With choreography by Michel Fokine, music by Carl Maria von Weber (Invitation to the Dance in an orchestration by Hector Berlioz) and designs by Leon Bakst, Le Spectre de la rose premiered on 19 April 1911 in Monte Carlo by Diaghilev's Ballet Russe. Dancers at the premiere were Vaslav Nijinsky as the Spirit of the Rose and Tamara Karsarvina as the Young Girl. The ballet tells the story of a young woman who returns from a ball and brings home a rose. She falls asleep in a chair and dreams of dancing with the spirit of the rose until the spirit disappears with a spectacular leap through the window and she awakes. This libretto was by Jean-Louis Vaudoyer based on lines from a poem by Theophile Gautier:
Open up your sleeping eyes
that are brushed lightly by a virginal dream
I am the spectre of a rose
you wore last night at a ball.
Australian audiences first saw the Fokine version as part of the very first performance by the Monte Carlo Russian Ballet on its 1936-1937 tour to Australia. It opened on 13 October in Adelaide's Theatre Royal and featured Valentina Blinova and Igor Youskevitch. Spectre was subsequently performed by the Covent Garden Russian Ballet on its 1938-1939 tour to Australia and by the Original Ballet Russe on the tour of 1939-1940. It was given over 120 performances during the three Ballets Russes tours and seen in every Australian city visited by these companies. Prior to these Ballets Russes performances, Anna Pavlova had used the von Weber music in Australia for a ballet she called Invitation to the Dance, which had a storyline about the meeting and parting of two young people at a ball. Louise Lightfoot had also staged a work called Le Spectre de la rose for her First Australian Ballet.
The Ballets Russes performances of Fokine's Le Spectre de la rose were followed in the 1940s by those of the Borovansky company, initially during their first Australian tour in 1944. In 1947, Kathleen Gorham performed as the Young Girl after her promotion to the rank of junior ballerina with this company. The work entered the repertoire of the Ballet Guild in 1953, featuring Laurel Martyn and Raymond Trickett. Australian audiences also saw Ballet Rambert performing Fokine's Spectre during their 1947-9 tour, and, in 1962, Margot Fonteyn performing as the Young Girl while touring with an ensemble of 8 dancers from the Royal Ballet. Fonteyn was personally coached in this role by Karsavina.
The Australian Ballet first performed the work in 2006 as part of the 'Revolutions' triple-bill tribute to Fokine, presented with the support of the research and performance project Ballets Russes in Australia: Our cultural revolution. Irina Baronova advised on this production, which was staged by John Auld. At the premiere in Melbourne on June 23, Matthew Lawrence danced as the Spirit of the Rose, with Rachel Rawlins as the Young Girl.
A contemporary reading of Le Spectre de la rose, conceived as a psycho-sexual drama by Albanian-born choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, was presented in Australia by Preljocaj and his company in 1993 as part of their program Hommage aux Ballets Russes. In this production the von Weber music was interrupted periodically by a contemporary soundscape. Another contemporary piece inspired by Le Spectre de la rose and entitled Rose Spirit was presented by West Australian Ballet in 1999 as part of its season entitled The Source - Tribute to the Ballets Russes. This work was choreographed by Ted Brandsen using von Weber's music. In the program notes, Brandsen describes the original Spectre as 'really a showcase for the male dancer'. In choreographing Rose Spirit, he 'wanted to look at this piece more through today's eyes - to have the male and female parts be equally demanding and to add a touch of humour to the wonderful Weber waltz'.
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