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Home / Issues / № 1, 2015

Culture and art

Spatial problems of stage design the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. in the fine art field study
Portnova T.V.
Creation of visible choreographic piece and its scenic atmosphere is impossible in a vague scenic space. Usually, real situation plays the most significant part in its creation, and it is created by scenographic (decorative) means. Spectacular structure of ballet has its specific feature. Architecture of ballet scene and its topography tend to be spatial in their nature.

The unity of space and atmospheric (scenographic) environment, just as unity of illumination, are the main binding and linking factor of visual and genre elements. The idea of presenting a space in ballet scenography should be seen not only as scale and perspective alteration of figures and objects in it, or just its volume and quadrature, but also as the very condition of aerial space that surrounds figures of artists and scene objects (stage properties, attributes). This environment has a critical significance in presenting the distance between them, as well as between the foreground, middle ground, and the background of the stage.  Figures and objects in terms of scenic illumination that are gradually dimmed as they are placed deeper into the space form that picture that an artist observes and tries to show on his canvas in order to achieve a whole harmonic picture. Spatialness is one of the most important features of ballet synthesis, it is superior to the whole scenography of a choreographic performance. Stage space is defined by sculpture form of artist figures and architectural construction of the stage as well as painting (decorations, color blots of costumes, artistic light) on the tablet of stage. This mutual subordination of these elements determines the essence of scenographic synthesis of arts.

Unity of painting, sculpture, and architecture gives birth to a unity of two various forms of space - real space, created by architectural environment of the stage, and illusive space, created by painting, its style, composition, and color. Organization of stage space in ballet depends on genre of choreographic performance. Figurative arts that are displayed by or included into genre structure of ballet theatre, provide for creation of scenographic space. Thus emerges the created global space of ballet performance. Plastic-figurative facture of ballet should be apprehended as not occasional mechanic cohesion of elements within the language of figurative arts with genre foundation, but as a thoughtful, conscious, and reasonable interaction of all visual aspects of a performance. Their interaction represents not a static phenomenon, but a dynamic process. "Spectacle is always something that concentrates peoples' attention, thus stimulating their active interest, displayed in a stable contemplation of the event" [1]. Achieving the required contact with a viewer so that a field of tension forms between the stage and the audience, in which a real, deep, not superficial visual communication between them can be achieved, is the basic problem standing before artist and ballet master. The thought of I. Andreyeva can serve as a significant methodological principle in approach towards analyzing phenomenons of ballet scenography. It is supported by the experience of its development, especially in the period of turn between XIX and XX century. In this case we imply the problem of interconnection between type, genre, and composition origins in scenography. 

Due to development and discovery of new compositional legislations and phenomenons, methods and means, it became possible to realize their achievement in ballet scenographic space. The term "composition" that means combination, connection of parts into a whole, is used in both figurative art and dancing. According to their life impressions both artist and choreograph create spectacular images via combining diverse elements into a single synthetic form in it and subordinating it to their ideal plan. Every element (component) of acts, images, episodes is initially studied from the point of its figurative value. A composition becomes the most active conductor of visual image in a performance, an active expression of ballet synthesis. Ballet master can be brave and original in using the complex of compositional means and methods that are typical to architecture and figurative arts: unfolding action, alternating contract and nuance scenes, usage of symmetry and asymmetry, rapid or slow change of episodes, detailed description of details, angle vision. While producing a performance, ballet master and artist have to solve a whole complex of problems from placing actors and objects on stage surface to revealing their characteristic by tone considering illumination and environment. Composition laws, means, and methods that are borrowed directly from figurative arts (composition center, laws of linear, aerial, and color perspective, method of isolation, law of frame impact) can teach choreographs a lot - locating composition center and its place in an image, using the method of isolating figures on the table of stage, subordinating all details to a single composition idea, constructing chorus scene in dependence on legislations of linear, aerial, and color perspective. 

Finally, ballet considers the law of frame impact in scenic space (it can be altered by side-scene). Rectangle of scenic box transforms into a window through which we see a world, animated by the will of choreograph. Scenic episodes, taken from a performance, are a certain model of painted images in which characters are in causal relation. They are useful to choreograph as they allow him to see how visual, expressive, and clear they are in compositional aspect, they give him a great chance to construct plot logic.

Thus, ballet performance, as well as a painting, can be formed in composition-production fashion. Here is how N. Elyash evaluates knowledge of composition in choreography of M. Petipa: "Here I would like to distract a little and refer to mass compositions of Petipa that astonish us with their complication and beauty of image, organic nature in interweaving of line. This image stands not only as an artistic form, but it also dears an undoubted figurative essence. These unfolded ensembles give birth to development of dancing topic, special correlation of not only linear compositions, but also a pair dance, outlining small ensembles with a blood relation to the whole image, in other words, we can call it choreographic polyphony" [2]. One might think that mane scientific issues and works on composition in figurative arts could be used as materials and sources for choreographs (almost all laws of composition, rules, methods, and means are universal for fine arts, decorative-applied arts, architecture, and ballet), due to their spectacular nature they penetrate the structure of dancing.  "Rules, as well as laws of organizing scenic space don't exist, as far as I know. Each time director, usually in collaboration with scenographic artist, thinks over and finds a solution for stage area considering specific features of a place, but keeping in mind: their solution must allow them to construct certain spatial plastic" [3] - outlines A.A. Rubb in his thoughts on presenting spectacular performances.  

Ballet theatre (especially in late XIX - early XX century) has a great experience in creations of diverse forms of entertainment. But in its all variety ballet scenography can be divided into groups according to space-composition criterions. Means and forms of compositional development of internal space in ballet, from our point of view, can be: frontal, constructive, coloristic, and decorative. The foundation of stage space that develops with time, lies, first of all, in its visual construction. It defines the dominating principle of space development - horizontal or oriented into the depth of stage (it is determined by the idea of ballet master and stage topography). The consciousness of authors gradually crystalize the desired principles of ballet performance scenography - single synthetic compositions, single dynamic, plastic-plot dynamic constructions that can organically reconnect all possible figurative means at the foundation of a designed rhythmic image.

Frontal method of compositional construction of ballet space is typical for choreographic pieces, miniatures, single-act ballets with no decorative background. Such type of scenographic space implies only foreground (the front part of the stage by ramp) and middle ground (the second half of the scene by background). Such type of construction implies horizontal (freeze) development of space, but at the same time, figures of actors are volumetric. It was typical for choreography in the beginning of the XX century: "Meninas" by G. Foge (1910) in choreography by L. Myasin and design by K. Sokrate, "Romeo and Juliette" by K. Lambert (1926) in choreography by B. Nizhinskaya and design by M. Ernst, "Barabo" by V. Rietti (1925) in design by M. Utrillo, "Triumph of Neptune" by D. Bernes (1926) in design by A. Shervashidze - all in choreography by J. Balanchin, etc.  The same group should include performances that contain painted decorations (usually undeveloped in space) with organization of actors' motion in rhythmically-profile direction. Clear examples of such performances stand scenography of the studied ballets of the turn of XIX-XX centuries in choreography by M. Fokin: "Cleopatra" by A. Arenskiy, "Afternoon of a Faun" by K. Debussy, "Daphnis et Chloe" by M. Ravel - in design by L.Bakst, and also spectacles: "Pastoral" by J. Orik (1926) in choreography by L. Myasin and design by P.Pryuna, "Zephir and flora" by V. Dukelskiy (1925) in choreography by L. Myasin and design by J. Brak, "Ball" by R. Rietti (1929) in choreography by J. Balanchin and design by J. Kiriko and others [4], etc. [5]. Composition of this scenographic  space is basically founded upon sculpture-graphic method of artistic design and ballet master thinking, though decorative nuances can be found in it.

A different approach towards solving compositional problem of space is typical for authors who set problems of constructive formation of artistic image before themselves. The basic mean of spatial scenographic solution become the very figures of actors and objects, constructions, placed on the stage, their distribution in the area when distance is calculated from one figure to the other, one object to a different one (they are replaceable). Vision of all material objects is defined by a great material correction, it is constructed not on the foundation of illusive change of color, dissolved in scenic environment, but the system of color relations that represent volumes without occasional alterations. This type of composition is rather a horizontal development of space than a depth-oriented one, though the depth itself can be created by the background, and decorative elements are implied for this type of compositional thinking. Decorations are usually flat and constructive, they base upon contrasts, thus creating a balance in imagine field of stage. Harmony of abstract geometric forms in space in various combinations is also used as a mean of creating powerful expressive images. Decorations do not provide an effect of depth and spaciousness, they merge with the middle ground of stage tablet. They can be compared with panel picture or mosaic within the space of architectural interior. In this type of constructing scenographic space realistic decorations are almost inapplicable, they open up the third ground of image (landscape or architectural), but not real and existing background that can be compared with the technique of tempera or fresco in space of architectural interior.

Examples can be found in scenographic presentation of ballets: "Parade" and "Triangle hat" by E. Sati (1917) in choreography by L.Myasin and design by P. Picasso, "Fox" by I. Stravinskiy (1922), "Wedding" by I. Stravinskiy (1923) in choreography by B. Nizhinskaya and design by N. Goncharova, "Blue express" by D. Miio (1924) in choreography by B. Nizhinskaya and design by P. Picasso, "Little cat" by A. Soge (1927) in choreography by J. Balanchin and design by N. Gabo and A. Pevzner, "The steel step" by S. Prokofiev (1927) in choreography by G. Yakulov and "Ode" by N. Nabokov (1928) in design by P. Chelintsev and choreography by L. Myasin [6, 7].  Constructive composition of scenographic space is based upon architectural-graphic method of author's thinking. Decorative and painted elements serve only as addition to it. 

The next, coloristic principle of composing ballet scenography grounds upon color nuances - one of effective means of realistic composition (in terms of demonstrating space). It is used when it is not necessary to outline key moments of image, but create smooth transformations in composition-figurative solutions of a ballet performance. Here four, not three grounds depth exist. The fourth ground is usually represented as a horizon in a painted decoration or as am implementation of several perspective decorations instead of one background. Elements of aerial and color perspective are necessary elements of coloristic line in scenography. This principle can be compared to watercolor easel painting that distends the space in depth. It is the most spatial principle of composing stage interior and solving scenography. It embraces a wide range of ballets, composed in late XIX - early XX century, that are created upon nuance and contrast color relations. These are, first of all, ballets, designed by K. Korovin in choreography by A. Gorskiy: "Swan lake" by P. Chaykovskiy (1901), "Red flower" by F. Gartman (1908), "Raymonda" by A. Glazunov (1908), "Salambo" by A. Arendsa (1909), "Corsair" by A. Adan (1912), "The Nutcracker" by P. Chaykovskiy (1919), etc. as well as spectacles by Fokin in design by A. Benua and L. Baxt: "La sylphide" by F. Schopen" (1909), "Petrushka" by I. Stravinskiy (1911), "Scheherazade" by N. Rimskiy-Korsakov (1910), "Gizelle" by A. Adan (1910), "Carnival" by A. Schuman (1910), "Ghost of rose" by K. Verber (1911), etc. [8, 9].

This composition principle displays itself well in constructing ballets under the open sky, where much is defined by topographic, landscape, architectural, and other features, including the side of scenic space.  There is no usual scenic box and tablet, decorations, curtain, machinery in this case, and this fact defines different method and means of influencing viewers. Coloristic principle can be called the most spectacular method of composing scenic space. Spatial-coloristic composition of scenography includes, first of all, painting, as well as decorative-painting method of presenting a spectacle.

And, finally, decorative principle of organizing scenic ballet space comes close to constructive method in terms of plane solution of background, but is different from it terms of clearly-expressed stylization of space. In decorative presentation we observe a flat image, and enrich our impression only according to our experience. For example, according to relations between close and remote objects, image contrast, nature of light and shade, and other characteristics. Nevertheless, flat image on a stage reminds us that it has no depth, and, therefore, is unreal. This method is related to a pattern nature of carpet, ornament drawing, national folklore art, it is defined by two-ground solution of space. However, in ballet scenography of such type an original system of shading, light, and color was suggested and developed in late XIX - early XX century, it was also an original concept of relating life and stylization, art and spontaneous comprehension of reality. Authors, following the line of symbolic allegory, the line of complicated conditionality, close up scenographic area in stage frame and, at the same time, concentrate everything inside of it as in compositional center.

A clear expression of decorative principle can serve creative works of artists, involved in decorating ballet spectacles by Dyagilev: "Magical mirror" by A. Korecchenko (1903) in choreography by A. Gorskiy, "Firebird" by I. Stravinskiy, in choreography by V. Nizhinskiy and design bu N. Rerikh, "Midnight sun" by N. Rimskiy-Korsakov (1915), "Russian tales" by A. Lyadov (1917) in choreography by  L. Myasin, and design by M. Larionov, "Harlequin" by S. Prokofiev (1921) in choreography and design by M. Larionov, etc [10, 11]. Decorative principle of ballet scenography includes decorative-graphic, decorative-painting, and actually decorative interpretation of artistic presentation. It can be called the most all-embracing type of composition among all the described solutions of scenographic space.

Thus, depending on nature of the set problems, an artist and ballet master define compositional scheme of a spectacle, and each time they may find new solutions. "Each performance is a discovery of a new system of legislations" [12], outlines O. Remez. It doesn't need proof that creating a ballet atmosphere is the most significant function of directing, the very lackmus that reveals maturity of a director's expertise. Details and nuances of the atmosphere must remain in a viewer's consciousness, connect with others, form a sense, realize into view's attention towards scenic events. It is especially important for ballets in which many characters are involved, and they are far not secondary. Ballet must be "well directed" in case when the ultimate priority is understood and the art of ballet master, figurative stylistic is only an edge of synthetic realization, which harmonically represents special features of actors' play, character of light, rhythm of motion, and plastic action. Ballet style must be apprehended as a single method, universal for the whole performance - it must be not only composed, but also understand from the inside, feel its necessity in a certain masterpiece. In this case it will be apprehended by a viewer as a complete artistic image, distinguished by its novelty, unexpected nature of the implemented means, lack of stamped means and borrowings. The diversity of stylistic, compositional, genre methods allows one to change tone of scenographic narrative easily.

Thus, as the research shows, direct contact between type and genre elements of figurative arts' language in ballet theatre goes along with and is supported by compositional-figurative relations. Development of artistic form within types and genres forms the demand for a complex synthetically-figurative interaction. In other words, this demand leads us to a further development of figurative line in ballet scenography, fortifying interrelations in morphological system of synthesis in ballet arts. That is why work on studying compositional-figurative language of figurative arts in ballet  and its expressive-creative tools that increase artistic-directive culture of a ballet performance, is so important. Before us stand an unfinished process that testifies the diversity of artistic search, hypostasis, reserves.  Speaking of compositional possibilities, we should keep in mind: the most general and abstract order that organizes scenic space, is an objective quality that does not exist independently from inhabitants of this space (actors-dancers). This order impacts them during the process of theatrical action. A legislation is observed in organization of space, dynamic of dance, compared to its static, tectonic sense and atectonic trends, and, finally, large-scale comparisons - all these significant characteristics create specific elements of scenic space, and they also define compositional-figurative abilities of artistic synthesis. In dynamics of polar comparisons and their dialectic unity ballet scenography is able to broadcast significant organs in foundation of forming and emergence of viewers' emotions. Such activation of figurative side of a ballet spectacle is mostly realized in a strong personal expression of artist and choreographic director. Forethought of plastic, skills to demonstrate atmosphere, emotionally-delicate and non-standard artistic design - all these factors manifest creative maturity of ballet master and artist, demonstrate their individual style. Therefore, scenography is defined by dual creative process. No doubt, a talented artist is the main person in presenting a spectacle. However, figurative stylistic of choreography is also defined by director's idea. That is why it is so important for an artist to work with a good ballet master and, on the other hand, for a ballet master to work with a good artist. It depends on how inventive and selective can both of them be in using artistic-directing possibilities of their stage. Underlining the significance of artist's and ballet master's world outlook in success of their work, we don't claim that the scale of their mutual goal plus their talent in its own can secure aesthetic result of the whole masterpiece. And we don't only imply artistic presentation (it has already been mentioned before). Artistic attitude towards scenic events that become the flesh of spectacle is not simply a characteristic of artist's and ballet master's expertise, but it is an artistic characteristic of the whole team of actors. Without them it is impossible to discover all depths of the created ballet, generalizing force, its poetical and artistic essence.

To conclude our speculation, it is necessary to define edges of that singularity that is represented by scenographic process. Each of its component should be named as the "whole". All these parts form a more complex figurative-compositional unity. At the same time, we should not forget that  scenographic process and its components are not abstract categories, and real life of art lies rests in unlimited combinations of unique phenomenons, defined by specificity. The idea of scenographic process is, first of all, art itself (combination of artistic methods, co-existence of artistic styles, directions, genres in their dialectic alterations and crossings). Scenography is a concentration of many potentials in choreography. Scenography can be studied as a given phenomenon, something complete, unaltered, directed towards to a viewer. This aspect of scenographic process can be called an organized whole.

At the same time, scenography of a ballet performance is an evolution: from the idea of artist and ballet baster as an independent stage of creativity - to direction. This aspect of scenography is called figurative whole.

Components of scenographic narrative (space, color, light, attributes, set-ups, episodes, dance plastic, dynamic of action, rhythmical line, transformation in process of decorative components' operation, etc.) are always unique. At the same time, separated and studied compositional-figurative types of scenographic presentation allow us to outline scenographic aspect, defined as typological whole.

Scenographic process cannot be understood independently, in separation with creative laboratory of an artist, comparison of idea and final result, evaluation of reasons, influencing this result from analyzing complex interaction of ballet spectacle components. It is important to maintain the feeling of unity and realize correlations of components, their dynamic, that is typical for ballet. This direction in scenography should be called dynamic whole.

Finally, it is impossible to comprehend scenography and its potential in isolation from other arts. This aspect should be defined as an interactive whole. A fruitful feature of this whole lies in real, visual "exits" into various areas of figurative arts, decorative-applied art, and architecture.

The problem of synthesizing components of ballet scenography is linked directly to its image and defined by combination of a specific actual basic of scenic ballet space and consequent transformation of an author's idea, starting with setting of creative problems, compositional concept, and finishing with synthesis of all its components.

1. I.M. Andreyeva Theatrical art in culture. Rostov-on-Don, 2002, p.8.

2. N.N. Eliash “There is no better school than schoolof Petipa” - Problems of heritage in choregraphic art. Collection of articles, Moscow, 1992, p.15.

3.A.A. Rubb Speculations on non-traditional theater or non-traditional theater as it is, Moscow, 2004, p. 387.

4. Catalogue principaly of Diaghilev Ballet Material. Decor and costume. Designs, portraits and posters. Sotheby. New York, 1968.

5. Haskell A.L. Ballet Russe. The age of Diaghilev. – London, 1968.

6. S.M. Liphar Dyagilev and with Dyagilev, Moscow, 1994.

7. Haskell A.L. Ballet Russe. The age of Diaghilev. – London, 1968.

8. L`Apres – midi d`un Debussy, Nijnsky: Exposition pres an Musee d`orsay. Paris, 1989.

9. Balleta Russes dm Diaghilev 1909 a 1929. Exposition. Paris avril-mai. Catalog. – Paris, 1939.

10. Ballet and Theatre Material in the Large Galleries. Sothby. London, 1985.

11.Catalogue principaly of Diaghilev Ballet Material. Decor and costume. Designs, portraits and posters. Sotheby. New York, 1968

Bibliographic reference

Portnova T.V. Spatial problems of stage design the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. in the fine art field study. International Journal Of Applied And Fundamental Research. – 2015. – № 1 –
URL: www.science-sd.com/460-24748 (02.06.2023).