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Russian ballet beatniks take Tout le Monde by storm!
The Ballets Russes was a collaboration between a group of Russian artists who were disaffected with the conservative, traditional arts scene in Russia. This group included the painters Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, art exhibitor Serge Diaghilev, and the choreographer Michael Fokine. Their radical movement away from conventional Russian ballet ended up with the establishment of a permanent touring ballet company in Paris, the Ballets Russes, which never returned to Russia. The Ballets Russes rejuvenated the European ballet which had been in decline for decades.
"That company, the Ballets Russes, was to be the most glamourous and influential theatrical enterprise in Europe in the 1910s and 1920s." —Kyril FitzLyon
"ALL who regard dancing seriously, and there is nothing which should be regarded more seriously than an art that is to give pleasure, must be glad that they have lived in a century which has witnessed a very fine and sincere endeavor to restore the dance to some of its primal nobility. There is much in the results of this endeavor to criticize, there are a few things to deplore, but in any refusal to recognize the magnitude of what has been accomplished, there is probably some pique that it has been the nation which Europe still views as barbarously ingenuous in matters of art which has reformed the ballet on such refined and spiritual lines... HAD the male dancers ever been excluded from the Imperial ballet its fate would have been very different. The men are trained on the 'ballon' system, not on that which is known as the 'parterre,' and it is 'ballon' dancing which is one of the most beautiful features of the Russian ballet. After we have watched interminable exercises ingeniously performed 'sur les pointes,' with what relief have we seen Nijinsky, perhaps the greatest 'ballon' dancer who has ever existed, bound on to the stage, rise high in the air, descend slowly and with such art that when he touches the ground he can use it again for a still higher flight... What always surprises us about the Russian ballet is its life. This vitality came sweeping on to the stage with Russian maîtres de ballet such as Fokine, who used tradition, used the technical perfection of classical dancing, but would not be a slave to them; with Russian composers such as Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Glazounof, Liadoff, Arensky, Stravinsky and Tscherepnin, the conductor of the ballet; with Russian artists such as Alexandre Benois and Leon Bakst; with Russian dancers such as Nijinsky... The Russian ballet has transformed itself in a little over a decade because its guiding minds have been more than national. The musicians, artists, dancers and ballet masters have depended more on invention than on reality. Many stories of widely different character have been drawn on for the new ballets, but all have been treated with an imagination which is neither the property of a nation nor the result of patriotism." — Ellen Terry
One hundreds years later, Nijinksi, superstar of the Ballets Russes, is still a dance legend. Image from the Library of Congress collection.
Ellen Terry, The Russian Ballet, Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, 1913.
Vaslav Nijinsky, The Diary of Vaslav Nijinksy, Translation by Kryil FitzLyon, edited by Joan Acocella, published by Farrar, Straus and Firoux, New York, 1995.
Ballets Russes Exhibition items at the online Library of Congress.
20th Century Ballet Revolution exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
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Author: Maura Enright
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