Ivanov, Lev

views updated May 21 2018

Lev Ivanov

Dancer, choreographer, ballet master, composer, and teacher Lev Ivanov's (1834-1901) fame was almost exclusively posthumous. Ivanov received little recognition in his own lifetime. It wasn't until 30 years after his death in 1901 that he started to receive recognition for his work, including the timeless ballet Swan Lake, which was up until then thought of as mainly—or only—as Marius Petipa's work, whose shadow Ivanov lived in for the whole of his life. The International Encyclopedia of Dance says of Ivanov's Swan Lake, it "stood as a monument to Russian and world ballet of the nineteenth century."

Both Ivanov and his work were integral in the development of classic romantic ballet in Russia. He married dance with music, influencing later choreographers, including Michel Fokine. Known for his ability to choreograph for emotional effect, Ivanov is considered the soul of Russian choreography and of Russian ballet of the late nineteenth century.

Loved Ballet From an Early Age

On March 2 (February 18, old style), 1834 in Moscow, Russia, Ivanov was born into an intelligent and affluent (although not upper class) family. His father was a kind and fairly educated merchant, possibly of Georgian origin. His mother, who raised him and several siblings on her own, moved the family around often. Ivanov's childhood has been described as sad, spent between an orphanage (or foundling hospital) and a merchant's family, before he was sent to boarding school.

Ivanov showed interest in ballet at a very young age. His father introduced him to dance and Ivanov witnessed his first performance—several one-act plays and the ballet Don Juan—in the company of his father. Ivanov liked the ballet so much he decided then to become a dancer. Ivanov was sent first to Moscow to study at the school of the Imperial Ballet, then to the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatre School when he was ten years old (also said in 1852). In the school, Ivanov showed enough promise after a year to be taken on as a state-supported student.

Entered St. Petersburg Ballet Scene

Studying under such names as Jean-Antoine Petipa (the father of Marius Petipa), Aleksandr Pimenov, Pierre-Frederic Malavergne and Emile Gredlu, Ivanov showed proficiency not only in dance, but also had a natural ear for music. After hearing a ballet, the talented Ivanov could recreate the entire score, by ear, on the piano. Unfortunately, his musical talent was not especially noted.

In 1850, at age 16, and still in the St. Petersburg Theatre School, Ivanov began to dance in the corps of the Imperial Theatres. He was first presented to the public on June 7, 1850, by Jean Petipa in Le ballet des meuniers, in which he danced the title pas de deux. He then appeared in such productions as Catarina, Esmerelda, Mariquita, and La Filleule des fees (The Fairy's Godchild), all staged by Jules Perrot for ballerina Fanny Elssler. Under Perrot, Ivanov worked for most of his career.

Lost in the Fame of Others

In 1852, Ivanov officially joined the corps de ballet of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. On March 20, 1852, he was admitted to the ballet troupe of St. Petersburg's Bolshoi Theatre, with principal dancers Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa, and Christian Johansson. Often lost in the brilliance of such talent, Ivanov was however noticed by Elena Adnreyanova, who revived La Chaumiere hongroise to a new musical score in 1853, and chose Ivanov for the role of the young peasant, Ulrich. In class, Ivanov was also noticed by Russian ballerina Tatiana Smirnova, who partnered with him in La fille mal gardee. on November 3, 1853. Ivanov lived up to expectations in this performance and was given the title role in Le ballet des meuniers in 1854.

Ivanov soon began substituting for Marius Petipa during illnesses, which was later to define his career. In 1858, he began to teach in the lower school of the Imperial Theatre School. He taught two junior classes for girls. His students included Evgenia Sokolova, Ekaterina Vazem, Olga Preobrazhenskaya.

An Unhappy Marriage

In 1859, Ivanov dedicated his work in composition and choreography to actress, singer, and dancer Vera Lydova (who was accepted straight into the Bolshoi Theatre out of school) and the two were married within the year. Together they had three children and an unhappy marriage. Lydova's short career was to reach incredible heights as a dancer and singer and in 1869, Ivanov applied for a separate residence permit for her. In the March of 1870, she fell ill and died.

Career Ups and Downs

Ivanov continued to move upward as a dancer. By 1869, he was partnering visiting, eminent ballerinas. He was by then a principal dancer (a position he had acquired in 1858), distinguishing himself as a mime and as a character role dancer. He was also distinguished as a docile stand-in for principal dancers (which made him valuable) when he filled in for Petipa on two occasions, without preparation. His memory was unrivaled. Roles in Perrot ballets quickly followed. He became engaged in nearly every ballet in the repertory. And yet, Ivanov was still not renown and poorly paid, lost in stand-in roles for famous dancers.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Ivanov took leading roles in the ballets of Saint-Leon and Marius Petipa. Although prominent, the roles were limited to mime. Then, Ivanov relinquished the position of principal dancer to Pavel Gerdt, who was elegant and well-proportioned and a favorite to partner with the ballerinas. Ivanov was drinking and had stopped training. In 1877, he married dancer Varvara Ivanova (whose stage name was Malchugina), with whom he had three more children.

Composed Music

In 1878, Ivanov composed music for The Little Humpbacked Horse, which was danced by Evgenia Sokolova. In 1882, he became regisseur (stage manager) of the Maryinsky Theatre, a post he kept for only three years. He created many ballets in this capacity, but rarely received credit for them because of Petipa's name. In 1883, he won the Gold Medal with the Stanislaus ribbon in recognition of his outstanding services.

Became Petipa's Assistant

In 1885, at the age of 51, Ivanov became the second ballet master (assistant ballet master) when Petipa was appointed chief ballet master. He was demoted to this position because he had loosened discipline among the company members as regisseur. As second ballet master, Ivanov produced the many minor ballets required for the various stages of the Imperial Theatres, including the Kamenyi-Ostrov Theatre and the Krasnoe Selo spa theatre, as well as produced Saint Petersburg ballets and opera dances in St. Petersburg. The partnership proved advantageous for Petipa, who enjoyed an assistant who would take on any assignment and made no assertions of independence. And again, Ivanov's remarkable memory came in handy, in the recreation of older ballets alongside Petipa.

Ivanov's first major staging was of Dauberval's La fille mal gardee in 1885. In 1887, he choreographed The Enchanted Forrest, a one act ballet, for the graduation performance of the school. The Enchanted Forest was well received and went to the Maryinsky Theatre. In October 4 of that year, The Tulip of Haarlem premiered, choreographed by Ivanov, and in 1888, he composed and set to the music of various composers a one act ballet The Beauty of Seville, which ran for several seasons.

From 1888 to 1891, Ivanov staged a number of ballets and dances for opera at the Tsar's private court theatre at Krasnoye-Selo. In 1890, he composed Palovtsian Dances and choreographed Cupid's Prank. The next year, he was awarded the Order of Stanislaus, Third Class and choreographed The Boatman's Festival with Friedman.

Choreographed The Nutcracker

In 1892, Petipa fell ill during the production of The Nutcracker, which was his second collaboration with Tchaikovsky (after Sleeping Beauty). Ivanov took over choreography. Ivanov was forced to use the advice and directions of Petipa, even though Petipa was at odds with Tchaikovsky's music, failing to develop it as it was intended. On July 24, 1892, The Nutcracker appeared on stage, featuring Ivanov's signature "The Dance of the Snowflakes."

Ivanov appeared on the stage for the last time in 1893, in a Spanish dance with Marie Petipa, for a benefit performance. In that same year, he choreographed Cinderella and The Awakening of Flora, and was awarded the Order of Anne, Third Class. He also produced The Magic Flute, a one act ballet to the music of Drigo. The Magic Flute was produced for the private stage of the Theatre School, but later became known to the world as part of the repertory of the Pavlova company.

Choreographed Swan Lake

After Tchaikovsky's death, Ivanov revived the second act—the "lakeside" act—of Swan Lake for a memorial concert. Its success led to the revival—from 1894 to 1895—under the direction of Petipa. Petipa contributed the first and third acts, allowing Ivanov keep the second and create the fourth (known as the "white acts"), giving him full creative license. The International Dictionary of Ballet says about the collaborative effort; "The acts are typical of their respective creators, Ivanov's second and fourth showing his lyrical, elegiac, dreamlike style, keeping within the limits of traditional choreography, and Petipa's first and third glittering with the bravura feats of the Italian school and vivid national dances." Ivanov's second act is viewed as the culmination of nineteenth century Romantic ballet. "The Dance of the Little Swans" is one of his signature pieces. Performed in 1895, it met with blasé press.

In 1896, Ivanov choreographed Acis and Galatea. In 1897, he was invited to Warsaw to stage ballets and dances for the opera. In the same year, he produced Petipa's Le Marche des innocences and La halte de la cavalerie and his own The Magic Flute. In March, The Mikado's Daughter premiered but closed after a few performances. Around 1900, Ivanov choreographed the "Czardas" dance to music by Litcz. This was his last major performance.

Ivanov remained Petipa's assistant until his death. In 1901, when Ivanov was 67, he was seized with intense fatigue during the production of Sylvia with Pavel Gerdt. Ivanov became ill and died on December 11 (24, old style), 1901, in St. Petersburg, Russia.


There are six reasons for Ivanov's obscurity: one, he had an unassuming character (perhaps lacking in self-confidence) and a very even temperament; two, he was a Russian choreographer in a time of foreign artists, brought in from Europe; third, he danced at a time when all attention was on the ballerina; fourth, his choreography was always in the shadow of the renowned Petipa; fifth, he displayed his talent late in his career, when he encountered Tchaikovsky; sixth, his "preferences and taste were ahead of his time," as claimed by the International Encyclopedia of Dance.

As www.balletmet.org notes, despite the fact that Ivanov "never truly escaped from under Petipa's wing" and that Ivanov's choreography was always subject to Petipa's approval and corrections (who often changed it), Ivanov's works aged much better than Petipa's. The second "white act" of Swan Lake is still performed in much of the same choreography as in Ivanov's original. And Ivanov is now acknowledged as the chief choreographer of the impressive Swan Lake. The International Encyclopedia of Dance calls him "the assistant and modest shadow of Marius Petipa." He constantly struggled for financial security and was forced to petition for money on more than one occasion. And yet, he is the "soul of ballet."

Marriage of Music and Dance

Ivanov's musical ear was legendary. He composed music for classical dances, ballets, mazurkas and Hungarian czardas, although he never learned to write them in manuscript. Perhaps this is why composers had such a direct influence on his choreography, awakening his imagination. The International Encyclopedia of Dance says of Ivanov's creating experience, "Ivanov's imagination as a choreographer depended entirely on the music: it determined the essence of the ballet's image and form, and a success or failure of a performance was directly proportional to the quality of the music."

In 1991, Ivanov was awarded the Order of Stanislaus, Second Class, for his achievements in ballet.


Bremser, Marta, ed., International Dictionary of Ballet, Vol. 1, St. James Press, 1993.

Cohen, Selma Jeanne, ed., International Encyclopedia of Dance, Vol. 3, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Cohen-Stratyner, Barbara Naomi, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Dance, Schirmer Books, 1982.

Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 1995.


"Lev Ivanov," androsdance.tripod.com/biographies (January 11. 2004).

"Lev Ivanov," reference.allrefer.com/encyclopedia (January 11, 2004).

"Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, Choreographer," www.balletmet.org/Notes (January 10, 2004).