Grand ballet in 4 acts
Music by Cesare Pugni
29th October [O.S. 17th October] 1868
Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre, St Petersburg
Original 1868 Cast
Première of Petipa’s first revival
6th December [O.S. 24th November] 1891
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Original 1891 Cast
Première of Petipa’s final revival
22nd April [O.S. 9th April] 1903
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre
Original 1903 Cast
The Three Graces
Le Roi Candaule is based on the history of King Candaules, the ruler of Lydia, an ancient kingdom located in the provinces of İzmir and Manisa in modern day Turkey. The plot tells of the arrogant King Candaules, his corrupt wife, Queen Nisia and Gyges, the true king from whom Candaules has usurped the throne. However, Candaules’ downfall occurs when he culminates Nisia to be placed on the pedestal of the Goddess, Venus, claiming his wife to be more beautiful than the goddess. Greatly offended by this insult, Venus ensues a great divine punishment on the king and queen that ultimately results in their demise and Gyges is restored to his birthright as the rightful king.
Le Roi Candaule is one of Petipa’s great exotic ballets and was first staged in 1868. It was produced with the utmost splendour and opulence, achieving a resounding success with its first twenty-two performances and going on to break attendance records at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre.
The ballet’s setting in the ancient Lydian Empire justified the most lavish décor and costumes, with Petipa demonstrating his skill at staging a Ballet à Grand Spectacle. One celebrated passage was the opening Grand Procession of Act 2, scene 1 in which King Candaules and Gyges made their entrance in a golden chariot drawn by two white horses, followed by Queen Nisia, who made her entrance atop an elaborately decorated elephant, and then followed a massive procession of 200 participants (Petipa would later stage a similar Grand Procession in La Bayadère). The ballet’s pièce de résistance was Petipa’s Pas de Vénus and the final Grand Pas known as the Grand Pas Lydian, both of which were hailed unanimously by the critics and balletomanes as master works of classical choreography. These pieces were often extracted from the full-length work to be performed independently at gala performances.
Petipa revived Le Roi Candaule in 1891 for the Italian Prima Ballerina Carlotta Brianza. For this revival, Petipa created a wonderful pas called Le Berceau du Papillon (The Cradle of the Butterfly). Petipa revived the ballet for the final time in 1903 for the Prima Ballerina Julia Sedova, a pupil of Enrico Cecchetti. For his final revival, he added more new material, all set to new music composed and adapted by Riccardo Drigo from Pugni’s original score. For the celebrated Pas de Vénus, Petipa added a new Adagio and a new dance for Cupid, Nymphs and Satyrs. He also added new variations to Drigo’s music for the Pas de trois of the Three Graces and completely re-choreographed the scene The Baths of Queen Nisia of the third act. Another celebrated passage was the Grand Pas known as the Pas de Diane, which Petipa presented a new version of in 1903. Long before the ballet was notated, Petipa had made his own sketches on paper, of which those for the Grand Pas Lydien and the Danse des Bacchantes survive.
In 1925, Le Roi Candaule received one more revival by the dancer and ballet master, Leonid Leontiev. In this revival, all the scenes containing god-like interferences and references were abolished in order to meet Soviet-approved rules for the theatre. Devoid of its essence, the dancers in the wings whispered that the ballet’s name was now no longer Tsar Kandavl (the Russian title), but ‘Tsar Scandal.’
Le Roi Candaule was performed for the final time on the 2nd September 1925 and has not been performed ever since. The ballet was notated in the Stepanov notation method between 1903 and 1904 and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.
Did you know?
- When the Prima Ballerina, Ekaterina Vazem first danced the role of Queen Nisia, she struggled with a certain pas that had been made famous by Henriette d’Or (the first Queen Nisia). Finding this pas aesthetically non-pleasing, Vazem asked Petipa if he would substitute it for something else, but Petipa advised her to dance the pas, telling her that if she didn’t dance it, everyone would think she couldn’t dance it. She took his advice and in the end, she mastered the pas with great success.
- One account tells of the scene in the first act where King Candaules meets the oracle, Pythia. The account says that the mime scene was considered too bizarre and difficult and that at one point, Pythia waved her arms like flying owls to emit misfortune.
- A variation created by Anna Pavlova to music by Riccardo Drigo for her performance as Queen Nisia is often danced today in the Paquita Grand Pas Classique. It is taken from the celebrated bathing scene The Baths of Queen Nisia when Nisia dances to the sound of her slave’s harp. This was one of Pavlova’s favourite variations and she danced it many times on tour with her company.
- In 1902, Petipa became so enamoured with the dancing of three young girls who had graduated from the Imperial Ballet School into the company that he restaged the Pas de trois of the Three Graces especially to display their talents in the important 1903 revival. Two of them were Lydia Kyaksht, the younger sister of the great premier danseur Georgy Kyaksht, and Tamara Karsavina, who later gained international fame as Sergei Diaghilev’s Prima Ballerina.
- For Petipa’s 1891 revival, Drigo composed a new waltz for Carlotta Brianza. Today, this waltz is used by Yuri Burlaka in his Rose Pas de quatre as a waltz for the four goddesses.
- The role of the Satyr in the Pas de Diane was the final role that George Balanchine danced in Russia. He performed the role in a gala performance at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1922 with Elsa Vill as Diana and Vladelin Semenov as Endymion.
Variation for Anna Pavlova as Queen Nisia, composed by Drigo (1903)
Pas de Diane
The Pas de Diane, also known as Les Aventures Amorouse de Diane (The Amorous Adventures of Diana), is known today as the Diane et Actéon Pas de deux. It is the only piece from Le Roi Candaule that is still performed today and has an extremely complicated history. It has been popularly believed for many years that Petipa choreographed this pas for his 1886 revival of La Esmeralda. That, however, is not the case as this pas is actually from the fourth act of Le Roi Candaule and is one of the ballet’s most famous divertissements. It was first introduced to the West in 1910 by Anna Pavlova when she performed it at the Palace Theatre in London with Mikhail Mordkin. Pavlova went onto dance the Pas de Diane many times with her company, as it was one of her favourite divertissements and was one of her earliest soloist roles with the Imperial Ballet when she first danced it ca. 1900.
Petipa originally choreographed this pas as a Pas de trois for Diana, the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, Endymion the shepherd, a satyr and a small corps de ballet of eight of Diana’s nymphs. The pas is believed to have been based on a painting by the Russian painter, Karl Bryullov, who is most famous for his painting The Last Day of Pompeii. The original scheme for the pas is that it reflects the myth of the passion between Diana and Endymion, with the two of them dancing with a lustful satyr, who vies for Diana’s affections.
However, Petipa’s original scheme for the Pas de Diane contains a mythological inaccuracy, as does the scheme of Bryullov’s painting, though it seems that Petipa may not have been aware of this. The inaccuracy is that both the painting and the pas portray Endymion as the lover of Diana, but Endymion was actually the lover of Luna, the Roman Goddess of the Moon (Selene in Greek mythology) and never had any association with Diana at all. Diana’s famous love interest was actually the Titan hunter, Orion. This inaccuracy is also present in Léo Delibes’ ballet Sylvia and is due to the revival of Greek and Roman mythology in classical times.
The myth of Luna/Selene and Endymion is one of mythology’s most famous love stories. Endymion was a very handsome, young mortal shepherd and one night, when Luna rode out into the sky in her chariot, she saw Endymion asleep under a tree and fell madly in love with him. He reciprocated her love and she visited him every night on Mount Latmos. One of Endymion’s wishes was to have eternal youth, so Luna went to Jupiter and asked him to grant her beloved’s wish. Jupiter agreed and granted his wish by putting Endymion into an eternal sleep, thus Endymion became immortal, never grew old and never died. Luna never lost him and she visited him every night in his dreams. From the love between Luna and Endymion, fifty daughters were born, all of whom are equated with the fifty lunar months of the Olympiad.
Diana/Artemis was a virgin goddess and had many suitors and admirers, but Orion was the only one to win her heart. The son of Neptune and the gorgon, Euryale, Orion was known for his handsome looks and prodigious strength. In the famous version of the myth as told by Istros, Orion became Diana’s hunting companion and the two fell in love, but the relationship was never consummated. Diana even considered marrying Orion, much to the dismay of her twin brother, Apollo, who had grown jealous of his sister’s relationship with the Titan. Apollo sought to do away with Orion and one day, he challenged Diana to an archery challenge, in which he persuaded her to hit a large rock in the middle of the sea. Being the proud archer that she was, Diana accepted the challenge, unaware that the rock in the sea was actually Orion swimming. As soon as Diana released her arrow, she succeeded in striking Orion in the head, killing him instantly. His body was later washed up on the nearest shore. Diana later discovered Apollo’s deception and was left heartbroken by Orion’s death. At her request, Jupiter sent her beloved to the heavens, where he became a constellation.
The version of the Pas de Diane widely known today was choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova in 1935 when she staged a new production of La Esmeralda at the Kirov/Mariinsky Theatre for the ballerina, Tatyana Vecheslova. For this revival, Vaganova resurrected the Pas de Diane and inserted it into the second act as a show-piece for the young Galina Ulanova and Vakhtang Chabukiani. She rechristened the Pas de Diane as the Diane et Actéon Pas de deux, changing the lead male role to the hunter, Actaeon. She removed the role of the Satyr and increased the number of Diana’s nymphs from eight to twelve. Vaganova also added a new variation for Diana, which was originally composed by Riccardo Drigo as a new variation for the Grand Pas des Fleurs in the second act of La Esmeralda and utilised the original music for Diana’s variation as a waltz for the twelve nymphs. The choreography for Actaeon that is still danced today is by Chabukiani.
However, Vaganova’s changing of the scheme, especially the changing of the male character to Actaeon, is both very confusing and bizarre. Like Endymion, Actaeon was never a lover of Diana, but he did have one association with her and the myth of their encounter is one of the most famous of Greek and Roman myths. Actaeon was a very proficient hunter, who had been trained in the art of Chiron, the wise centaur. One day, while out hunting, he entered the part of the forest sacred to Diana and stumbled upon her and her nymphs bathing naked. Diana was so furious with his insolence that she punished Actaeon – she transformed him into a stag and he was hunted down and killed by his own hunting dogs, who didn’t recognise him as their master.
- Beaumont, Cyril (1937) Complete Book of Ballets. London, UK: Putnam
- Pritchard, Jane with Hamilton, Caroline (2012) Anna Pavlova: Twentieth-Century Ballerina. London, UK: Booth-Clibborn Editions
- Wiley, Roland John (2007) A Century of Russian Ballet. Alton, Hampshire, UK: Dance Books Ltd