Papers of Léonide Massine Composition Course

Scope and Content

This collection contains materials associated with Léonide Massine's Composition Course taught at The Royal Ballet Upper School between 1968 and 1976. It includes extensive typed manuscript notes for, Massine on Choreography: Theory and Exercises in Choreography by Léonide Massine, published by Faber & Faber, London, 1976. Also two hardback copies of the book, one volume has been extensively annotated in pencil by Audrey Harman. There are several photographs of Royal Ballet School students being taught the Choreographic Composition by Massine, and a large number of photographs recording his movement composition exercises written on a blackboard; also many 8 mm film recordings of student compositions, being performed by students of The Royal Ballet School (both Craftsman’s Course and Dancer’s Course students).

Records associated with the book Massine on Choreography; Theory and Exercises in Choreography, Faber & Faber, London, 1976:

  • Extensive notes, drafts, final versions and proof copy; some are original typed manuscripts and there are some duplicate copies, annotated by Harman in pencil; includes original manuscript of Massine’s exercises for the book, written in Stepanov Notation; also Massine's movement notation set to John Gunter's music, which was especially written for the exercises (undated).
  • Correspondence between Harman and Massine (February to August, 1969), while Massine was on a lecture tour of North America; in which Massine gives Harman detailed instructions to be followed in his absence, and largely approves Harman’s suggestions regarding the planned filming of student compositions at The Royal Ballet School. Further correspondence between them relating to the book’s editing and publication. Notes by Harman introducing the book, possibly on the occasion of the book launch (c.1976), and her explanation about the theory and use of the W. J. Stepanov Notation as adapted and used by Massine.

Records associated with Massine’s Choreographic Composition Course at The Royal Ballet Upper School include:

  • A large number of black and white photographic prints of Massine’s Composition exercises, drawn on a blackboard customised with specific notation stave-lines; the exercises are identified on the board eg. Ex. 19-b Part I. In addition, the prints themselves are annotated by Audrey Harman to provide further identification, eg. ‘Ex 19 (4) Correct Version’ or ‘176, example of Restricted Intervals’ or ‘Hindemith Ensemble’.
  • Original handwritten (named) students' compositions, notated in Stepanov notation, detailing the poems, text or visual inspiration for the compositions; some contain both the student’s version and Massine’s subsequent alterations (c.1968). Students include: Duygu Aykal, Kate Flatt, Suzi Della Pietra, Judith Hoare, Marguerite Banos, Deidre Watts and Julie Witford.
  • A copy of the School timetable (1976); the students' examination schedule for the same year and assessment marks awarded. Named students include Karen Large, Joanna Woodcock, Susan Durant, Jennifer Hokaday, Virginia Markwick, Vivienne Saxton and Fiona Wyatt. There are three copies of blank diploma certificates awarded to students who successfully completed the Theory of Composition Course, only one is signed by Massine.
  • Three photographs depicting Massine teaching (1968), students identified include Astrid Hayward, Michael Vernon, Diedre Watts, Suzi Della Pietra, Julie Witford and Margarita Bahos, photographer G.B.L. Wilson; 18 photographs by Fox Photographs Ltd depicting students in lessons with Massine (1969), students depicted include some who began studying with Massine in 1968 including Kate Flatt, Suzi Della Pietra, Deidre Watts, and Astrid Hayward. Michael Vernon, Deborah Simms, Audrey Harman and Lorna Mossford are also present in some photographs; there are eight further photographs including head shots of Massine and group shots depicting assessors and students of the final year of the course (1976). Students depicted include Karen Large, Joanna Woodcock, Susan Durant, Jennifer Hokaday, Virginia Markwick, Vivienne Saxton and Fiona Wyatt.
  • Two copies of a draft of proposed programme content for The Royal Ballet School Dance Composition Course given at LAMDA Theatre (6 May 1979), dedicated to the memory of Léonide Massine, directed by Richard Glasstone and Kate Flatt.
  • papers associated with the application for funds to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to enable the provision of a Choreographic Group. The application was accepted; in 1976 Richard Glasstone was appointed teacher responsible for delivering a new Composition Course at The Royal Ballet School (documents dated between 1975 and 1985).

Records associated with the video-recording of Massine’s course (1969-70) include:

  • Filming schedules, with notes on the content of the choreographic composition studies of several named students; includes a detailed outline of the exercises to be filmed (Tuesday 6 May 1969, Thursday 8 May 1969 and Friday 9 May 1969) and other similar material (dated February 1970).
  • Two audio tapes (cassettes); the first includes a recording of Massine speaking to students about some movement composition exercises and commenting back on their work; the second tape contains some of John Gunter’s original music designed to accompany the following named exercises: examples 3a, 11a, 9c, 12, 14c, 15a, 16 and 14d.

Administrative / Biographical History

Audrey Harman (1926-2005) was a British dancer, teacher, researcher and archivist. She studied at the Sadler's Wells Ballet School between 1942-6, and privately with Vera Volkova. She joined the newly-formed Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet in 1946 before becoming a soloist with the International Ballet from 1947-48. She was a founder-member and soloist of the London Festival Ballet from 1949-52, and then went on to teach ballet at The Royal Ballet School between 1956 and 1963. She was invited to teach at the Essen Folkwang School from 1963-4, where Pina Bausch was one of her students. In 1964 she returned to The Royal Ballet School, teaching Junior Associates and the students at White Lodge. Between 1968-74 she acted as personal assistant to Léonide Massine, helping him deliver his Choreographic Composition Course to students of the Upper School, and preparing material for the publication of his theoretical volume Massine on Choreography (London 1976). Audrey Harman was appointed Archivist of The Royal Ballet School in 1979, remaining Consultant Archivist until her death following a road accident in 2005. She was the recipient of a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship in 1984, enabling her to carry out extensive research in the theatre archives of the Paris Opera and the Royal Danish Ballet at the Kongelige Teater, Copenhagen. Her research notes, and detailed records of the teaching of Vera Volkova are held in The Royal Ballet School Collections.

Léonide Massine (1895-1979) was a Russian-born dancer, a great demi-caractère artist, ballet master and multi-faceted choreographer. He studied at the Moscow Bolshoi School under Gorsky, joining the Bolshoi Ballet in 1912. His years with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1914-21 and 1925-28), launched his prolific career in Europe and America, and enabled him to study under the Company’s ballet master, Cecchetti. Succeeding Nijinsky as Diaghilev’s Principal dancer and choreographer, Massine emerged as a versatile performer and choreographer in his own right. Under Diaghilev, Massine collaborated with Erik Satie and Pablo Picasso on the iconic ‘cubist’ work, Parade (1917) and later made a ‘futurist’ ballet Le Pas d’acier (1927). Also for Diaghilev, he famously created leading roles in his own ballets, including Les Femmes de bonne humeur (1917), La Boutique fantasque (1919), Le Tricorne (1919) and Les Matelots (1925). After varied work in the US, which included casting Martha Graham in a 1930 revival of his Le Sacre du printemps (1920), and for Ida Rubinstein’s Company, Massine became the choreographer and Principal dancer of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. For that company, Massine created the first ‘symphonic’ ballet Les Présages (1933), set to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Though many objected to symphonic music being used for ballet, Massine soon followed with Choreartium (1933) set to Brahms's Fourth Symphony, Symphonie Fantastique set to Berlioz (1936), even interpreting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (1938). Throughout his long career, Massine choreographed a remarkable range of music, using scores by Hindemith, Shostakovich, Wagner and Schubert, among others. As a dancer he had his greatest success in character roles that he created himself, such as that of the rich Peruvian in La Gaîté Parisienne (1938), and in his film work in The Red Shoes (1946) and Tales of Hoffmann (1951). He was a guest teacher of choreographic composition at The Royal Ballet School (1968-76), after which he published his findings in a theoretical volume Massine on Choreography (London 1976). He also wrote an autobiography My Life in Ballet (London 1968). Massine was married several times, to the dancers Vera Savina, Eugenia Delarova and Tatiana Orlova; his children were the dancer Tatiana Massine and the dancer-choreographer Lorca Massine.

Access Information

This collection is open for consultation and can be viewed by appointment only. Please contact White Lodge Museum via our website at The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge Museum

Acquisition Information

Collated for The Royal Ballet School Collections by Audrey Harman, c. 1968-76

Custodial History

The Choreographic Composition Course was devised and taught by Léonide Massine at The Royal Ballet Upper School, between 1968 and 1976, with Audrey Harman acting as his Assistant. Massine worked with the students for 3 weeks of each term, after which Harman continued to teach the course in Massine’s absence. Massine provided written notes for each lesson which were then copied onto a blackboard and used as the basis for development during the lesson. The annotated blackboards were photographed, and many of the related practical choreographic exercises were filmed (8 mm film). Massine drew upon this work to complete his book, Massine on Choreography: Theory and Exercises in Choreography published by Faber & Faber, London, 1976.