The ballet divertissement Pas de Quatre was choreographed by Jules Perrot in 1845 to music composed by Cesare Pugni, commissioned by Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. It was first seen on 12 July 1845 and was an immediate hit, mainly because it brought together some of the most famous ballerinas of the time: Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni. The great Romantic ballerina, Fanny Elssler didn’t wish to take part, so the young Lucile Grahn was the fourth dancer.
The dancers appeared in order of age (from youngest to oldest) to prevent rivalry. There were four performances in total, with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in attendance on 17 July 1845.
In 1941, Anton Dolin choreographed a new version, a ‘restaging’ inspired by the Romantic style of the mid-19th century and the engravings of the original performance. The dancers he used were – in order of appearance – Nathalie Krassovska (as Lucile Grahn), Mia Slavenska (as Carlotta Grisi), Alexandra Danilova (as Fanny Cerrito), and Alicia Markova (as Marie Taglioni).
Carla Fracci, who dances in this video, first danced the ballet in 1957. She was 20. In her biography, she wrote,
I spent a month with Anton Dolin, an exceptional man of great elegance, and founder of the London Festival Ballet with Alicia Markova… In the summer of 1957, he was invited to remount his Pas de Quatre at the Nervi Festival. He chose three goddesses of dance: the French ballerina Yvette Chauviré, Margrethe Schanne from Denmark and the great Alicia Markova… He was missing the fourth. Dolin arrived at La Scala where I auditioned for him. He asked me to do an arabesque, then said, “Copy me…” and he demonstrated the famous position that Giselle adopts when she pleads with the Wilis. It’s the perfect position that starts from the top of the head following right down to the big toe of the leg stretched out behind, with the hands as in prayer, and the gaze is above the hands… I did it, and he said, “You’ll be a great Giselle. You remind me of Olga Spessivtseva.”
I confess I knew nothing of that position and that style, with the neck stretched out in submission. I followed Dolin’s instructions and the lines came naturally to me.
I got through the audition and was given the part of Cerrito in a rose-coloured tutu and with flowers in my hair – behind us was a backdrop of blue and green velvet. At the end of the first performance, Alicia Markova ran to me saying, “You are my daughter! Don’t ever change and maintain the truthfulness of your vocation.”
In this 1968 recording from Danish television, Carla Fracci dances with Margrethe Schanne, Josette Amiel, and Kirsten Bundgaard.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.