printemps in 1920, though to Choreartium in 1933; at the same time he would succeed in putting his audience under his spell time and again - both as choreographer and dancer. The fact that his creations would more often than not elicit vehement controversy obviously lay in his tireless quest for new forms of expression on the one hand; on the other, in his emphatic intellectual style of choreography that may have contributed to any annoyance. Massine was reproached for being 'contrived' right from the start. However he must be classified as part of an aesthetics, which is anything but easy to gain acceptance for: Even the most popular ballets ultimately require the audience to be involved and not lose itself in daydreams, but taking in the reality of what is happening on stage - a play that holds up a mirror to the observer. This ironic sense of distance, which finds its counterpart content in the re-emergence of comedy and the grotesque, is above all also an expression of Massine's personality. His is a personality characterised by a distinctive tendency towards reflection on his work and a very comprehensive education. Both would eventually slip into his concluding Opus, which Massine regards as his lifework and which he eventually published in 1975 under the title Massine on Choreography - a comprehensive dissertation of the fundamentals and methodology of choreographic composition. Two years later Massine in reference to Boileau, elucidates the motivation behind why he grappled with the theory of the art of dance for decades: "You do not develop your composition from a theory, but you control the fantasy through theory. It is not the source of the composition, but the critical authority over it."29

There is another aspect that must be added. The three masterpieces of 1917, which virtually turned him into a star of the international world of dance overnight, clearly indicate what it is that characterises this choreographer. From the start Massine neither considers himself a champion of tradition nor as its executioner, he is neither a reformist nor iconoclast, but a "choreographer lodged between tradition and the Avant-garde". Only the permanent interchange between past and present will guarantee continuity without rigidity and with it guarantees the future of dance. In retrospect Massine once had the following to say to me about Parade in his typically understated way that was unique to him: "Above all it is about creating something new that is representative of our time".30 With this unreserved avowal to the present that understands tradition as a live heritage, what ultimately also emerges is that pluralism of style that characterises his oeuvre. Much like the convincingly personified Pulcinella, Massine is a master of disguise who can change his masks at will and with his every whim and by so doing maintaining a distance at all times. Massine himself remains hidden behind his ballets as it were, because for him choreography is not synonymous with a personal creed, ideology or replacement religion, but the playful presentation of a virtual world, which invites you to think. This is equally true for La Boutique fantasque, Les Présages and La Commedia Umana. Massine the choreographer will always expect a lot from himself, his performers, and above all his audience. He has never been a star you can "rub shoulders with" be it as an individual or an artist. He is neither suited to being a tragic hero like Nijinsky nor to being a revered maestro like Balanchine. He tends to back off from any form of idealisation - which becomes a real annoyance in a time of idols and superstars. Perhaps it is in this that the deeper underlying reason can be found, as to why to this day, Massine has largely remained a "different master".

1 Karl Pfauter, Ballets de Basil in Berlin, in: Der Tanz 4/1938, pages 6-11.
2 Les Présages (Premier 1933; M: Symphony No. 5 by Tschaikovsky) was reconstructed under the management of Rudolf Nurejew for the Paris Opera in 1989. In 1991 the reconstruction of the second symphonic ballet Choreartium followed (Premier 1933; M: Symphony No. 4 by Brahms) performed by the Joffrey Ballet New York. Both productions elicited enthusiastic responses from the critics.
3 Vincente García-Márquez, Massine. A Biography, New York 1995; Monika Woitas, Leonide Massine - Choreography between the traditional and Avant-garde, Tübingen 1996.
4 Quotation from: Leonide Massine, My Life in Ballet, London 1968, page 61. Unless otherwise stated all translations of quotations from foreign languages stem from the author.
5 Massine 1968, page 39.
6 Lydia Sokolowa, Dancing for Diaghilew, London 1960, page 143.
7 Cyril W. Beaumont, The Diaghilev Ballet in London, London 1940, page 160.
8 Quotation from: Richard Buckle, Diaghilew, Herford 1984, page 296.
9 Quotation from: Milo Keynes (publisher), Lydia Lopokova, London 1983, page 210.
10 Richard Buckle, Buckle at the Ballet, New York 1980, page 196f.
11 Mainly see the entries in Cocteau's notebook "Carnet Turin" (Fonds Kochno - Archive of the Paris Opera].
12 Quotation from: Paul Bekker, Kritische Zeitbilder, Berlin 1921, page 127.
13 See Igor Stravinsky's, Schriften und Gespräche I, Mainz 1983, page 96f. [English versions: Conversations with Igor Stravinsky OR Chronicle of My Life]
14 Observer 13.6. 1920, quotation according to: Nesta MacDonald (publisher), Diaghilev observed by critics in England and the United States 1911-1929, New York 1975, page 248.
15 Quotation from: Arnold L. Haskell, Balletomania. The story of an obsession, London 1934, page 151.
16 See Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophy of the New Music, Frankfurt/M. 1948.
17 Programmheft der Ballets Russes, Saison 1917 (Fonds Kochno, Paris Opera archives)
18 Karl Pfauter in: Der Tanz (see remark 1)
19 Quotation from: Cocteau - Maritain. Der Künstler und der Weise, Augsburg (no year given), page 20.
20 Huntley Carter, Newest tendencies in Paris theatre, in: Theatre Arts Magazine 12/1917, page 38f.
21 Interview in: Comoedia 27.12.1920, quotation according to: Francois Lesure (publisher), Le Sacre du Printemps - Dossier dePresse, Geneva 1980, page 57.
22 Quotation from: Mario Pasi (publisher), Ballett - von 1581 bis zur Gegenwart, Mailand/ Wiesbaden 1979, page 250.
23 Walter Sorell, Aspekte des Tanzes. Gestern - Heute - Morgen, Wilhelmshaven 1983, page 28.
24 Quotation from: Arnold L. Haskell, Diaghileff - his artistic and private life, London 1935, page 287.
25 Foreword to: Serge Lido, Ballet No.7, Paris 1957.
26 Haskell 1934, page 250.
27 Sunday Times 29th October 1933, quotation from: Massine 1968, page 193.
28 Report from Nervi 1960, Manuscript Collection from Derra de Moroda Dance Archives Salzburg.
29 Interview with Marilyn Hunt dated 23rd November 1977. Tape recording and manuscript of the New York Public Library/ Dance Collection.
30 Massine 1968, page105.