Magazine article Pointe

Postcards from the Past

Magazine article Pointe

Postcards from the Past

Article excerpt

Photo souvenirs offer a glimpse of ballet's glorious history.

With the development of motion pictures only in its infancy around the turn of the 20th century, the still photograph served to document many facets of daily and cultural life. In Russia, as well as in other European countries where ballet was a prominent and state-supported enterprise, leading dancers were celebrities and were photographed in official photographers' studios as well as in the theaters themselves. Portrait cards of dancers in formal dress and in theatrical costumes were offered as postcards, which had become all the rage by this time. Many of these ballet souvenirs were simply collected and treasured, but others were stamped, addressed and mailed with greetings. Because we have nearly no films from this era, when ballet was as popular as movies are today, these little records, produced in fairly large numbers, are the only windows we now have for seeing what ballet was like during this fertile time.

For example, Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978) can be seen pictured in a 1906 Russian postcard as the Tsar-Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse. The not-yet-legendary dancer, who gained lasting fame in Western Europe, was still a soloist in Russia's imperial ballet troupe when she danced this leading role in St. Petersburg. By this time, however, she had already been singled out by leading St. Petersburg critic, Konstantin Skalkovsky, for displaying the "inimitable grace of a young fawn" and for her "Byzantine eyes and supple arms. …

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