November 28, 2023
The rediscovery of Princess Nathalie Poutiatine’s manuscripts from the 1950s and 1960s allows for new insights into Maltese cultural histories in the arts, dance, and education. In the Christmas edition of Treasures of Malta, Dr Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel explores how teaching manuals and other historical artefacts shed light on Poutiatine’s approach to the art of teaching ballet. Lubov Egorova’s classes inParis (1921–1926), underpinned by the pedagogy of key teachers at the ImperialBallet School towards the end of the nineteenth century in St Petersburg, offered a lifetime of inspiration. Notably: the principles from the Italian school (Caterina Berettaat La Scala Ballet School in Milan, and Enrico Cecchetti’s influences at theImperial Ballet School and later at the Diaghilev company), as well as theImperial Ballet School teachers, including Pavel Gerdt, Platon Karsavin, andChristian and Anna Johansen. Later in the 1960s, Poutiatine made several references to Eduard Espinosa’s manuals for teaching ‘Operatic Dancing’, later known as ballet.
During the academic year of 2017/2018, Farrugia-Kriel reconstructed Poutiatine’s 1953 class choreography; twelve exercises including combinations at the barre and in the centre, notably slow and sustained movements (Adagio) and lively jumped steps (Allegro).With the aim of working towards an embodied understanding of Poutiatine’s legacy in the art of teaching ballet, the reconstruction engaged Advanced Foundation (pre-professional) students in Surrey(England). Through the reconstructed exemplars from Poutiatine’s teachings, the notebooks chronicle classes from 1953 include ‘themed’ lessons, reflecting the expectations of an ‘advanced’ student at Poutiatine’s Russian Academy of Dancing in Malta during the 1950s. The knowledge that emerged from learning Poutiatine’s choreography and pedagogy made its way into the seminal book Princess Poutiatine and the Art of Ballet in Malta (FPM; Midsea Books, 2020).
Poutiatine’s handwritten musical scores (1953/1964) were also reconstructed and performed by Maltese pianist Erika Gialanze. Like their choreographic counterparts, the twelve musical scores reflect Poutiatine’s choices of accompaniment for her class choreography. It is clear that Poutatine drew upon her knowledge of the influences around Egorova’s classes. The handwritten scores and recordings of the music reconstructions indicate an approximate tempo for the performance of the exercises, as well as the rhythm and quality to support the dancers’ movements. These musical notes fit within the larger narrative of both the design of the movements and the classes. Three examples from the musical reconstructions can be listened to in conjunction with reading the article ‘In Pursuit of “Intangible” Histories: Nathalie Poutiatine’s Art of Teaching Ballet’, published in Treasures of Malta (Christmas 2023).
For further reading, visit the Princess Nathalie Poutiatine portal.