the Ballet
Ballet Encyclopedia

Lev Ivanovich Ivanov

born: 1834
died: 1901

Born in Moscow in February of 1834 Lev Ivanov was the son of Tio Adamova, a businessman who we believe came from Georgia. Young Ivanov had a rough childhood being shuffled around between hospitals, boarding schools, and even a merchant's family by his mother before being enrolled in the Imperial School of Ballet at the age of eight. At the Imperial Ballet School Ivanov had many great teachers including Pimenov, Gredlu, Frédéric, and Marius Petipa's father, Jean.

Lev Ivanov also had an incredible talent for music – he could play the entire score of a ballet on piano by ear. The director of the ballet school even threatened to "let him rot for his uncontrollable inclination toward music." Ivanov was invited to join the Conservatiore of Music but didn't like music theory so he never joined. He composed a few pieces but he never learned to write them down.

When he grew up Ivanov joined the Imperial Ballet in 1850 with much promise, however Jules Perrot was in charge of the company at that time and he didn't much like Russian dancers so Ivanov didn't dance much. Then in 1855 T.P. Smirnova asked him to dance La Fille Mal Gardée for a benefit. Ivanov did such a great job that he was cast as a soloist at the theatre.

The story of how Ivanov demonstrated his mime skills is very similar to how he became a soloist. Petipa became ill one day so Ivanov had to step in for him. He rehearsed the mime scenes in the morning and successfully performed them that evening! During his dancing career Lev Ivanov performed most of the important ballets and was known as an excellent classical and character dancer.

In 1858 Lev Ivanov was appointed to teach two junior classes at the school and in 1882 was offered the job of regisseur, (a kind of stage manager), a job which he held until 1885 when he became Petipa's assistant ballet master, (the equivalent to a modern-day assistant artistic director).

At the Imperial Theatre Ivanov choreographed or staged nearly twenty different ballets, some by himself and some in collaboration with Petipa, however he received little credit during his lifetime as Petipa's name was always first in the program.

Lev Ivanov was said to have made good use of his experience as a dancer and stage manager in his choreography. Ivanov was one of the first to base his choreography on the structure and emotional content of the music rather than trying to show off how technically brilliant his lead dancers were. Ivanov also was one of the first to use the corps de ballet to it's fullest potential. He excelled in making patterns and shapes on the stage with the corps as shown in his "snowflakes" dance in The Nutcracker and in the second and fourth acts of Swan Lake. He is considered a for runner of Fokine in using the corps to tell the story of the ballet.

Ivanov is the choreographer of The Nutcracker, (1892), portions of Swan Lake, (1895), and Act II of Cinderella, (1893). He also revived La Fille mal Gardée with Petipa and re-choreographed Coppélia with Cecchetti, creating the version on which current versions are based. In addition to his creations for the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg Ivanov choreographed ballets for the Czar's private theatre at Krasnoe Selo for many years.

In his personal life Ivanov was married twice and had three children by each wife. The first was Vera Lyadova, and actress, singer, and dancer who he danced with in what may have been his first choreography, a bolero in La Muette de Portici in 1857. They were married in 1859 and separated ten years later and in march 1870 Vera fell ill and died. His second wife was Varvara Ivanova, (known on stage as Malchugina), they were married in 1875.

Lev Ivanov was always hard at work and at his 50th jubilee declared his "dearest wish" was to "die in harness." This with came true in November of 1901 when he was working on a revival of Sylvia he became ill and died in December of that year leaving us with some of the greatest corps work in the repertoire.