It’s been a long time since Sergey Diaghilev’s modern dance enterprise swept across the world and conquered the American and European bourgeoisie. Diaghilev’s experiment started long before the establishing of Ballet Russes in 1906. In 1906 he organised the Exhibition of Russian Art at the Petit Palais in Paris. After the grand success, he proceeds to establish his first “Saison Russe”.

Photograph of Sergey Diaghilev

In 1907 and 1908 Diaghilev performed Russian musical masterpieces that were unknown to Europeans: Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, and Chaikovsky, appended with the voice of famous Russian bass, Fyodor Chaliapin.

The debut of Ballet Russes was set by adding a ballet performance to the program of Saison Russe and by creating the maestro’s own troupe. The troupe members were recruited among the leading dancers of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The ballet premiered of talented dancers such as Tamara Karsavina, Bronislava Nijinska, Michel Fokine, Serge Lifar and many others made the Paris public to fall in love with it.

« Red Curtain rises over the holidays, which have turned France and who captivated the crowd in ecstasy after the chariot of Dionysus» – wrote Jean Cocteau

Scenery and costumes for Diaghilev’s performances were created by «The World of Art» artistic group associates: Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois. Later, the ballet hired outstanding European artists: Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse and many others, as well as Russian avant-garde artists.  No less productive was the cooperation with famous composers – Richard Strauss, Erik Satie, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, and especially with Igor Stravinsky.

Leon Bakst’s color design for a Courtier in “The Sleeping Princess”, 1921

Diaghilev’s Ballet phenomenon had two distinctive periods. “The golden age” period that lasted from the beginning to the outbreak of the WW1 in 1914. Driven by the desire to present the uniqueness of Russian national culture to the West, Dyagilev made Eastern-themed choreography and art one of the troupe’s specialities. The second period, from 1914 to 1929, was quite opposite. A Europeanization of Russian ballet occurred: scandalous and extremely leftist ideas were incorporated, and Diaghilev commenced many modernistic, bold and creative experiments.  As a result, in about ten years, Diaghilev’s troupe became a world’s leading ballet enterprise. New findings in music, choreography, dance were a part of the explosive mixture that gave birth to the triumphant phenomenon of a scale that nobody has seen before in ballet.

Photograph of “Le Train Blue”, 1924

Another achievement linked to the “Russian Ballet” was a revival of the ballet and modern dance as national art in many countries across Europe and in America. The essence of this international movement can be described as a reinterpretation of the foundations of the classic ballet by appending a new kind of bold integrity into the old dance form.

Photograph of L to R: Ludmilla Schollar, Alice Nikitina, Serge Lifar, Walter Nouvel, Serge Grigoriev, Lubov Tchernicheva, Olga Kokhlova [Picasso’s wife], Paulo Picasso [Picasso’s son], Mme. Trusevich, and Pablo Picasso.
You can enjoy the whole collection dedicated to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on Picryl, where you can find images of costumes, photos from the performances, newspaper articles and many more.

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