The Enchanted Forest

Ballet fantastique in one act
Music by Riccardo Drigo

World Première
5th April [O.S. 24th March] 1887
Imperial Ballet School, Saint Petersburg
Choreography by Lev Ivanov

Original 1887 Cast
Alexandra Vinogradova

Imperial Mariinsky Theatre Première
15th May [O.S. 3rd May] 1887

Original 1887 Revival Cast
Varvara Nikitina

Première of Petipa’s revival
25th July [O.S. 13th July] 1889
Peterhof Palace

Original 1889 Cast
Varvara Nikitina

The Dryad Queen
Marie Petipa

In a Hungarian forest, the young Ilka is separated from her friends during a storm. Distraught, she faints by a great oak tree. Genies and dryads appear and take delight in her beauty, but they frighten her. Their master, the Genie of the Forest appears and falls in love with Ilka. He begs her to stay and rule his realm with him as his queen, but when discovering that Ilka has a human fiancé, he threatens her and she faints again. Her friends enter, find Ilka and her fiancé, Josy revives her. Ilka recounts her experiences and joins Josy and their friends in a series of joyful dances.

Maria Anderson as Ilka (1892)
Maria Anderson as Ilka (1892)


The Enchanted Forest was the first ballet that Lev Ivanov choreographed and staged as an independent ballet master. The ballet was originally choreographed for the students of the Imperial Ballet School. Every year, performances were given at the graduation ceremonies of the school, for which a new ballet might be staged. Composing The Enchanted Forest had nothing particular to do with Ivanov’s appointment as second ballet master; it was a routine function of his teaching.

The ballet was premièred on the 5th April [O.S. 24th March] 1887 at the theatre school and was later given a public performance by the Imperial Ballet company on the 15th May [O.S. 3rd May], the last day of the season, alongside a performance of The Naiad and the Fisherman. Critical response to The Enchanted Forest was mixed; there were quibbles about the leading ballerinas: Alexandra Vinogradova, who danced the leading role in the school performance was found to be plump, whereas Varvara Nikitina, her counterpart on the Mariinsky stage, was declared lacking in aplomb. Ivanov’s choreography was greatly criticised, with the theatre critic of the Saint Petersburg Gazette writing:

…this is Mr. Ivanov’s first attempt as an independent ballet master … excepting one variation with classical shadings, there is absolutely nothing in the new ballet deserving of praise.

Reaction to Riccardo Drigo’s music, however, was much more positive, as shown in the review of a critic of The New Time:

… the music of this ballet is outstanding in a symphonic sense, reveals an experienced composer, a man with taste, and an excellent orchestrator. There are beautiful melodies in it, the rhythms are not overdone, and everything is listened to with pleasure from beginning to end.

The Enchanted Forest was revived by Petipa in 1889 for a special performance at Peterhof Palace attended by the Imperial Family after the ballet was chosen for the event by Ivan Vsevolozhsky. In Petipa’s revival, the ballet underwent several changes: the name of the lead character was changed from Valeria to Ilka and Drigo composed some new music numbers, including new variations for Ilka and the Genie of the Forest. Petipa also created a new character in the ballet called the Dryad Queen for his daughter, Marie and among Drigo’s new compositions was a new pas for Mlle. Petipa and the corps de ballet of dryads entitled the Grand Pas des dryads. Petipa’s revival of The Enchanted Forest was premièred at Peterhof on the 25th July [O.S. 13th July] and afterwards, was performed regularly at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. Petipa’s revival was much more successful than Ivanov’s original staging and subsequent revival and the ballet became a favourite of many of the Imperial Ballet’s ballerinas at the turn of the 20th century.

The Enchanted Forest was performed for the final time by the Imperial Ballet on the 15th June [O.S. 2nd June] 1907 at Krasnoe Selo. The ballet was notated in the Stepanov notation method and is part of the Sergeyev Collection.

Although The Enchanted Forest has not been performed in over a century, many excerpts from Drigo’s score have been used in various other ballets since the turn of the 20th century. The Variation of the Genie of the Forest is used as the male variation in the so-called La Fille mal Gardée Pas de deux. In 1950, Vladimir Bourmeister interpolated several excerpts from the score of The Enchanted Forest into his revival of La Esmeralda. For their revival of Le Corsaire, Alexei Ratmansky and Yuri Burlaka inserted a new Grand Pas des Éventails into the final act for Medora, Gulnare, a cavalier and six coryphées. Nearly all of the music used for this Grand Pas is from Drigo’s score for The Enchanted Forest, including the Variation of Ilka, which is used as a variation for Gulnare.



Photos and images: © Dansmuseet, Stockholm © Большой театр России © Victoria and Albert Museum, London © Государственный академический Мариинский театр © CNCS/Pascal François © Bibliothèque nationale de France © Musée l’Opéra © Colette Masson/Roger-Viollet © АРБ имени А. Я. Вагановой © Михаил Логвинов © Михайловский театр, фотограф Стас Левшин. Партнёры проекта: СПбГБУК «Санкт-Петербургская государственная Театральная библиотека». ФГБОУВО «Академия русского балета имени А. Я. Вагановой» СПбГБУК «Михайловский театр». Михаил Логвинов, фотограф. Martine Kahane.