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Fokine’s Revolution

Fokine's Revolutionary Platform of 1904

Fokine's Five Principles as published in 1914

Michel Fokine could be described as a renaissance man. 

Along with being one of the finest dancers of his generation, he was an accomplished painter, musician, philosopher, and intellectual. It was with this background that he set about creating a revolution in dance.

The radical reforms he attempted to introduce in 1904, and had succeeded in bringing about by 1914, are illustrated in his papers on the subject below.


Fokine’s Revolutionary Platform - sent to the Imperial Theatre Directors 1904

The dance need not be a mere divertissement, introduced into the pantomime. In the ballet the whole meaning of the story can be expressed by the dance. Above all, dancing should be interpretive. It should not degenerate into mere gymnastics. It should, in fact, be the plastique word. The dance should explain the spirit of the actors in the spectacle. More than that, it should express the whole epoch to which the subject of the ballet belongs.

For such interpretative dancing, the music must be equally inspired. In place of the old-time waltzes, polkas, pizzicati, and gallops, it is necessary to create a form of music which expresses the same emotion as that which inspires the movements of the dancers. The harmony which these dances must have with the theme, the period, and the style, demands a new view-point in the matter of decoration and costume. One no longer demands the eternal short skirts, pink tights, and satin ballet-shoes. One can give way to the freedom of artistic fantasy.

The ballet must no longer be made up of “numbers,” “entries,” and so forth. It must show artistic unity of conception. The action of the ballet must never be interrupted to allow the danseuse to respond to the applause of the public.

In place of the traditional dualism, the ballet must have complete unity of expression, a unity which is made up of a harmonious blending of the three elements-music, painting, and plastique art.

The great, the outstanding, feature of the new ballet is that in place of acrobatic tricks designed to attract applause, and formal entrances and pauses made solely for effect, there shall be but one thing-the aspiration for beauty.

Through the rhythms of the body, the ballet can find expression for ideas, sentiments, emotions. The dance bears the same relation to gesture that poetry bears to prose. Dancing is poetry of motion.

Just as life differs in different epochs, and gestures differ among human beings, so the dance which expresses life must vary. The Egyptian of the time of the Pharaohs was different from the marquis of the eighteenth century. The ardent Spaniard and the phlegmatic dweller in the north not only speak different languages, but use different gestures. These are not invented. They are created by life itself.


Fokine’s Five Principles – as published in the London Times 1914

1-     Not to form combinations of ready made and established dance-steps, but to create in each case a new form corresponding to the subject, the most expressive form possible for the representation of the period and the character of the nation represented-that is the first rule of the new ballet.

2-     The second rule is that dancing and mimetic gesture have no meaning in a ballet unless they serve as an expression of its dramatic action, and they must not be used as a mere divertissment or entertainment, having no connection with the scheme of the whole ballet.

3-     The third rule is that the new ballet admits the use of conventional gesture only where it is required by the style of the ballet, and in all other cases endeavors to replace gestures of the hands by mimetic of the whole body. Man can be and should be expressive from head to foot.

4-     The fourth rule is the expressiveness of groups and of ensemble dancing. In the older ballet the dancers were ranged in groups only for the purpose of ornament, and the ballet-master was not concerned with the expression of any sentiment in groups of characters or in ensemble dances. The new ballet, on the other hand, in developing the principle of expressiveness, advances from the expressiveness of the face to the expressiveness of the whole body, and from the expressiveness of the individual body to the expressiveness of a group of bodies and the expressiveness of the combined dancing of the crowd.

5-     The fifth rule is the alliance of dancing with the other arts. The new ballet, refusing to be the slave either of music or of scenic decoration, and recognizing the alliance of the arts only on the condition of complete equality, allows perfect freedom both to the scenic artist and to the musician. In contradistinction to the older ballet it does not demand “ballet music” of the composer as an accompaniment to the dancing: it accepts music of every kind, provided only that it is good and expressive. It does not demand of the scenic artist that he should array the ballerinas in short skirts and pink slippers. It does not impose any specific “ballet” conditions on the composer or the decorative artist, but gives complete liberty to their creative powers. 


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