Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

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This Blog is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and memories of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, its legendary ballet dancers, choreographers, scenery artists, musicians and composers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alexandre Volinine's Birthday Today-September 16, 1882

Alexandre Volinine was born in Moscow on September 16, 1882. He was a Russian-French dancer and teacher. Volinine studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School, with Tikhomirov and Gorsky and he graduated in 1901. After graduating, he was invited to join the Bolshoi Ballet and was quickly promoted to principal danseur in 1903. Volinine created roles in Gorsky's Robert and Bertram (1906) and Nur and Anitra (1907), and danced all the leading male roles in the classical repertoire.

He left the Bolshoi in 1910, first dancing with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the 1910 Paris season. It was here that he danced a Principal role in Fokine's Les Orientales, and then toured with Lydia Lopokova (1910-11) in America. He appeared with Gertrude Hoffmann's so-called Ballets Russes at the Winter Garden Theater in New York in 1911 and with Mikhail Mordkin's All-Star Imperial Russian Ballet (1911-12). Later Volinine partnered Adeline Genée on tour to America, Australia, and New Zealand (1912-13); also partnered Lydia Kyasht at the Empire Theatre in London in 1913.

Volinine most famous partner was Anna Pavlova. He danced with Anna Pavlova's company on its various world tours from 1914 to 1925, partnering Pavlova and creating the role of the Young Poet in her Autumn Leaves (1919).
In 1926, having retired from the stage, he opened a famous school in Paris, where his students included Babilée, Eglevsky, Jeanmaire, and Lichine. In 1946 he staged Giselle for the Royal Danish Ballet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Olga Alexandrovna Spessivtzeva Born 9/16,1895

Olga was born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. She was the daughter of an opera singer. After her father's death, she was sent to an orphanage in St. Petersburg with theatrical connections. She entered St. Petersburg's Imperial Ballet Academy in 1906, where she was a student of Klavdia Kulichevskaya and later of Agrippina Vaganova. After graduating in 1913, Olga joined the Mariinsky Theater, where she was promoted to Soloist in 1916. An exquisite romantic dancer with perfect technique, ideally suited for roles such as Giselle and Odette-Odile in Swan Lake, she quickly became one of the most admired dancers in the company.

In 1916, Diaghilev invited her to tour with his Ballets Russes in the United States. Olga danced with Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose, Les Sylphides and the Bluebird pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. In 1918 she returned to the Mariinsky, and was promoted to Ballerina.

In 1921, Olga performed with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as Aurora, in his revived The Sleeping Princess in London. She continued to perform with the Ballets Russes abroad, at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires in 1923. With the aid of her ex-husband Boris Kaplun, she left Russia for the last time in 1924, accepting an invitation to dance as an étoile (prima ballerina) at the Paris Opera Ballet, where she remained until 1932.

In 1932, Olga made another memorable guest appearance in London, dancing Giselle with Anton Dolin. From 1932 to 1937, she toured with a number of companies throughout the world, performing roles from both the classical repertoire and contemporary ballets by choreographers such as Michel Fokine and Bronislava Nijinska. In 1939, Olga moved to the United States where she taught and served as an advisor to the Ballet Theatre Foundation.

Olga suffered a nervous breakdown in 1943, and she was hospitalized. She remained institutionalized until 1963 when, with the help of her friends Anton Dolin and Felia Doubrovska, she was discharged and settled in Valley Cottage on the Tolstoy Farm. The Tolstoy Farm is a Russian community run by the Tolstoy Foundation in New York's Rockland County. It was founded by Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of the novelist, as a rest home for Russians. Recovered, she lived there in peaceful retirement for nearly three decades, dying at the age of 96.

Andre Derain Artist of the Ballets Russes

André Derain was a French painter and co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse. André Derain was born in 1880 in Chatou, Yvelines, Île-de-France, just outside Paris. In 1898, while studying to be an engineer at the Académie Camillo, he attended painting classes under Eugène Carrière, and there met Henri Matisse. Matisse persuaded Derain's parents to allow him to abandon his engineering career and devote himself solely to painting; subsequently Derain attended the Académie Julian.

Derain and Matisse worked together through the summer of 1905 in the Mediterranean village of Collioure and later that year displayed their highly innovative paintings at the Salon d'Automne. In March 1906, the noted art dealer Ambroise Vollard sent Derain to London to compose a series of paintings with the city as subject. Derain put forth a portrait of London that was radically different from anything done by previous painters of the city such as Whistler or Monet. These London paintings remain among his most popular work.

In 1907 art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler purchased Derain's entire studio, granting Derain financial stability. He experimented with stone sculpture and moved to Montmartre to be near his friend Pablo Picasso. In 1914 he was mobilized for military service in World War I and until his release in 1919 he would have little time for painting.

After the war, Derain in 1919 he designed the ballet La Boutique Fantasque for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. A major success, it would lead to his creating many ballet designs. The 1920s marked the height of his success, as he was awarded the Carnegie Prize in 1928 and began to exhibit extensively abroad — in London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, New York City and Cincinnati, Ohio.

During the German occupation of France in World War II, Derain lived primarily in Paris and was much courted by the Germans because he represented the prestige of French culture. A year before his death, he contracted an eye infection from which he never fully recovered. He died in Garches, Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France in 1954 when he was struck by a moving vehicle.

Today, paintings by Derain sell for as much as $6 million US dollars. The London paintings were the subject of a major exhibition at the Courtauld Institute in 2005-06.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Anniversary of Serge Grigoriev's Passing

Serge Grigoriev was born October 5, 1883 in Russia and died in London on June 28, 1968. He studied at the St. Petersburg Imperial School, graduating in 1900, and danced with the Maryinsky Ballet until Diaghilev appointed him ballet master in 1909. Serge Grigoriev danced the classic ballets from the repertory of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

He became régisseur of the Ballets Russes on their first trip to Paris in 1909 and remained in that position for twenty years. Grigoriev was a friend of Mikhail Fokine, and Fokine recommended him to rehearse the ballets for the 1909 season. As a dancer he created the role of Shah Shariar in Fokine's Scheherazade (1910), Guidone in Fokine's Le Coq d'or (1914), and the Russian Merchant in Massine's La Boutique Fantasque (1919). Fokine however, left the Ballets Russes over issues with Nijinsky, but Grigoriev stayed.

After Diaghilev fired Vaslav Nijinsky he needed to rehire Fokine. Before he agreed to return, Fokine made many demands: to dance leading roles; that all of Nijinsky's ballets be dropped from the repertoire; and that Grigoriev and his wife, the ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva, be discharged from the company. He got everything but the termination of Grigoriev. Diaghilev got Fokine, Grigoriev and Tchernicheva to reconcile. Grigoriev remained with Diaghlev’s Ballets Russes until the death of Serge Diaghilev.

After the death of Diaghilev in 1929, the company disbanded; Grigoriev and his wife joined Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1932, restaging the original choreography of Diaghilev's repertoire and remaining until 1948. Working with his wife, Lubov Tchernicheva, he produced several Fokine revivals for Sadler's Wells/Royal Ballet: Firebird (1954), Les Sylphides (1955), and Petrushka (1957) and the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor (1965).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Firebird - Premiered June 25, 1910

The Firebird is a 1910, neoclassical ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Michel Fokine. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird of the same name that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor.

The music premiered as a ballet by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910 conducted by Gabriel Pierné. It was the first of their productions with music specially composed for them. Originally the music was to have been written by Russian composer Anatol Liadov but when he was slow in starting to compose the work, Diaghilev transferred the commission to the 28-year old Stravinsky. The ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky's 'breakthrough piece, but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky. They would later produce Petrushka and The Rite of Spring.

Firebird was to originally be danced by Anna Pavlova, but when she heard Stravinsky’s music she declared it “noise” and refused to dance to it. Tamara Karsavina was given the iconic role.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aynsley Inglis, "For Lena" Rehearsal in NYC

The shawl in the dance, belonged to Madame Antonova (Lena). She was the wife of Leon Woizikowski and a member of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes from 1915. It was given to my daughter as a gift. The dancer is my daughter, Aynsley Inglis.

It is an homage to Lena and the Ballets Russes.

The piece was choreographed by Tony Award winning choreographer, Margo Sappington. It is being performed at the 2010 International Ballet Competition in Jackson, by my daughter who is a competitor there this week.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Daphnis Et Chloe - Premiered June 8, 1912

Daphnis et Chloe is a choreographic symphony in one act and three scenes, by Michel Fokine and Maurice Ravel. The décor and costumes were done by Leon Bakst. Daphnis et Chloe premiered at Theatre de Chatelet in Paris on June 8, 1912.

Maurice Ravel accepted a commission from Diaghilev to write Daphnis et Chloe, in 1909. He was slow to deliver, so Diaghilev sent him to St. Petersburg to work with Fokine and Bakst. The three men got along so well that it just extended the creative process and Ravel did not finish Daphnis et Chloe until 1912.
The idea itself for adapting the Longus pastoral tale for the stage was Fokine’s. His friend Isadora Duncan had influenced his interest in ancient Greece. The ballet was originally scheduled for the 1911 repertoire, but Narcisse was substituted when Daphnis et Chloe was not yet finished. When rehearsals for Daphnis et Chloe finally began in 1911, Diaghilev was completely distracted by Nijinsky’s L’Apres-Midi and Diaghilev’s lack of interest in Daphnis et Chloe was said to be the main reason for Fokine leaving the Ballets Russes Company in June of 1912, right after its premiere.
A few years later, in 1919, Ravel was commissioned again by Diaghilev to do La Valse, but they disagreed on the scenic concept, that topped with Massine’s departure led Diaghilev to abandon the ballet’s production. Ravel was so stunned by Diaghilev’s behavior that years later they ran into one another in the lobby of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, and Ravel would not shake hands with Diaghilev.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tatiana Riabouchinska's Birthday-May 23

Tatiana Riabouchinska was born in Moscow on May 23, 1917. She studdied with Alexander Volinine and Mathilda Kschessinska. Tatiana made her debut in Paris with the Chauve-Souris revue in 1932. Tatiana was the one of the three “Baby Ballerinas”. She was only 15 when she joined the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, at the request of George Balanchine. She was known for her speed, her light, delicate style, her musicality, and her sensitive interpretation of roles.

Tatiana stayed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo until 1942. Afterwards she would go on to guest with Ballet Theatre, now
ABT, the Original Ballet Russe, Ballet des Champs-Elysées, and the London Festival Ballet.

Tatiana created the role of the Florentine Beauty in Paganni, which some consider to be her finest work, due to a nearly impossible set of whirling pirouettes that she executed before collapsing at the feet of Paganini. Dance critic Arnold Haskell called her performance, “among the most moving I have seen on the ballet stage.” Tatiana was also the Junior Girl in Graduation Ball, title roles in Coq d'Or and Cinderella. Tatiana married fellow dancer and choreographer David Lichine. She passed away in 2000, just after teaching a ballet class.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Carlotta Grisi's Birthday - June 28,1819

Carlotta Grisi was an Italian ballet dancer. She was born on June 28, 1819 in Visinada, Istria (now part of Croatia) and died on May 20, 1899 in Saint-Jean, a district of Geneva, Switzerland.

She was trained at the ballet school of Teatro alla Scala in Milan and later with dancer/balletmaster Jules Perrot. At her 1836 debut in London Grisi performed with the accomplished danseur Jules Perrot. She next appeared in Paris at the Théâtre de la Renaissance (1840) and a year later, toured with Perrot to other parts of Europe. Through Perrot's contacts, the pair worked in Paris, London, Vienna, Munich, and Milan where she sang and danced.

Her greatest role however was that of Giselle. The world première of this two-act ballet was on June 28, 1841 at the Theatre de l'Academie Royale de Musique, Paris. The part of Albrecht was danced by Lucien Petipa, (the brother of the great Marius Petipa), with the part of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis danced by Adele Dumilatre. It caused a sensation and inspired its reviewers to proclaim Giselle to be the greatest ballet of its time and a triumphant successor to the Romantic masterwork La Sylphide. As such, it immediately established Grisi as a star in her very first full-length ballet in Paris. Her salary grew from 5,000 francs to 12,000 in 1842 and 20,000 by 1844, with additional performance fees on top. Grisi's last performance in the west was in Paul Taglioni's Les Métamorphoses (aka Satanella, 1849).

In 1850, she joined Perrot in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he had been appointed balletmaster, and she danced Giselle at the Imperial Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre. The first Giselle in Russia had been danced by Fanny Elssler, and so the initial reaction to Grisi's interpretation of the role was not enthusiastic. However, over time the Russians appreciated her talents. She was Prima Ballerina of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in St. Petersburg from 1850 to 1853, working not only with Perrot but also Joseph Mazilier who staged for her La Jolie Fille de Gand and Vert-Vert especially for her.

In 1854, with her daughter, she left Russia for Warsaw, where she intended to continue dancing, but she became pregnant by Prince Léon Radziwill who then persuaded her to retire from ballet at the height of her fame. Grisi gave birth to her second daughter, Léontine Grisi, and, at the age of 34, settled near Geneva to spend the next forty-six years of her life in peaceful retirement. She died in Saint-Jean, Geneva, Switzerland, on May 20, 1899, a month before her 80th birthday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prince Igor, Paris Premiere-May 19, 1909

Prince Igor was first performed in St.Petersburg, Russia, in 1890. It is an opera by Alexander Borodin, written in four acts with a prologue. The composer adapted the libretto from the East Slavic epic The Lay of Igor's Host, which recounts the campaign of Russian Prince Igor Svyatoslavich against the invading Polovtsian tribes in 1185. The opera was left unfinished upon the composer's death in 1887 and was edited and completed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov.

The world premiere of the ballet was given in St. Petersburg on November 4, 1890 at the Mariinsky Theatre. Set designers were Yanov, Andreyev, and Bocharov, while
Lev Ivanov was balletmaster.
Moscow premieres followed later.
The first was given in 1892 by the Russian Opera Society, conducted by Iosif Pribik. The Bolshoi Theatre premiere was given in 1898 and was conducted by Ulrikh Avranek
Other notable premieres were given in Prague in 1899, and in Paris on May 19, 1909, with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and Fokine’s choreography. London saw the same production in 1914 conducted by Thomas Beecham.

In 1915, the United States premiere took place at the Metropolitan Opera, but staged in Italian and conducted by Giorgio Polacco.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ballets Russes' Artist, Leon Bakst's Birthday! May 10th.

Rosenberg Lev Samoylovich, called Bakst, was a painter and a stage designer of Belorussian birth. He was born in Grodno on May 10th 1866 and he died in Paris on December 27, 1924.

He began his professional life as a copyist and illustrator of teaching materials but quickly moved on to illustration of popular magazines. His tastes were influenced and horizons enlarged when he met Alexander Benois and his circle in 1890.

With Benois and Serge Diaghilev, he was a founder of the (Mir Iskusstva) group in 1898 and was largely responsible for the technical excellence of its influential magazine. In 1906 he became a drawing teacher at the Yelizaveta Zvantseva's private school in St Peterburg, where his pupils included Marc Chagall.

Bakst realized his greatest artistic success in the theatre. Making the debut with designs for stage productions at the Hermitage and Alexandrinsky theatres in St Peterburg (1902-1903), he was then commissioned for several works at the Maryinsky theatre (1903-1904). In 1909, he collaborated with Diaghilev in the founding of Ballets Russes, where he acted as artistic director, and his stages designs rapidly brought him international fame.
His colorful exotic costumes and decors for Diaghilev's Scheherazade (Paris, 1910) caused a sensation. Between 1909 and 1921 he designed more Diaghilev productions than any other artist; his name became inseparable from the Ballets Russes.

Bakst was an accomplished painter, as well as designer, in the World of Art group. His costumes for Diaghilev’s revival of Imperial Ballet, The Sleeping Princess (London, 1921) was appropriately traditional as may be seen from his Design for Columbine from the ballet (London, Theatre Museum). Other examples of his designs for Diaghilev are to be found in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Le Dieu Bleu By Artist Jean Cocteau

Le Dieu Bleu is a one act ballet by Jean Cocteau and Federigo de Madrazo. Fokine was the choreographer and music was by Reynaldo Hahn with décor and costume by Leon Bakst. Le Dieu Bleu premiered May 13, 1912 at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Cocteau wrote the scenario for Ballets Russes’s Le Dieu Bleu after working with Diaghilev since 1911, and designing posters for Spectre de la Rose using portraits of Nijinsky and Karsavina, in 1912. Cocteau and Hahn were inspired by Hindu legends, and Fokine the bas-reliefs of Brahman temples and Siamese dancers. Sadly, Le Dieu Bleu was not successful and removed from the repertoire the following year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Premiere of Narcisse-April 26, 1911

Narcissse is a classical ballet performed in one act. Narcisse premiered on April 26, 1911 at Casino, Monte Carlo. Narcisse was a replacement ballet for Daphnis et Chloe.

Diaghilev had invited Ravel to St. Petersburg, to work with Bakst and Fokine on Daphnis et Chloe. However, Ravel was late in producing the score, and Fokine could not begin the choreography, so Narcisse was done in its place.
Narcisse was originally danced by the legendary Tamara Karsavina, Bronislava Nijinska and Vaslav Nijinsky. In the black & white photo, is Bronislava Nijinska dancing in Narcisse with Fokine's wife Vera Fokina.

The costumes were designed by Leon Bakst, as was the decor. Fokine was the choreographer, and the music was by Nicolas Tcherepnine who also composed Le Pavillon d'Armide.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Diaghilev Choreographer: Mikhail Fokine (1880-1942)

Mikhail was born in St. Petersburg on April 25, 1880 and studied at the Imperial School. He graduated at the age of 18, immediately entering the Maryinsky Theatre. He was promoted to soloist in 1904. He started teaching at the Imperial School and choreographed his first ballet, for a student performance, Acia and Galatea in 1905.

Mikhail Fokine is one of, if not the, best known choreographer of the 20th century. His ballets are still performed by ballet companies worldwide. In 1907, he choreographed The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova, in Carnival of Animals which became her iconic solo. He also created Firebird for Pavlova, but after hearing Stravinsky’s music she refused to dance it, so Tamara Karsavina danced it.

The first ballet Fokine choreographed for the Maryinsky Theatre was Le Pavillon d'Armide. This ballet was included in the repertoire of the first season of Diaghlev's Ballets Russes, in Paris in 1909. He became Diaghlev's chief choreographer, while continuing to dance in Russia until 1918.
Fokine left the Ballets Russes in 1912 because Diaghilev was favoring Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography. He freelanced, finally settling in the United States in 1923. He married Vera Antonova Fokina, they had often been partners in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Fokine originally choreographed Chopiniana, to later be renamed Les Sylphides, for a performance outside the Maryinsky in 1907. He restaged Les Sylphides for the then Ballet Theatre's, now ABT, inaugural performance in 1940 at New York's Center Theatre.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Picasso's Parade Ballet Costumes

Parade is a realistic ballet in one scene, based on a theme by Jean Cocteau. The music was done by Erik Satie, choreography by Massine, curtain, décor and costumes designed by Pablo Picasso. The first performance of Parade was at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris on May 18, 1917.

Cocteau says that the first draft of the Parade ballet was a brief ballet project called David, something he had sketched out in 1914. The ballet was to take place in front of the entrance booth of a traveling fair. David was never written, but Cocteau’s first contact with Erik Satie was in 1915, with his collaboration with Picasso beginning the following year.

Diaghilev met Picasso in the spring of 1916 when a mutual friend, Mme. Eugenia Errazuriz brought him to Picasso’s studio. It was then that Diaghilev commissioned Picasso to do the mise-en-scene for Parade. Both Picasso and Cocteau left for Rome in February of 1917, where Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was dancing. There they met and worked with Massine.

Among the costumes Picasso designed was a horse, initially with a mannequin-rider. During the dress rehearsal, the rider fell off of the horse causing the audience to laugh, so it was removed for the remaining performances. The costume for the American Girl, which Picasso had not sketched, was actually bought the day before at a sporting goods store. The costume for the Female Acrobat that Massine had added at the last minute was made of hand-painted spiral designs Picasso painted directly onto Lydia Lopoukhova’s legs.

After a three year absence, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes returned to Paris’s Theatre du Chatelet with Parade, a pioneer Cubist theatrical spectacular. Satie and Cocteau often disagreed regarding the noises that Cocteau wanted added to Satie’s scores. But, Cocteau was over ruled by Diaghilev and they were left out.

When the curtain went down on Parade, the audience was violent and contradictory. It was acclaimed by many intellectuals, but the public didn’t like it. It was well ahead of its time and was never added to the regular repertoire of the Ballets Russes.

In 1923, when Diaghilev wanted to restage the ballet, he asked Picasso to touch up the curtain which had been taken over by mildew. Picasso refused saying that it resembled the deteriorated frescoes of Pompeii and should remain that way!

Read "DIAGHILEV And the Ballets Russes" by Boris Kochno, 1970.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky Died April 8, 1950

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev, Russia, while his parents, dancers Eleonora Bereda and Foma Nijinsky were on tour. He entered the Imperial School in St. Petersburg in 1898, and upon graduation in 1907 became a soloist with the Maryinsky Theatre.

He met Sergei Diaghilev, and Nijinsky went to Paris with him and danced the leading roles in Le Pavillion d'Armida and Les Sylphides with Anna Pavlova in 1909. The next year he danced the golden slave in Scheherazade.

He continued to dance with the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes after 1909, although Anna Pavlova left because Diaghilev favored his male dancers.

Although Vaslav danced with many great ballerinas he was most associated with Tamara Karsavina, with whom he danced in 1911 in one of the most famous ballets of the time, Le Spectre de la Rose.

Nijinsky’s choreography broke away from his classical training. His ballets were controversial, his Jeux made headlines in the morning press, and Le Sacre du Printemps had the audiences shouting obscenities in the theater and on the streets of Paris.

In 1913 the Ballets Russes toured South America, and because of his fear of ocean voyages Diaghilev did not accompany them. Without his mentor's supervision Nijinsky fell in love with Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian dancer. They were married in Buenos Aires: when the company returned to Europe, Diaghilev, in a jealous rage, fired them both.

During World War I, Nijinsky, a Russian citizen, was interned in Hungary. Diaghilev succeeded in getting him out for a North American tour in 1916, during which he choreographed and danced the leading role in Till Eulenspiegel. Signs of his dementia praecox were becoming apparent to members of the company. He became afraid of other dancers and that a trap door would be left open. Nijinsky spent may years in and out of mental hospitals.
In 1947 the family moved to London, where he was cared for by his loving wife, Romola, until his death in 1950. He is buried in Paris at the Sacre Coeur Cemetery.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Picasso; Ballets Russes Artist, Died April 8, 1973

Parade was Picasso's first collaboration with the Ballets Russes and in a letter sent to a friend, Jean Cocteau the librettist said "Picasso amazes me every day, to live near him is a lesson in nobility and hard work" (Rothschild 49). Picasso's studio in Rome had a little crate that held the model of "Parade" with its trees and houses, and on a table were the painted characters: the Chinaman, Managers, American girl, and horse. Cocteau described his friend's unusual artistic process: "A badly drawn figure of Picasso is the result of endless well-drawn figures he erases, corrects, covers over, and which serves him as a foundation. In opposition to all schools he seems to end his work with a sketch." The audiences were amazed by the first ballet to have cubist costumes, sets, and choreography. After World War I, Picasso made a number of important associations and relationships with figures associated with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Among his friends during this period were Jean Cocteau, Jean Hugo, Juan Gris and others.

In the summer of 1918, Picasso married Olga Khokhlova, a ballerina with Sergei Diaghilev’s troupe, for whom Picasso was designing a ballet, Parade, in Rome; and they spent their honeymoon in the villa near Biarritz of the glamorous Chilean art patron Eugenia Errázuriz. Khokhlova introduced Picasso to high society, formal dinner parties, and all the social niceties attendant on the life of the rich in 1920s Paris. The two had a son, Paulo, who would grow up to be a dissolute motorcycle racer and chauffeur to his father. Khokhlova’s insistence on social propriety clashed with Picasso’s bohemian tendencies and the two lived in a state of constant conflict. During the same period that Picasso collaborated with Diaghilev’s troup, he and Igor Stravinsky collaborated on Pulcinella in 1920.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ballets Russes Composer Stravinsky Died April 6th

The most notable of Diaghilev's composers was Igor Stravinsky, who is now recognised as the premier composer of the early twentieth century. Diaghilev had hired the young Stravinsky at a time when he was virtually unknown to compose the music for The Firebird, after the composer Anatoly Lyadov proved unreliable. Diaghilev was thus instrumental in launching Stravinsky's career in Europe and the United States of America.

Stravinsky's early ballet scores were the subject of much discussion. The Firebird (1910) was seen as an astonishingly accomplished work for such a young artist (Debussy is said to have remarked drily: "Well, you've got to start somewhere!"). Many contemporary audiences found Petroushka (1911) to be almost unbearably dissonant and confused. "The Rite of Spring" caused a near-riot by the audience, stunned because of its willful rhythms and aggressive dynamics. The Rite of Spring had to be pulled after just a few performances. The audience's negative reaction to it is now regarded as a theatrical scandal as notorious as the failed runs of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at Paris in 1861 and Jean-Georges Noverre's and David Garrick's Chinese Ballet at London on the eve of the Seven Years' War. However, Stravinsky's early ballet scores are now widely considered masterpieces of the genre. Even his later ballet scores (such as Apollo), while not as startling, were still superior to most ballet music of the previous century.

Diaghilev commissioned many other original scores, as well as borrowing freely from the existing musical canon. His ballets variously included music by Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel, Satie, Respighi, and Richard Strauss.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Serge Lifar - April 2nd Birthday Celebration!

Serge Lifar was born on April 2, 1903 in Kiev, Ukraine and trained there by Bronislava Nijinska. Lifar was dynamic and controversial in his personal life. He was accepted into the Ballets Russes in 1923. Serge Lifar's career was delayed a year because he did not accept Serge Diaghilev's invitation to breakfast. Diaghilev insisted that Lifar's training continue with Enrico Cecchetti, Nicolai Legat and Pierre Vladimirov. Lifar was known for his notorious and unscrupulous displays of ego. While partnering Alicia Markova at London's Drury Lane Theatre, his extremely unprofessional jealousy of her triumph caused a scandal. In 1938, they danced again when Markova was making her debut in America. The ballet was almost ruined by Lifar's attempts to steal scenes, causing a critic to write that his performance in Giselle would justify changing the name of the ballet to Albrecht.

Lifar eventually replaced Anton Dolin as Diaghilev's favorite, when Dolin left to dance in Cochran's Revues with Vera Nemtchinova. Diaghilev made sure Lifar continued his daily classes with Enrico Cecchetti. Wherever Lifar went, Cecchetti was there to give him lessons. Lifar was the last of the Ballets Russes' Premier Danseurs, although Dolin did return to the company as one of the stars. Two of Lifar's greatest achievements as a dancer in the Ballets Russes were in Balanchine's Apollo and The Prodigal Son.

After Serge Diaghilev's death in 1929, Lifar became Premier Danseur of the Paris Opera Ballet, whose reputation had declined since the Victorian era. By 1933, he had become its Director and Professor of Dance. In 1939, Lifar joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo where he again danced with Alicia Markova, this time at London's Covent Garden.

Lifar held the position of Director at the Paris Opera Ballet for 20 years, creating 90 percent of the choreography and dancing many leading roles. Although he himself was trained by Cecchetti, he replaced the Italian technique at the Paris Opera with the modern Russian Vaganova School, named for the great Kirov teacher Aggripina Vaganova. He remained as director of the Paris Opera Ballet until 1945, when charges of collaboration with the Germans caused him to leave and become director of the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo. Lifar, cleared of the charges and given a year's suspension, returned as director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1947. In 1949, he danced again, and his last performance at the Opera was as Albrecht in ''Giselle'' in 1956. He resigned as director in 1958, although he was briefly re-engaged as choreographer in 1968.

In the summer of 1994 on the stage of the National Ukraine Opera the First International Ballet Contest was held named after Serge Lifar. The new contest happened to be unique. For the first time in Europe young ballet artists and balletmasters contended simultaneously. The Sixth Lifar International Ballet Competition was held in April, 2006.

Friday, March 26, 2010

From Chopiniana to Les Sylphides

The ballet Chopiniana premiered in 1907 at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg as Rêverie Romantique: Ballet sur la musique de Chopin. However, this also formed the basis of a ballet, Chopiniana, which took different forms, even in Fokine's hands. The second version was performed in 1908 at the Maryinsky Theatre, danced by Pavlova, Karsavina, Nijinsky and Preobrajenska.

The ballet Chopiniana premiered as Les Sylphides, with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on June 2, 1909 at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. The Diaghilev premiere is the most famous, as its soloists were Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky (as the poet, dreamer, or young man), Anna Pavlova, and Alexandra Baldina. The London premier, in the first season of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, was at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

With more sylph-like elusiveness, the North American premiere might be dated by an unauthorized version in the Winter Garden, New York, on 14 June 1911, featuring Baldina alone from the Diaghilev cast. However, its authorized premiere on that continent, by Diaghilev Ballets Russes, was at the Century Theater, New York City, 20 January 1916, with Lopokova . Nijinsky danced it with Ballets Russes at the Metropolitan Opera, April 14, 1916.

Les Sylphides has no plot, but instead consists of many white-clad sylphs dancing in the moonlight with the poet or young man dressed in white tights and a black top. New York City Ballet produced its own staging of the standard version, omitting the Polonaise in A major and leaving the Prelude in A major in its original position, under the original title, Chopiniana. The NYCB premiere was staged by Alexandra Danilova and took place 20 January 1972, at the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center. The original cast included Karin von Aroldingen, Susan Hendl, Kay Mazzo, and Peter Martins.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev: Birthday

Sergei Diaghilev was born March 19, 1872, in Perm, Russia, into a wealthy noble family of Novgorod, Russia. His father, named Pavel Diaghilev, was a distinguished General to the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. His mother died at his birth. Young Sergei Diaghilev grew up in a highly cultured environment. He studied piano and singing from the early age. He also took lessons in painting at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, and studied music with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. From 1891-1896 Diaghilev studied law and graduated from the Law Department of the St. Petersburg University. There he developed a life-long friendship with his fellow law student Alexandre Benois. As a law student he came to St. Petersburg where he became co-founder of the progressive art magazine Mir Iskusstva (The World of Art) in 1899. The same year he was appointed artistic adviser of the Maryinsky Theatre. He resigned this post in 1901 and when the magazine stopped publishing in 1904, he concentrated on organizing exhibitions of Russian art in St. Petersburg and Paris. In 1908 he brought a production of "Boris Godunov" to Paris, with the famous singer, Feodor Chaliapin.

In 1909 he brought to Paris a season of opera and ballet and, with the best dancers from the Maryinsky, he scored a great success. Repeat visits in the following years resulted in the formation of the Ballets Russes in 1911 as an independent private company, which he directed until his death in 1929. He never returned to Russia after the 1917 revolution. In fact, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes never performed in Russia. Prior to 1909 most ballet companies were a part of an opera company or were subsidized by the court or the ruling power. The Paris Opera was the home of the ballet, even in Russia the ballet was part of the opera. In 1909 when Diaghilev decided to bring a small company of dancers to Paris he did this by bringing the great opera star Chaliapin to share the program. Both people in Russia and Paris thought that he was crazy. Diaghilev didn't had an easy time getting enough money to get the this project to Paris. Once he accomplished the first season in Paris he had to do this during the dancers yearly time off. He had to get them back to St. Petrersburg before their season started.

Diaghilev collaborated with the most famous artists, composers and dancers of the period. Artists like Alexandre Benois, Leon Bakst, Nicolas Roerich, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse. He got composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussey and Erik Satie to name a few, to compose new music for the ballet. He encouraged Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine to choreograph new ballets for the company.

Diaghilev never went to sleep without thinking of some way to get enough money to spawn a new ballet. After his death in 1929 the company that he had worked so hard to create disbanded. It took until 1933 before another company could get the funding and leadership to start a new season, using many of the dancers that had been with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.