The Steel Step ballet by Sergei Prokofiev in Paris and London (1927)

Ivan D. Porshnev


The creative dialogue between Sergei Diaghilev and Sergei Prokofiev is one of the key issues on the agenda of modern musicology. Among the productions developed for Diaghilev’s ballet company, one work with a whimsical and somewhat clumsy name—The Steel Step (Le Pas d’Acier)—definitely stands out. The ballet took two years, from 1925 to 1927, to compose. It had a stunning success in Paris and London, where it remained in the repertoire up until Diaghilev’s death in 1929.

The article aims to identify general tendencies in the opinions about The Steel Step voiced in print media after its premiere. The focus of the study is the critique of Prokofiev’s work in British and French press as well as in print media of Russian emigration. The analysis of data obtained from publications by French, Russian, and English authors was made with a due regard to the historical and cultural contexts relevant for the 1927 premieres of the ballet in Paris and London. Out of the plethora of critical reviews we chose 24 French articles, 9 articles by the authors of Russian emigration (including one interview with Diaghilev) and 47 English articles (including one more interview with Diaghilev).

The three basic artistic components of the production (design by George Jakoulov, choreography by Leonide Massine and music by Sergei Prokofiev) shaped very different associations in French, English and Russian critical reviews. A special focus was given to the possible Bolshevistic footprint in all the components of the controversial performance. The study is the first attempt to analyse the diverse range of opinions about Prokofiev’s ballet. The study identified the characteristic features of the then international press and traced the stage life of the ballet during the 20th, 21st and 22nd Seasons of the Ballets Russes. We deem that the paradoxical success of The Steel Step in Great Britain was related not only to the political context of that time—the 1927 premiere of the ballet coincided with the diplomatic break between Great Britain and the USSR. It also had to do with the aesthetic preferences of the British audience, namely, with their interest in constructivism as a single style found in different kinds of art.

Keywords: ballet, the Ballets Russes, Le Pas d’Acier, The Steel Step, Sergei Diaghilev, Leonide Massine, Sergei Prokofiev, George Jakoulov

For citation: Porshnev I. D. The Steel Step Ballet by Sergei Prokofiev in Paris and London (1927) [Electronic source]. In: Sovremennye problemy muzykoznaniya / Contemporary Musicology, 2020, no. 4, pp. 104–150. (In Russ.) DOI: 10.56620/2587-9731-2020-4-104-150


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