The Magic Pills

Ballet-féerie in three acts and thirteen scenes
Music by Ludwig Minkus

World Première
21st February [O.S. 9th February] 1886
Imperial Mariinsky Theatre, Saint Petersburg

Original 1886 Cast
Eugenia Sokolova

Plot
The Magic Pills was made up of three parts. The first part was set in a sorceress’s cave and the second part presented various games – croquet, bingo, billiards, a spinning top, draughts, cards and others – allegorically depicted in dances. The third and final section was the Kingdom of the Laces, which presented different nationalities of laces – Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, etc – in a series of dances.

Vera Zhukova and Alfred Bekefi in the Dance of the Game of Hoops (1886)
Vera Zhukova and Alfred Bekefi in the Dance of the Game of Hoops (1886)

History
The Magic Pills was the first ballet to be staged and performed at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre after it became the new permanent residence of the Imperial Ballet company. It was also among the first full-length ballets féerie to be staged in Russia, many of which, by this stage, Petipa was being commissioned to create and stage by Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Vsevolozhsky held a huge interest in the current fashion of ballet and was particularly concerned with purely external elegance and the genre of the Parisian féerie was one of his most keen interests.

The characteristics and distinguishes of the féerie genre is that it contains fantasy plots and spectacular visuals, devoid of dramatic content. The ballet féerie had gained wide popularity across Europe in the 1880s with its predominance of spectacular divertissements, especially following the successful première of Manzotti and Marceno’s Excelsior at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1881 and its subsequent premières in London and Saint Petersburg. The success of Excelsior was followed by other spectacles, such as Round the World in Eighty Days and Voyage à la Lune, in which Virginia Zucchi made her Saint Petersburg début in 1885.

Julia Kschessinskaya as the King of Spades (1886)
Julia Kschessinskaya as the King of Spades (1886)

Like many, however, Petipa viewed the ballet féerie in a negative light. He greatly criticised Excelsior, claiming it had no artistic value and abhorred the “new vulgarities”. Nevertheless, he was obliged to satisfy the corrupted tastes of the public and obey the orders of the officials. Being a true artist, Petipa used all novelties with discretion, transforming anything borrowed from other sources into something artistically his own and suitable for ballet. After the event of the féerie, he rearranged crowd scenes and ensembles in some of his old productions, such as Le Roi Candaule, on a grander scale.

The Magic Pills premièred on the 21st February [O.S. 9th February] 1886 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre. The plot of the ballet merely existed as for the purpose of displaying amusing sets of dances, with each act and its numbers representing games and toys, with the most spectacular act being the third and final act, known as The Kingdom of Laces.

Marie Petipa in the Dance of the Spanish Lace (1886)
Marie Petipa in the Dance of the Spanish Lace (1886)

 

Sources

  • Letellier, Robert Ignatius (2008) The Ballets of Ludwig Minkus. Cambridge Scholars Publishing