Graduation Ball. The sequel

David Lichine choreographed close to fifty ballets during his lifetime. Graduation Ball, which premiered in Sydney on 1 March 1940, was probably his most successful. In Australia, from March to August 1940, the work was given 69 performances by the Original Ballet Russe, a statistic equalled only by one other ballet during the season — Les Sylphides, which also received 69 performances.

Lichine also created a sequel to Graduation Ball, scarcely known, apparently performed only in Argentina, and called Girls’ Dormitory. The Riabouchinska/Lichine papers held by the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts contain a letter from Lichine to the Director-General of the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, dated 13 March 1947, in which Lichine maintains that a sequel was in his mind ‘from the moment the curtain closed on the opening night of “Graduation Ball”‘. According to Anne Robinson, Girls’ Dormitory was planned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1945, although it was never performed by that company. Its premiere performance was given in Buenos Aires in July 1947 by the Teatro Colón Ballet.

In the same letter to the Director-General Lichine writes ‘The ballet will have many comedy situations … and the corners filled to capacity with youthful abundance of virginal gaiety’, and he notes that the costumes will be similar to those of Graduation Ball. He writes: ‘The boys are all dressed as young cadets and all the girls in uniform with only slight alterations’.

Robinson records that the music for Girls Dormitory was by Offenbach, orchestrated by Antal Dorati, and that the work was designed by Mstislav Dobujinsky. However, a series of designs all dated 1949, clearly entitled ‘Girls Dormitory’ and signed by Alexandre Benois are part of the Manuscripts and Rare Books collection of the Boston Public Library. They appear to be for a different production entirely as the costumes for the girls are chaste night dresses rather than the uniforms mentioned in Lichine’s letter. They are labelled ‘Tenue de nuit de toutes les pensionnaires’. Other designs in the Boston collection are labelled ‘II—Le cauchemar’ and, according to Anna Winestein, in this second act ‘the protagonists find themselves in an exaggerated, nightmarish version of the school they attend’. In his letter to the Director-General Lichine also advises that he is enclosing a synopsis of Girls’ Dormitory but, frustratingly, this synopsis is not included as part of the Riabouchinska/Lichine papers. So the relationship between the ballet Benois designed and what went onstage in Buenos Aires remains unclear.

However, some of the Benois designs in Boston are of interest in the Australian context. Three of these designs are for teachers who appear in the Act II nightmare—’Le Maître de l’Histoire’, ‘Le Maître de Geographie’, and ‘Le Maître de la Grammaire’. While the designs for the professors of Mathematics and Natural History who appeared in the Australian divertissement ‘Mathematics and Natural History Lesson’ (see previous post) have not been located, the Boston designs give an insight into what they may have looked liked. They perhaps also suggest that the idea of the Australian divertissement may have been that of Benois rather than Lichine.

© Michelle Potter, 17 March 2010

Notes:

  • Girls’ Dormitory was, according to Robinson, never seen onstage outside of Argentina, although a film combining Graduation Ball and Girls’ Dormitory was made in Mexico in 1961 by Jose Luis Celis.
  • The Boston designs are reproduced in Anna Winestein’s Dreamer and showman. The work of Benois is still in copyright and this website is not in a financial position to be able to pay reproduction fees.

Bibliography

  • Anne Robinson. ‘The work of dancer and choreographer David Lichine (1910–1972): a chronology of the ballets with a brief critical introduction’, Dance Research, 19 (No. 2, Winter 2001), PP. 7–51
  • Anna Winestein. Dreamer and showman. The magical reality of Alexandre Benois (Boston: Boston Public Library, 2005).
  • Papers of Alexandre Benois 1913-1959, Boston Public Library, MS 2029
  • Papers of David Lichine and Tatiana Riabouchinska (unprocessed), Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

8 thoughts on “Graduation Ball. The sequel

  1. Sometimes I am amazed at the holes in my dance education. I never knew there was a sequel to Graduation Ball. Thank you for raising my ballet IQ.

  2. Well I only found out quite recently myself and I too was shocked that I had never known before. I wish I were able to publish some of the Benois designs but the copyright restrictions are such that I can’t. Thank you for alerting me to Balletbits!

  3. I have just acquired a catalogue for the dispersal of Mstislav Dobuzhinsky works. The sale took place in Paris, 22/23 November 2005. I acquired it mainly to have a colour record of his designs for “Ballet Imperial”. However, of interest in the catalogue are designs for a work entitled “Dormitory”. There are 3 designs catalogued as having been done for the “Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo” in 1943. They are described as follows :

    Le General [which is the only one illustrated and clearly carries the inscription “Dormitory”]

    La Surveillante generale

    Etude de costume pour quatre jeunes filles en chemise de nuit

    On close inspection the date on Le General is clearly 1945 not 1943. There is also a design for a “Portail” presumably a detail of the set design.

    Amongst other works are a number of costume designs for “Le bal de promotion” known to us as “Graduation Ball”. Amongst these are listed Le Cadet, Le vieux General, Jeune Fille en Rose, Jeune Fille en jaune. These relate to the Ballet Theatre production premiered in October 1944 and subsequently acquired by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1949. I had always thought the Benois designs had always travelled with this ballet. In researching this aspect of “Graduation Ball” I came across the following description of the ballet contained in “The Victor Book of Ballets and Ballet Music” published in New York in 1950. In describing the diverts, after dealing with Drummer, Sylphide, and Fouettes, comes the following :

    “a diverting episode, “Mathematics and Natural History Lesson”, which pokes fun at traditional ballet attitudes; and a final “Perpetuum Mobile” for the leading dancers of the group.”

    I am intrigued as to why in 1950 in an American publication there is mention of the Mathematics/History Lesson divert, as it would appear it disappeared very early during the Australian run. There would have been oportunities to see the ballet in America. Was the editor privy to de Basil Australian cast lists and working from these ?

  4. Well this is very interesting. Re the Mathematics divert, I have always thought that it was taken out of the repertoire after the Australian tour and not revived later – this was Valrene Tweedie’s impression and passed on to me in an oral history interview. However, by 1950 perhaps it had returned? As I mentioned in the post, in Boston I came across designs for a Geography Teacher, a History Teacher, and a Grammar Teacher (all signed by Benois and dated 1949). They are clearly labelled ‘Girls Dormitory’ however rather than ‘Graduation Ball’, or ‘Bal des cadets’, a third title that appears on some of the Boston designs. Nevertheless, they clearly relate at least on a theoretical level to the Mathematics divert. Anna Winestein in her exhibition book Dreamer and showman. The magical reality of Alexandre Benois says that the 1949 designs were made for a production of ‘Girls Dormitory’ for the Marquis de Cuevas company, although I don’t know at this stage whether that production was ever realised. Perhaps these new characters were inserted into some production of ‘Graduation Ball’ and caused confusion? I tend to think at the moment, however, that Valrene was right and Mathematics disappeared.

    Going back to the article by Anne Robinson published in Dance Research in 2001, she maintains that ‘Girls Dormitory’ was originally planned for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1945 but was never performed. This supports your comments above about the design by Doboujinsky for the General having the date 1945. The designs in your catalogue are perhaps what was eventually used in the Buenos Aires production of 1947, which apparently used Doboujinsky designs, after the Ballet Russe plan fell through. Robinson also writes that ‘Graduation Ball’ was revived by Lichine with new scenery and costumes by Doboujinsky for Ballet Theatre and premiered in Montreal on 26 September 1944. So I guess we need to start looking further into the work of Doboujinsky to try to find some more answers?

    Re the ‘portail’, I was surprised to find amongst the Boston drawings a design for two medallions, signed and dated 1957 and headed ‘Le Bal des cadets’, one with a portrait of the General, one with a portrait of the Headmistress. I was not able to find any information about their use but, like your ‘portail’, I assumed they were meant to be part of the set for one of what seems by now to be a myriad of different versions of and sequels to what began in Sydney in 1940.

    And as a final comment for the moment, it is possible of course that artists recycle designs. All Benois’ designs that I have seen are annotated in pencil – very easy to erase and replace with another date!

  5. I have just pulled out “The Borzoi Book Of Ballets” by Grace Robert, published at New York in 1946, to check what she has to say regarding “Graduation Ball”. Amongst a lot of other valuable information, she gives the cast listing for the opening night in New York by the Original Ballet Russe on November 6, 1940. Amongst the diverts “Mathematics and Natural History” is listed and the performers were Svetlova, Zarova, and Azrova. Robert calls it a “humorous trifle” and says “it included an arabesque that would probably have caused Cecchetti to have apoplexy”.

    The whole entry on “Graduation Ball” is most interesting as it goes on to describe the subsequent Ballet Theatre performances and the changes therein, mainly a substitute pas de deux for “Sylphide and Scotsman”, the deletion of the Mathematics divert. and the insertion of another male solo, “Tyrolian Boy”.

    Her final summing up is as follows :

    “the revival [by Ballet Theatre] left a strong impression that fluorescent lighting had replaced candles in the crystal chandelier”.

  6. How interesting! The work was still fairly new when it got to New York in 1940 so it is not surprising that the Mathematics divert was still in at that stage. I wonder if it got deleted in Cuba due to lack of dancers etc? Does the Borzoi article (I don’t have that book) have anything to say about the designs?

    It’s hard to believe that candles were used in the crystal chandelier, even in 1940 there must have been fire regulations to consider. But looking at some of the Nanette Kuehn images from the Australian production, they could indeed be candles.

  7. She credits the OBR designs to Benois and the Ballet Theatre ones to Doboujinsky.

    I took her remarks regarding the fluorescent lighting as being ironical and interpreted them as meaning that performances had degenerated somewhat and what had formerly carried the grace and light hearted gemuchlichkeit of old vienna now had hardened into new world coarseness and brashness.

  8. You are no doubt absolutely right re the irony! Just a touch of feeling literal today I’m afraid. But, by the same token nothing would surprise me. I once was involved with an Indonesian candle dance with real candles which were lit in the wings just before the dance began!

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