Ballets Russes 2009
Boston, USA May 16 – May 26, 2009
1. Cultural Mission
Ballets Russes 2009 is a one-of-a-kind cultural organization whose goal is to celebrate the centenary of the birth of modern ballet, and to build new audiences for dance and the arts in New England and the Northeast US. The focus of its programming is the revolutionary enterprise known as the Ballets Russes, which brought together dance, music and the visual arts in an unparalleled way to transform many aspects of elite and popular culture. The project will culminate in a ten-day festival in Boston in May of 2009, exactly a century since the Paris debut of the Ballets Russes, which will engage amateurs and scholars with the legacy of this vibrant performing company. The uniqueness of our project lies in its comprehensive vision of the cultural components of the Ballets Russes, and the effort to link cultural institutions across the city and the world with the purpose of re-engaging the public with that heritage. In the tradition of the Ballets Russes itself, the festival will bring together artists, audiences, and cultures in an unprecedented way. The events schedule will include dance and musical performances, exhibitions, films, an academic conference, as well as cultural occasions of a broader appeal, such as an outdoor festival celebrating Russian culture, performances of Russian folk dance and music, puppeteers, mimes, and a fashion show. Beginning in 2007, a program of Russian-themed events in the Boston area will build up public awareness (and funding) for the festival. Once the festival is over, the project will also have an afterlife that may include a second festival in St. Petersburg, and will certainly continue to support cultural exchange between the two cities. Indeed, an important part of the mission of Ballets Russes 2009 is to revive the historic cultural links between St. Petersburg, Boston and Paris.
2. Major Participants
Ballets Russes 2009 is proud to announce that Boston University, Boston Ballet and the Boston Pops will be major participants in this centenary festival. Boston University will hold a three-day academic conference, open to the public, devoted to the Ballets Russes and its brilliant director, Serge Diaghilev. The university will also hold an exhibition of drawings, posters, books and other rare documentary material. Boston Ballet will present a gala evening, on Wednesday, May 20th, of four original Ballets Russes productions, including Spectre de la Rose, Apres-Midi d’Un Faune, Rite of Spring and Prodigal Son. Finally, the Boston Pops will celebrate the musical legacy of the enterprise, performing a selection of music from the ballets it premiered.
Other major Boston and New England area cultural institutions will participate in the festival. The Wadsworth Atheneum will hold an exhibition of their remarkable collection of stage designs and actual costumes, acquired directly from Serge Lifar in the 1930s, as well as an afternoon symposium and concert. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts will hold a film festival on dance and ballet. Additionally, there will be a program of chamber music concerts of works written by Ballets Russes composers, in a venue yet to be confirmed, as well as a recital of Stravinsky’s piano music. Among other potential partners, with whom Ballets Russes 2009 is currently in communication, are: the New England Conservatory, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the French Library and Cultural Center and the Boston Athenaeum, as well as businesses such as Sotheby’s and some private galleries. The cultural institutions in St. Petersburg that have expressed a desire to participate in Ballets Russes 2009 include the Kirov Ballet, the State Russian Museum, the Catherine Palace, the Lomonosov Museum of the State Hermitage, and the Classical Theater of St. Petersburg.
3. Target Audience
The Festival’s primary audience is the community of Boston and surrounding areas. However, the Festival has the potential to engage broader national and international audiences in Europe and Russia, especially St. Petersburg. Thanks to its extensive cultural infrastructure in the areas of dance, music and visual arts, its highly educated and prosperous population, and philanthropic traditions, Boston is well-suited to launch a project with outreach beyond its community.
4. Market Position and Challenges
The aim of the Ballets Russes 2009 organization is to unite, rather than compete with the disparate efforts of other cultural institutions in Boston and St. Petersburg. Through its central management structure, and network of partnerships, the project will link independent organizations in a harmonious way, and allow cultural and civic groups as well as businesses in the service sector to realize their individual agendas, while benefiting from the association. We do not see ourselves as competing with any organization or festival around the world that wishes to honor the legacy of the Ballets Russes. By beginning early and maintaining a major visible presence through a sustained series of events in Boston, as well as a web community, we will serve as a leader and guide for any individual or group interested in celebrating this centenary.
Our initial task is to accumulate a critical mass of allied organizations and events, and the next challenge is to link these separate entities effectively through strong communication and the sharing of resources. In addressing the first, we have already received commitments from a number of partners as listed above. Our solution to the second challenge of coordinating effectively, alongside putting on some events directly sponsored and organized by Ballets Russes 2009, is a layered management structure and strong executive team.
Another challenge is fundraising. Ballets Russes 2009 has been accepting donations and offers of sponsorship since April 2007. We have already received a number of gifts for specific components of the festival from private individuals, but we are still looking for support for many of our projects. The total festival budget will depend on the final programming, but is under $5 Million. While there is no minimum donation for private individuals, the lowest tier for corporate giving is $25,000.
5. Organizational Structure
Peter Rand, Executive Director, Project Founder
Anna Winestein, Associate Director
Nick MacShane, Finance and Fund Raising
Carolyn Osteen, Legal Counsel
Alston Purvis, Art Director
Katya Popova, Art Director
Ernst von Metzsch
Micheline De Bievre
Dr. David Campbell, Provost, Boston University
Prince Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky, collector
Douglas Turnbaugh, producer of the film The Ballets Russes
Antonina Bouis, translator
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director, Boston Ballet
Bo Smith, Director, Film Program, Museum of Fine Arts
Lynn Garafola, leading Ballet Scholar, Columbia University
Keith Lockhart, Conductor, the Boston Pops orchestra
Eric Zafran, Curator, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
Peter Tcherepnine, Benefactor
Dr. Robert Bunting, Collector
Mikhail Chemiakin, Sculptor
John Bowlt, leading scholar of Russian art history, USC
Prof. Charles Dellheim, Chairman, History Department, Boston University
Prof. Alston Purvis, Boston University School of Fine Arts, Graphic Design
Ludmila Martynova, Art Director, Classical Theater, St. Petersburg
Vladimir Gusev, President, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Makhar Vasiev, Director, Kirov Ballet
Ballets Russes 2009 is assembling a Board of Directors for this project that will include key members of the Management Team, Advisory Board, and partner organizations supporting the project. The Board will be the key decision making body for the organization.
Ballets Russes 2009 has secured a fiscal sponsor in the form of Boston University, which has provided the project with a not-for-profit status and a legal framework, while allowing Ballets Russes 2009 to function as an independent creative unit that retains a separate executive and advisory structure.
6. Pre-Festival Activities
• January, 2008: Lecture and Discussion
• May 22, 2008: Performance evening and gala dinner.
7. Festival, May 2009
Events already scheduled:
• Boston Pops concert of Ballets Russes music
• Performances of classic Ballets Russes productions by the Boston Ballet
• Historical exhibition focusing on the cultural roots, origins and evolution of the Ballets Russes at Boston University
• Exhibition of stage design and costume at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
• Symphonic performance of Ballets Russes music by the Boston Pops.
• Film festival on dance at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
• Performances of chamber pieces by Ballets Russes composers.
• 3-Day academic conference on the Ballets Russes at Boston University
• Street fair and costumed procession. Balagans with puppet shows and mime performances, Russian food, and more.
• Exhibition of contemporary Russian art facing the Ballets Russes legacy.
Some of the other events in the works:
• Outdoor fashion show with different designers reinterpreting Ballets Russes costumes for today
• Symphonic concert recreating the music of the Ballets Russes’ first ever performance.
• Exhibit of Russian porcelain from the Porcelain Museum of the State Hermitage
• Food tie-in with hotels.
8. The Afterlife
Continued activities of the organization post-Festival; a cultural exchange program between Boston University and major arts education institutions in St. Petersburg.
A commemoration volume, Ballets Russes 2009, edited by Peter Rand, Alston Purvis, and Anna Winestein published by Cees de Jong, with text by leading Ballets Russes scholars and reproductions of original Ballets Russes designs, drawings and posters. Donors will receive personalized copies. The names of major benefactors will be published on a special acknowledgements page.
– September 18, 2007
The Festival was announced
May 22, 2008
Gala performance, Cutler-Majestic Theater, followed by formal dinner
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Boston Ballet premiere of the new Diaghilev mixed bill, Wang Center
Sunday, May 17
Exhibition opening & symposium Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford
Silver Age Poetry Reading
Monday, May 18
Conference Dinner, Boston University
Film Screening: Diaghilev, BU
Tuesday, May 19
Afternoon chamber music concert
Exhibition opening, BU 808 Showroom
Film Screenings, Museum of Fine Arts
The Boston Pops do a centenary concert of Ballets Russes music
Wednesday, May 20
Film Screenings, MFA
Thursday, May 21
Final day of BU Conference
Film Screenings, MFA
Stravinsky music piano recital
Friday, May 22
Street Fair and Balagan at BU Beach
Performance of the St. Petersburg Classical Theater
Saturday, May 23
Open Air Festival, BU
Masked Ball, Taj Boston
BALLETS RUSSES FESTIVAL 2009 MULTICULTURAL EXTRAVAGANZA
Major Boston cultural institutions will take part in a festival in May 2009 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the legendary ballet company that opened in Paris in May 1909. Festival organizers will officially announce the week-long festival scheduled for May 2009 at a cocktail reception at the Taj Boston Hotel on Tuesday, September 18.
Peter Rand, Executive Director of Ballets Russes 2009, will host the event. Ballets Russes 2009 is a nonprofit arts organization affiliated with Boston University, which will host a three-day academic conference as part of the festival.
The festival will also include a film series about dance at the Museum of Fine Arts, a performance by Boston Ballet of works created for the Ballets Russes, and a Boston Pops concert conducted by Keith Lockhart on the exact anniversary of the Ballets Russes’ first performance. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford will also hold an exhibition of paintings and drawings from their celebrated Serge Lifar collection of stage designs and original Ballets Russes costumes. The festival will culminate in a Russian street festival.
Mikko Nissinen, Artistic Director of Boston Ballet, and Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance History at Barnard College, among others, will be present to introduce the festival. Douglas Blair Turnbaugh, producer of the documentary Ballets Russes, which was recently shown to international acclaim, will attend the reception and speak at the presentation.
Peter Rand, author and teacher at Boston University’s College of Communication, was inspired to create the festival when he visited St. Petersburg Russia four years ago. “The Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev had an enormous impact on European Culture,” Rand noted. “It was Diaghilev’s particular genius to call upon the greatest artists in every discipline – dancers, visual arts, costume and set designers – to create original ballets.” Stravinsky, Bakst, Picasso, Fokine and Massine were among the contributors. Special ballets were created for dancers like Nijinsky and Karsavina.
The Ballets Russes performed continuously for twenty years until Diaghilev died in 1929. His legacy continued into the 1950s in the form of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, an offshoot of the original company, and in the works of Georges Balanchine, who was one of Diaghilev’s last choreographers.
Peter Rand’s dream is that the Ballets Russes 2009 festival will help build new audiences and support for the dance community and cultural arts in Boston.
The Goal and Team
The goal of Ballets Russes 2009 is to celebrate the centenary of Sergei Diaghilev’s famous ballet and opera company, and its broad cultural legacy, as well as to build new audiences for dance and the arts in New England and the Northeastern US. During 10 days in May 2009, we will capture the city of Boston with a wide-ranging program reflecting the various components of the Ballets Russes, There will be performances by the Boston Ballet and the Boston Pops, a festival of dance films at the Museum of Fine Arts and an exhibition of stage designs and actual costumes at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. Boston University will host a major three-day academic conference on the Ballets Russes and an exhibition of related posters and memorabilia. For children, there will be a puppet theater, performances, and a parade populated with characters from Ballets Russes as well as classic Imperial Ballet productions, and even from contemporary ballets done at the Mariinsky Theatre. To celebrate the cultural richness of the Ballets Russes for people of all ages, Ballets Russes 2009 will also hold a traditional Russian street fair, called a balagan, on the streets of Boston. Performers from present-day Russia, including dancers, actors and mimes, will come to Boston to participate in the Festival.
Following the conclusion of the festival, Ballets Russes 2009 will launch a permanent cultural exchange program between Russia and other American and European cities, including Boston and Paris. The program will celebrate the Ballets Russes achievement by promoting, as its global objective, education, culture, international relations and the sharing of resources.
Ballets Russes 2009 is a one-of-a-kind cultural organization based in Boston, USA. Our aim as an organization is to unite, not to compete, with the disparate efforts of other cultural institutions in Boston and St. Petersburg to celebrate the centennial. Through its central management structure, and network of partnerships, the project links independent organizations in a harmonious way, and allows cultural and civic groups as well as businesses in the service sector to realize their individual agendas, while benefiting from the association. By beginning early and maintaining a major visible presence through a sustained series of events in Boston, as well as a web community, we will serve as a leader and guide for any individual or group interested in celebrating the Ballets Russes centenary. Ballets Russes 2009 is also a work-in-progress. Currently, the organization is looking for corporate and individual sponsors, and is extending a welcome to any in the business community who wish to participate in the festival.
The Executive Team: Ballets Russes 2009 is a non-profit organization operated out of Boston University by an experienced management team under the direction of festival founder Peter Rand.
Peter Rand, Executive Director, has authored numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. He is also a professor at Boston University’s College of Communication.
Anna Winestein, Associate Director, is a Boston University-educated art historian and scholar of Russian culture, currently working on her doctoral dissertation at Oxford University.
Nick MacShane, Financial Director, is an independent investment banker and founder of the Boston-based firm, Progress Partners, Inc.
Partners: Ballets Russes 2009 is working with a range of cultural institutions in the city of Boston and the New England region. Key partners include Boston University, Boston Ballet, the Boston Pops, the film program at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. The festival has additional, international partners in St. Petersburg, Russia and Paris, France.
The Ballets Russes burst upon the consciousness of Western culture like an explosion of fireworks when it opened in Paris in May of 1909, at the Chatelet Theater. These performances demonstrated new possibilities for choreography, theatrical design, painting and musical composition all at once, and introduced a new aesthetic vocabulary that became a driving force in the creative and industrial life of Europe and America. The power of the Ballets Russes stemmed from the collaboration of a remarkable creative team and the masterful way they fused musical composition, painting and costume design in performances by dancers who connected classical ballet traditions with innovative choreography. Under the leadership of Sergei Diaghilev, the company drew upon the genius of leading composers, artists, choreographers and dancers to produce revolutionary productions year after year, for two decades.
It all began with a group of schoolmates who met throughout the 1880s and 1890s to discuss art and literature and music, keeping Art for Art’s Sake as their credo. Looking to Europe for inspiration, they were equally steeped in the art of Russia, as well as devotees of the Imperial Ballet and the St. Petersburg musical world. In 1897 Serge Diaghilev, a man of great energy and bold vision, formally united the disparate group under the name The World of Art. Together, they published an eponymous magazine from 1898-1904, and staged exhibitions that included a major retrospective of Russian portraits in Petersburg 1905, before Diaghilev set his sights on Paris in 1906.
After a sensational exhibit of Russian art at the Salon D’Automne, he moved on to musical concerts in 1907 and opera in 1908, before launching the Ballets Russes with the help of the innovative choreographer Mikhail Fokine and the artist-designers of the World of Art. From the May 19th, 1909 premiere at the Chatelet Theater, the company’s performances electrified Paris audiences, thanks to the fusion of the arts in a new form: music, choreography, painting and dance such as the world had never seen, all of equal brilliance. The troupe’s dancers had all trained at the Imperial Ballet School, including stars such as Nijinsky, Karsavina, Fokine, Pavlova, Massine and many others. The early ballets were mostly set to music by Russian composers, Tcherepnine, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky, and designed by Russian painters, Leon Bakst, Alexander Benois, Nicholas Roerich, Goncharova and Larionov, along Russian themes.
The material was revelatory and sensual and often profoundly provocative. The Paris audience rioted when it beheld Prélude à l’aprèsmidi d’un Faune and Le Sacre du Printemps, two masterpieces set to music by Debussy and Stravinsky, respectively, designed by Bakst and choreographed by the great Nijinsky. For twenty years, the Ballets Russes performed every year, even through World War One, and toured the world. The company was protean, adaptable, and experimental. In a continuing spirit of collaboration, painters of the French avant garde, notably Picasso, contributed substantially to Ballets Russes creativity. Picasso worked with Jean Cocteau and the composer Eric Satie to create the first Cubist ballet, Parade, produced to great acclaim in 1917. Matisse, Derain, Juan Gris, Braque and Rouault joined the Ballets Russes Artistic Pantheon. In the 1920s, important new Ballets Russes works were produced by French composers Auric, Milhaud, Sauguet, and Poulenc. The Russian influence was also a major force. In the 1920s, the company worked with the young composer Serge Prokoviev, who produced ballets with new themes. Stravinsky composed one of his most important works, Les Noces, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, in 1923. Ballets were choreographed by Leonide Massine, Serge Lifar, Nijinska, and Georges Balanchine, danced by Russians, among them Toumanova, Danilova, Lopokova, Doubrovska, and Woidzikowsky.
The company’s era ended on the morning of the Nineteenth of August, 1929, when Diaghilev, the great impresario who had kept it alive and flourishing, died in Venice at the age of fifty-five. It was the death of what Balanchine called "twenty years of dance entertainment based on an inviolable rule of uniform excellence in choreography, music, decor, and performance."
From its legendary first performances in May 1909 at the Theatre du Chatelet, the Ballets Russes did more for Parisian audiences than just present them with new choreography, new music, new stars, and a new performing company. These productions redefined ballet for the twentieth century, reinventing an entire art form that had grown stale elsewhere in Europe. At Russia’s Imperial theaters and ballet school, the traditions of ballet, rooted in the court dances of Louis XIV’s reign and Italian pantomime were not only preserved, but nurtured and developed further. With extensive financial support from the Tsar’s coffers, few corners were cut in the training of dancers, the hiring of choreographic and performing talent, and the staging of productions. It was in St. Petersburg that all of Diaghilev’s great choreographers and many of his star and corps de ballet dancers were trained. Fokine, Nijinsky, Massine, Nijinska, and Balanchine were all the products of the Imperial Ballet School, and began their dance careers at the Mariinsky Theater, as did Karsavina, Pavlova, Danilova, Lopokova and countless others.
The first Ballets Russes ballet actually premiered in Russia and had nothing at all to do with Diaghilev. Pavillon d’Armide was the brainchild of the artist, critic and historian Alexander Benois, an avid balletomane whose grandfather had built the Mariinsky Theater. Benois wrote the libretto of the ballet in 1903 and Nikolai Tcherepnin composed the music to suit the plot, in close consultation with Benois. The ballet was bought by the Mariinsky, but left unstaged until Mikhail Fokine, a brilliant young choreographer and balletmeister there came across it, staging a segment of it as a graduation performance for the students of the Imperial Ballet School. The success of this performance led to renewed interest in the ballet for the Mariinsky’s main stage, and in 1907 Fokine and Benois staged the ballet together, with sets and costumes designed by Alexander. A scholar of not only art but dance history, Benois worked throughout with Fokine on the stage direction and even choreography of the piece, especially the numbers involving large groups of dancers. Benois’ great friend, Diaghilev was present at the opening and was conquered by the performance, finally agreeing with Benois’ advice that he should bring not only opera but ballet productions to Paris. Le Pavillon d’Armide demonstrated both Fokine’s innovative approach to choreography, and Benois’ ideas about collaborative creation in the theater, where he felt directors, designers, composers and performers should work together as one, to achieve aesthetic unity. All this would become the foundation of the Ballets Russes as a company, and would ensure its Parisian success.
The Ballets Russes’ twenty-year existence can be broken up into approximate choreographic periods. 1909-1914 was the Fokine era, and it was he who not only created most of the company’s ballets, but also maintained the troupe as balletmeister. Fokin’s seminal choreographic works, performed frequently to this day, include Les Sylphides, Scheherezade, Firebird, Petrushka, and Spectre de la Rose. He also created numerous other productions that are less well known today because the complexities of their staging and the lack of preserved choreography make them difficult to put on, among them are Pavillon d’Armide, Daphnis et Chloe, and Le Coq d’Or. A student of Fokin’s from the Imperial Ballet School and star of many of his choreographic compositions, Vaslav Nijinsky, eventually became Diaghilev’s choreographic protege. However, he managed to create just three ballets before his 1913 marriage nearly ended his career. Insanely jealous, Diaghilev fired Nijinsky, and re-hired him only briefly in 1916 when Nijinsky danced in the Ballets’ North American tour and created one last ballet, Till Eulenspiegel. Although his work as a choreographer was brief, it was significant; in Prélude à l’aprèsmidi d’un Faune, Le Sacre du Printemps and Jeux, Nijinsky departed even further than Fokin from the traditional vocabulary of movement, progressing more in the direction of modern dance than in the continuation of ballet tradition resumed by his successor, Leonid Massine.
Principal choreographer as well as star dancer after the departure of both Fokine and Nijinsky, Massine led the company from 1915 to 1921. Among his innovative choreographic works of the period were Le Soleil de Nuit, La Boutique Fantastique, and Le Tricorne. When, after years as Diaghilev’s lover, Massine declared his independence by marrying and refusing to allow himself to be bullied by his sometimes overbearing boss, he nevertheless remained tied to the Ballets Russes. From 1932 to 1937 he was the chief choreographer of the Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes, a successor company, before leaving with a group of discontented dancers to start his own troupe, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In the de Basil Ballets, Massine had shared the spotlight with two former colleagues, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine. A brilliant dancer herself, though not so beloved as her elder brother, Nijinska had worked for Diaghilev for over a decade when she finally got her chance to be a choreographer in 1923. Among the pieces she created at the Ballets Russes were Les Noces, Le Train Bleu, and Les Biches. Balanchine was her successor and the company’s last major choreographer. After a knee injury effectively ended his performing career in 1926, he concentrated his energies on choreography and by Diaghilev’s death in 1929 had created nine ballets, including La Chatte, Apollon Musagète, Le Fils Prodigue and Le Bal. Many of these starred Diaghilev’s latest lover, Serge Lifar, who might well have become the next balletmeister if Diaghilev had not died soon after Lifar’s first efforts in choreography. Altogether, the choreographers and dancers of the Ballets Russes overturned many of the static conventions of classical Ballet, and ushered in the era of modern dance while preserving a sense of tradition and the heritage of the Russian ballet school.
During the 2009 festival, Boston Ballet will present a new evening program of four of the groundbreaking short ballets from different phases in the aesthetic evolution of the Ballets Russes. First performed in 1911, Le Spectre de la Rose (the Specter of the Rose) is in essence a pas de deux created by Mikhail Fokine specifically for the first two dancers to perform it, Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. In the ballet, a young girl returns home from her society debut at a ball. She dreams that she dances with the rose she held at the ball, whose specter was danced by Nijinsky, causing quite a sensation. Audiences were particularly enraptured by his final athletic leap out of the girl’s window, which ended both the girl’s reverie and the ballet itself.
Nijinsky’s first choreographic effort, Prélude à l’aprèsmidi d’un Faune, Le Sacre du Printemps (Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun) was the most controversial performance of the Ballet Russe in 1912, signaling the beginning of a shift towards modernism. In the ballet, Nijinsky completely fulfilled Diaghilev’s expectations of a revolutionary and provocative dance. The plot centers on a faun who unsuccessfully flirts with nymphs. When the nymphs run away, leaving behind a scarf belonging to one among them, the faun plays with the scarf ending the ballet with simulated masturbation. Nijinsky’s performance as the faun was powerful, virile, and even animalistic, according to some observers, who were mostly shocked by the ballet’s overt sexuality, which went far beyond the subtler eroticism of Fokin ballets like Cleopatre and Scheherezade.
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) went even further, in 1913, towards flouting old conventions. While Fokin’s work was stylized and aestheticised, Nijinsky moved towards the primitive, choreographing jerky movements and sharp body angles that reflected Stravinsky’s extremely rhythmic and avant-garde score. Once again, sex was the subject, depicting old mythologized Russian fertility rites, which included human sacrifice. The first presentation of the Ballet created such a stir that fights broke out in the audience, which could only be stopped by the eventual arrival of the police.
Balanchine’s Le Fils Prodigue, (The Prodigal Son) was one of the last productions premiered by the Ballets Russes. Based on the biblical tale, it was more narrative and less abstract than some of Balanchine’s other works, reflecting his neoclassical approach to ballet.
After literature, music was the next Russian cultural export to gain considerable renown in the West. During the 25 years before Diaghilev began to be active in Paris, a number of operatic and symphonic works by the so-called Mighty Handful of composers–Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui and Serov–had had their French premieres. Diaghilev’s first concerts abroad took place within the galleries of the 1906 exhibit of Russian painting and sculpture that he organized within the Salon d’Automne. The next year he moved on to larger-scale symphonic performances, and in 1908 he was responsible for the first production on a Parisian stage of Mussorgsky’s classic opera Boris Godunov. The opera’s star was the legendary bass singer Feodor Chaliapin, who made his Paris debut to sensational acclaim and established a reputation as one of the greatest basses in history.
Diaghilev’s ballet seasons, which began in 1909, also at first featured mainly Russian composers and Russian performers. The works of the Mighty Handful and other composers were adapted and abridged to suit the choreographic needs of the choreographer Mikhail Fokine and his successors. Among these pieces were Rimsky- Korsakov’s Scheherezade suite, and the Polovetsian Dances from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Diaghilev also featured the next generation of Russian composers, including Nikolai Tcherepnin, whose Pavillon D’Armide was the very first ballet performed by the company, and who conducted the orchestra for the first several seasons. A student of both Rimsky-Korsakov and Tcherepnin, Igor Stravinsky had his international career launched by Diaghilev, and would become the musician most identified with the Ballets Russes. Between 1910 and 1929 Stravinsky created six ballets, two opera-ballets and an opera for Diaghilev, including such masterworks as Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, Pulcinella (an orchestration of several pieces by Pergolesi), and Apollon Musagete. Serge Prokofiev, yet another student of Tcherepnin, also composed for Diaghilev, creating three ballets-Chout, Le Pas d’Acier, and Le Fils Prodigue.
While the 1909-1916 seasons could rightly be described as the Russian years of the Ballets Russes, after 1917, Diaghilev turned increasingly to French and other European composers. Even before that point, he produced ballets by Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, and later the Ballets Russes repertoire included compositions by Erik Satie, Manuel de Falla, Francis Poulenc and others.
This festival gives the public a chance to rediscover the music of the Ballets Russes. An evening performance by the Boston Pops will feature selections from ballets premiered by Diaghilev’s company, while a series of intimate afternoon concerts will celebrate chamber music by the composers who worked for the Ballets.
The Ballets Russes was the first international performing company to feature stage designs by outstanding artists, rather than professional theatrical decorators. Parisian audiences were stunned by the dynamic and riotous, yet harmonized color of sets and costumes from the imaginations of Leon Bakst, Alexander Benois, Aleksander Golovin, Nikolai Roerich and other artist-designers of the ‘Mir Iskusstva’ group. Works by these artists and a group of younger Russian painters that included Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova were first exhibited in the West in 1906 when Diaghilev organized a novel exhibition of Russian art at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. However it was Diaghilev’s 1908 production of the opera Boris Godunov, and the first ballet season of 1909 that made them household names outside of Russia. For the Ballets Russes they designed not only costumes, decors and curtains, but programs, posters and other visual material. Furthermore, these Russian artists were deeply involved in the staging of many of the ballets, collaborating with choreographers and stage directors so that their designs best enhanced the movements of the dancers and the visual structure of the dance. Their work not only revolutionized theatrical design, but left a lasting impact on western fashion, graphic design and decorative art, contributing to trends to both orientalist and Art Deco aesthetics in the 1910s and 1920s.
Among these artist-designers, Leon Bakst was the one most closely linked to the Ballets Russes both in practical terms and in the public’s mind. The productions he designed for Diaghilev between 1909 and his death in 1924, especially in the period 1909-1917 included such famous projects as Scheherezade, Prélude à l’aprèsmidi d’un Faune, Daphnis et Chloe, and Sleeping Beauty. Alexander Benois was another scenographer deeply involved in the Diaghilev enterprise during its early years, without whom, in fact, there would have been no Ballets Russes (see the Dance page for more information). In addition to being Diaghilev’s major creative advisor in the first several years, even briefly occupying the position of Artistic Director in 1911, Benois created a number of productions that became instant classics, including Les Sylphides, Giselle, and Petrushka. Perhaps even more importantly, he was a theatrical theorist who had already worked and communicated with avant-garde dramatic directors in Petersburg. His ideas about the nature of collaboration between designers, directors, composers and performers in the theater greatly influenced the rest of the creative team, and set a standard for cooperative creation that was followed throughout the existence of the Ballets Russes.
From 1914 onwards, Diaghilev began to turn to a new crop of Russian artists, such as Larionov, Goncharova and later Naum Gabo and Pavel Tchelitchew. After 1917 he further expanded the ranks of his designers by commissioning European modernist painters, among them Henri Matisse, Juan Gris, Giorgio de Chirico, and perhaps most notably, Pablo Picasso to create productions. Although he was already on the rise, Pablo Picasso truly became a cultural superstar in part thanks to the success and exposure of working for Diaghilev.
The Ballets Russes 2009 festival will include several different exhibitions highlighting the visual legacy of the Diaghilev era. Boston University’s 808 gallery will host an exhibit of documentary material and ephemera, including posters, programs, postcards, designs and documents. The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut will hold an exhibition of its remarkable collection of Ballets Russes stage designs and actual costumes used by the company, acquired in the 1930s from the famous dancer Serge Lifar. Another exhibit at a gallery on Newbury Street will feature graphic art by Mir Iskusstva designers as well as artworks by contemporary Russian painters and sculptors grappling with the legacy of the Ballets Russes. A final exhibition in the works will include displays of Russian and Soviet porcelain with subject matter related to Diaghilev’s ballet and opera seasons in Paris, as well as dance in general.
In a twenty-year performing life that spanned two decades, from 1909 to 1929, the Ballets Russes made a lasting impact on the performing arts, visual art and design, music, fashion and other spheres of culture. To explore and re-examine this legacy, Boston University’s history department will host a three-day international academic conference that will bring together the foremost researchers in diverse fields. A leading scholar on the Ballets Russes and Diaghilev, Lynn Garafola, will chair the conference, which will feature lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and ballet demonstrations.
Another event at Boston University will explore areas of Russian culture that inspired the creative team of the Ballets Russes. A two day long outdoor fair on the ‘BU Beach’ between Commonwealth Avenue and the Charles River, will include traditional street performers and balagan tents with puppet performances, stalls selling folk crafts, food and drink. The fair will open with a colorful procession of performers costumed as Ballets Russes characters, who will parade down Commonwealth Avenue into the city.
As a foretaste of the events to come, Ballets Russes 2009 will hold in May 2008 a pre-festival gala celebration that will include a mixed performance program of ballet, music and poetry at the Cutler-Majestic theater, followed by a gala dinner.
CONTACT: Peter Rand and Anna Winestein
Executive Director Asociate Director
Boston University Boston University
College of Communication College of Communication
640 Commonwealth Ave 640 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215 Boston, MA 02215
(617) 899-0346 (617) 599-3190
TO CELEBRATE THE CENTENARY OF DIAGHILEV’S FIRST BALLET PERFORMANCES IN PARIS
"In the history of twentieth-century ballet, no company has had so profound and far-reaching an influence as the Ballets Russes." – Lynn Garafola.
Boston, MA – Commencing on the morning of May 19, 2009 – the 100th Anniversary of the first performance of the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris – Ballets Russes 2009 will be hosting a three-day symposium to explore the enormous cultural impact of Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes on the world. The symposium, organized by noted dance writer and scholar Lynn Garafola, features an impressive roster of international speakers known for their research and writings on 20th century culture. Part of a weeklong festival in Boston celebrating the centenary of the Ballets Russes, the BR2009 Symposium will be held at Boston University’s George Sherman Union.
The Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet) was established in 1909 by the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. It became one of the most influential ballet companies of the 20th century, and was renowned for its groundbreaking artistic collaborations among choreographers, composers, artists, and designers.
The BR2009 Symposium will explore Diaghilev’s impact on artists in the fields of Music, Visual Arts, Dance, and Choreography; examine the process and challenges of Restaging Ballet Russes works; and, finally, unveil new research about "Diaghilev the Man." Diaghilev’s relationships with an astounding array of 20th century artists – Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Natalia Goncharova, Giorgio de Chirico, Enrico Cecchetti, Alexandre Benois, Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine, among others – will be explored in depth.
Presenters include an international roster of more than twenty-five esteemed academics, critics and authors – Joan Acocella, Jack Anderson, John Bowlt, Robert Gottlieb, Millicent Hodson, Andris Liepa, Alastair Macaulay, Nicoletta Misler, Nancy Reynolds, Jane Sharp, Tim Scholl, and Marcia Siegal, among others. John Drummond’s 1968 BBC documentary Diaghilev, and Tamara Geva’s 1979 film Diaghilev: A Portrait will be screened. Ballets Russes 2009 Director and author Peter Rand; and Associate Director Anna Winestein, a doctoral student at Oxford University and curator of several international exhibitions on the Ballets Russes, will also be making presentations Symposium organizer and Keynote speaker Lynn Garafola is Professor of Dance at Barnard College, Columbia University, and the author of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
Presentations range from Sarah Woodcock’s [former curator of dance at the Victoria and Albert Theatre Collection in London] talk on "Diaghilev’s Costumes" to Dutch independent scholar Sjeng Scheijen’s groundbreaking research on "The Queer World of Sergei Diaghilev"; and from dance writer Giannandrea Poesio on "Enrico Cecchetti and the Ballets Russes" to Harvard University Professor John E. Malmstad’s exploration of Diaghilev’s "Russianness."
Ballet patrons, students, teachers, aficionados and anyone interested in the evolution of the arts in the 20th Century will not want to miss this fascinating Symposium, part of a weeklong Boston-wide festival running from May 16-23, 2009. The Festival will include a concert by The Boston Pops of music composed for the Ballets Russes, exhibitions at the Wadsworth Athenaeum and Boston University’s 808 Gallery, film screenings at the Museum of Fine Arts and Boston University, performances at New England Conservatory, and a special Ballets Russes program by Boston Ballet (The Prodigal Son, Afternoon of a Faun, Le Spectre de la Rose, and a new Sacre du Printemps by Jorma Elo).
Celebrating the 100 anniversary of the Ballet Russes
Ballets Russes 2009 is a cultural organization devoted to celebrating the centenary of modern ballet, and to building new audiences for dance and the arts. In an unprecedented collaboration of New England cultural institutions, the Ballets Russes 2009 Festival will feature dance, music, visual art, cinema, poetry, symposia, and other happenings inspired by the genius of Diaghilev’s creative team and the extraordinary figure of the impresario himself. The Boston celebration will be linked to programming in Russia and France that will commemorate the revolutionary enterprise known as the Ballets Russes.
"I, personally, can be of no interest to anyone: it is not my life that is interesting, but my work." Sergei Diaghilev.