|Actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya.|
Portraits and belongings of famous female dancers, actresses and singers from Russian theater during the late 19th and early 20th centuries are on display at the State Museum of Theater and Music in a new exhibit titled “Beauties of the Russian Stage: Beauty Without Photoshop.”
The exhibit aims to showcase how beauty was portrayed before the days of the now-ubiquitous airbrushing and photoshopping techniques, when the woman in front of the camera was the same woman seen in the photograph. Even without the aid of a computer and a “touch up,” these women were able to create evocative and unique images of themselves. The soft smiles and bedroom eyes worn by the women in the photos draw people in, making them believe they are hiding some secret. Contrast these images with today’s, where little is left to the imagination — Charlize Theron pulling at her decolletage behind a bottle of J’Adore Dior or Julianne Moore lounging naked in Cartier ads — and the 19th-century demureness actually seems more scintillating than the bold sexuality printed now.
Take for example the portraits of Lina Cavalieri, an Italian who grew up in a Roman Catholic orphanage, ran away to join a traveling theater group, married the Russian Prince Alexander Bariatinsky and ended up on opera stages in New York City, Paris and St. Petersburg. In one particularly striking portrait, draped in pearls and baring her shoulders, Cavalieri looks directly at the camera, inviting the onlooker to entertain her. It’s coy and brash at the same time, a theme that seems to repeat itself in the exhibition. The sexuality exuded by these women seems simultaneously repressed and expressed, demure and overt. Add to these adjectives mischievous, shy, seductive, playful, sad, and bold and an idea begins to form of the amazing range of emotion these theatrical beauties were able to evoke.
Even dressed as a matador for the Mariinsky Ballet, Marie Petipa — the daughter of Marius Petipa, the noted choreographer of “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Don Quixote” and “The Nutcracker,” and his first wife Maria Surovshchikova-Petipa — exudes femininity.
Maria Kuznetsova, an opera singer and actress from a long line of Ukrainian and Russian intellectuals, and who helped to finance Sergei Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes, was a symbol of chic and refinement, as evident in her portraits. In one she looks almost dangerously sleek in a black velvet dress with a cigarette aloofly dangling from her lips. Tamara Karsavina, star dancer of the Ballets Russes, is also featured in the exhibit.