Monday, September 25, 2017

The Taglioni of the North.

Imperious and formidable, Katti Lanner was a famous ballerina, choreographer and dancing mistress who taught many English ballerinas in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Her career lasted until almost until she died at seventy-eight! Prima ballerina Phyllis Beddells recalled 77-year old Katti Lanner yelling at the corps de ballet if there was the slightest defect in their work or if they were out of line. Lanner didn't realise that she could be heard by the audience in the front.

Born in 1845 in Vienna, Lanner was the daughter of the great dancing teacher Josef Lanner. She began dancing at eight and trained at the Vienna Court Opera where she had lessons by Pietro Campilli and Isadore Carey. When she was 16, the young ballerina obtained her first starring role in the pas de deux in the ballet, Angelica. The great ballerinas Fanny Elssler and Fanny Cerritto were impressed with her dancing and Lanner was soon given more starring roles, for example, as Myrtha the Queen of the Wilis in Giselle in 1852. Famous Danish choreographer Bournonville chose her to play the leading role in the ballet Der Toreador.

After her beloved mother's and brother's deaths, Lanner decided to leave Vienna and went on to have a glittering career in Germany, where she was complimented by the King of Bavaria, New York and Lisbon, where the king gave her diamonds. She was nicknamed the 'Taglioni of the North' because of her similarity to the splendid Marie. She formed her own ballet company, taught ballet in Hamburg and produced ballets but she is known mainly for her ballets in England today.

Chosen to be the dancing mistress at the National School of Dancing in England when she was almost 50, Lanner settled in London with her husband Johann Geraldini and their three daughters, Sofia, Katharine and Albertina. Unfortunately, the marriage was not happy and he returned to Vienna. Apparently, Lanner preferred the Neapolitan dancer Giuseppe Venuto de Francesco and their relationship caused some scandal.

In the late 1880's, Lanner began teaching ballerinas and producing spectacular ballets at the Empire  Theatre in Leicester Square, such as Rose d'Amour about a fairy escaping a malignant elf who is rescued by Cupid. This included a Hungarian wedding dance and a Chinese dance of tea-flowers. At the end of the ballet, all the flowers were massed into a huge bouquet. The great C. Wilhelm's costume designs also featured in this ballet and several others.

Watching Cleopatra in 1889 must have been a delight! Maria Cavallazi starred and French composer Herve wrote the music for this amazing production. According to Ivor Guest, the spectacle was 'magnificent indeed, with the stage filled with a colourful throng of Roman soldiery, Nubian's, Egyptians and Greek slaves'. The Girl I Left Behind Me in 1893 about a young soldier who joined a Highland regiment in Burma also stunned audiences with its beautiful scenes. A critic in the Sketch called it 'a carnival of colour, of movement, of gaiety'.

One fun ballet that Lanner produced was Katrina in 1894. This featured ballerinas 'dressed up to represent cats in their nightly flings on the tiles' according to Pick-Me-Up magazine. The ballet starred Miss Ada Vincent as Princess Frou-Frou, a fairy cat, and Miss Lizzie Vincent as Tom Grey, a cat bridegroom.  You can view pictures of scenes from the ballet here and see why some of the critics were especially impressed by the cat costumes. Lanner loved cats herself - she had five of them!

Lanner died peacefully in 1908 on a Sunday morning at 9:00. She didn't know that her faithful dog predeceased her by a few hours. Many of her colleagues and her pupils attended her funeral and she is buried at West Norwood Cemetery.