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The Reforms Of Michel Fokine

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The Reforms of Michel Fokine

Photography, painting, videography, and literature have all progressed over time.

New technology, and new ways of thinking have brought these arts to new levels. There

seems to be a broad misconception, though, that ballet is an art form that does not

progress; does not change. Many people assume that ballet's set vocabulary of movement

places limitations on how far the art can expand. Little do many people realize that this

vocabulary is a mere foundation for the myriad of interpretations that the art went and will

continue to go in. Michel Fokine is one revolutionary ballet choreographers, whose

reforms have taken this previously monotonous art to a new level.

Fokine's ideas were revolutionary for his time, but ironically made perfect sense.

He believed that all of the elements in a ballet should be parallel. In other words, he

thought that the music, costuming, makeup, movements, and sets should all reflect the

same culture and time period of the ballet. During this time in ballet there were often

incongruencies. For example, there would be Russian music, and pointe shoes in a ballet

that supposedly was based on a foreign medieval culture. Fokine was extremely and

consciously consistent in his works. Fokine explains, "The ballet should be staged in

conformity with the epoch represented."

Fokine sets his 1911 ballet, Petrouchka, in Russia. The first scene is a street fair,

which Fokine sets appropriately. He is sure to make the costumes realistic of that time

and place. Rather than dressing the dancers in tutus and leotards, they wear dresses that

are brightly colored and long. They are bundled up appropriately in many colorful layers,

considering the chilling temperatures of Russian winters. They also do not wear pointe

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shoes with long laces, but instead high heel character shoes that were typical of the time

period. Fokine also successfully creates personalities for the three dolls, partly by their

costumes. Petrouchka, who is a forlorn rag doll, wears a thin suit that is as lifeless and

limp as his personality. The costume and makeup is effective in showing his lack of

motivation and sadness. The Moor doll on the other hand, who is a very bold and vain

character is seen in dress that corresponds. His makeup is also very bold. The ballerina

doll is dressed in typical ballerina costume with a china doll face. This compliments her

simple mind and flirtatious tendencies.

He also made sure that the background was appropriate and related directly to the

content of the scene. For example, the "sumptuous and colorful quarters of the Moor",

(Reynolds) parallels his personality perfectly. Fokine hired some of the most popular

contemporary artists of his time to create these scenes, such as Picasso. In Petrouchka's

barren cell, the walls are painted black, which reflects the sorrow that he is going through,

during this scene. Also, the street market scenes show a carousel, street vendors, and a

large fair booth, which were all completely realistic and appropriate for the occasion.

Many artists before and after Fokine did not put thoughts into these sorts of things,

thinking that the ballet technique is the only important part of the production.

Fokine was also a strong believer in the ballet being "a complete artistic creation

and not a series of separate numbers (Fokine quoted in Cass). His belief in this explained

his hatred towards the practice of frequent applause interrupting ballets. He thought that

this took away the focus of the dancer, both literally, and figuratively. This belief is

integrated into his pieces by the movement that he gives his characters. He would never

give a character movement that does not express that character, such as, choreographing

large leaps and many turns just to show off the dancer's talent. It is seen in Petrouchka

that Fokine "was obviously a sharp observer of what psychologists today call body

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language" (Cass). Petrouchka's movements are extremely indicative of his personality and

feelings. For example, when he stands still, his knees buckle and turn in, and his arms

crisscross. Using a turned in position to express a character's introvertedness was a

technique that had never been used, and probably not even thought of prior to Fokine.

Petrouchka also expresses himself in a variety of other ways. For example, he lays on the

ground and sobs convulsively, and he flies into a foot-stamping rage. The Moor's

arrogant personality can also be detected through his movement. He moves in a turned

out, heavy, and extroverted way. The ballerina moves with mechanical ease and blankness

to show her lack of intelligence and vacancy

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