La Boutique Fantasque

La Boutique fantasque, also known as The Magic Toyshop[1] or The Fantastic Toyshop, is a ballet in one act conceived by Léonide Massine, who devised the choreography for a libretto written by the artist André Derain, a pioneer of Fauvism. Derain also designed the décor and costumes for the ballet.[2] Ottorino Respighi wrote the music based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini. Its world premiere was at the Alhambra Theatre in London on 5 June 1919, performed by Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.[3][4]

Massine described how, in Rome for a ballet season, Respighi brought Diaghilev Rossini's Péchés de vieillesse. The impressario played them to Massine and Respighi. Toulouse-Lautrec was an influence in the period setting and style of Boutique Fantasque, and Massine envisaged the principal character "quite Lautrec-like".[5]


The story of the ballet has similarities to Die Puppenfee ("The Fairy Doll") of Josef Bayer, an old German ballet that had been performed by Jose Mendez in Moscow in 1897 and by Serge and Nicholas Legat in Saint Petersburg in 1903. Others note the similarities to Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier".[6]

Massine's story centers around the love story between two can-can dancer dolls in a toyshop.[7] Its general theme is lightly satirical, incorporating elements of comedy, national folk dance, and mime as well as classical choreography.

The ballet is set in France in 1860. A world-famous toymaker has created exquisite dancing dolls in his magic toyshop. The automata perform various dance routines for the prospective customers. In the beginning, the store entertains two English ladies and an American family. Some dolls perform a tarantella for the guests, followed by other dolls dressed as playing cards who dance a mazurka. Subsequently, new dolls come in and perform another routine involving a snob and a melon vendor. New customers arrive after that, a Russian family, and everyone welcomes them. To honor the new arrivals, five Cossack dolls enter and perform a traditional dance, followed by an animal act featuring two dancing poodle dolls.[7]

Then the most sophisticated dancing dolls, a pair of can-can dancers, come in and perform their routine. Their dance is so enchanting that the American family decides to buy the male doll while the Russian family buys the female dancing doll. The deals are made, the dolls are paid for, and pick-up is arranged for the next day.[7]

During the night the dolls come magically to life and start dancing. They are however upset that the can-can dancers are going to be separated. When the store opens in the morning, and the customers come in to pick up their dolls, it is discovered that the can-can dancers are no longer there. The customers, not knowing about the secret life of the dolls, blame the shop owner and attack him. In the ensuing fracas the dolls come to the shopkeeper's rescue with the Cossack dolls attacking the customers with their bayonets. Driven out of the store, the customers watch incredulously through the store window as the happy dolls and the shopkeeper dance merrily inside.[8][7]

Original cast

Among the large cast in the original production were Enrico Cecchetti (Shopkeeper), Alexander Gavrilov (Shop Assistant), Serge Grigoriev (Russian Merchant), Lydia Sokolova and Leon Woizikowski (Tarantella Dancers), Lubov Tchernicheva (Queen of Clubs), Vera Nemchinova (Queen of Hearts), Stanislas Idzikowski (The Snob), Nicholas Sverev (Cossack Chief), Vera Clark and Nicholas Kremiev (Dancing Poodles), and Lydia Lopokova and Léonide Massine (Can-can Dancers).[9][10]

Performance history

The enormous success of Colonel de Basil's Ballets Russes in Europe and America prompted J.C. Williamson Management to arrange the company's first tour to Australia and New Zealand. Thus, La Boutique Fantasque was the first ballet by Léonide Massine to be performed in Australia. It had its Australian premiere at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, during the opening night of the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet tour on 13 October 1936.[11] Valentina Blinova and Leon Woizikowski were particularly celebrated as the can-can dancers.[12]

When Massine left the company of Colonel de Basil in 1937, La Boutique Fantasque was among the works involved in a copyright dispute. Following a legal ruling in 1937, de Basil was no longer allowed to perform pre-1932 works by Massine. Performance rights then reverted to the choreographer.[3]

Massine subsequently mounted the work for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo some time in 1939, where it formed a triptych of high-spirited ballets with his Gaîté Parisienne and Le Beau Danube. The ballerina roles in all three ballets became indelibly associated with the elegant and witty interpretations of Alexandra Danilova.[13]

Massine mounted La Boutique Fantasque for Ballet Theatre, later known as American Ballet Theatre, in 1942, while war was raging in Europe. It had its American premiere at the Central High School Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska, on 4 January 1943. Among the cast members were Simon Semenoff (Shopkeeper), Nicolas Orloff (Shop Assistant), Muriel Bentley (English Old Maid), Antony Tudor (American Patron), Jerome Robbins (American Boy), Nora Kaye and Yurek Lazowsky (Tarantella Dancers), John Taras (Melon Hawker), André Eglevsky (Cossack Chief), Karen Conrad and John Kriza (Dancing Poodles), and Irina Baronova and Léonide Massine (Can-can Dancers).[14]

The Royal Ballet in London mounted the work in 1947 as part of the renewal of its repertoire for Covent Garden; Massine was in charge of the production and danced his original role. In 1948 Danilova appeared alongside him.[15] The Royal Ballet touring company revived the piece in Stratford in 1968 and it remained in their repertory for several years after, with Massine returning to coach the company for the 1978 run.[16]


The Rossini piano works used include Gherkins, Radishes, Butterflies, Themes in Variation, Almonds, Petit Caprice (Style Offenbach), Tarantelle pur Sang, Castor Oil, Abortive polka, and La Danza.[17] The music was a major contribution to the success of the ballet, whose score was well orchestrated, kept Rossini's harmonies and generally retained his phrasing unaltered while investing his melodies with a new breadth.[18] The instrumentation is piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, side drum, xylophone, percussion, celesta, harp and strings.[19]

Respighi's score soon took on an existence of its own in the concert hall as a suite. It has been performed many times and is enduringly popular on record. Recordings have included the following:


Ballet portal
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.