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.

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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Leonide Massine's Passing: March 15th

Massine studied at the Moscow Bolshoi School, graduated in 1912 and joined the Bolshoi Ballet. When Diaghilev fired Nijinsky, a void was left both in the ballet company. While visiting in Moscow, Diaghilev saw a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, and noticed Massine in Don Quixote and Swan Lake. Diaghilev persuaded him to leave the Bolshoi and join his company. Massine joined the company in 1914 and by 1915 he had choreographed his first ballet for the Ballets Russes.

Massine became an outstanding-actor dancer. Before joining the Ballets Russes, Massine had considered giving up dance and becoming an actor. He had even been offered the role of Romeo in Shakespeare's play at the Maly Theatre in Moscow.

Massine continued to choreograph for every major company including three years as lead dancer and choreographer for the Roxy Theatre in New York City. In 1945 and 1946 he formed his own company called Ballet Russe Highlights.Massine created over 50 ballets, he was a prolific choreographer. A few of his ballets are: The Good-Humored Ladies, La Boutique Fantastique, The Three Cornered Hat, Les Presages, Jeux d'enfants, and Gaîte Parisienne.
Massine was for twenty years considered the Western world's greatest choreographer, but in later life he was overshadowed by George Balanchine. Leonide Massine is more widely known because of his portrayal of the Ballet Master and shoemaker in the 1948 film “The Red Shoes.”

Irina Baronova: Baby Ballerina's Birthday!

Irina Baronova was one of the three famous "Baby Ballerinas" along with Tatiana Riabouchinska and Tamara Toumanova. She was born in Petrograd in 1919 and moved to Paris during childhood. There she studied with Olga Preobrajenska and made her debut with the Paris Opera in 1930. George Balanchine noticed Irina as he watched classes and engaged her at age 13 for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1932.

She created roles in Leonide Massine's Les Présages, Jeux d'enfants, Beau Danube, and Bronislava Nijinska's Les cent baisers. In 1940 she joined Ballet Theatre and she married Gerry Sevastianov, one of the directors. In 1946, Baronova married Cecil Tennant with whom she had three children, Victoria, Irina and Robert.

Baronova also appeared in films and musicals, was a guest artist with the Original Ballet Russe and was an active member of the Royal Academy of Dancing. She wrote an article called "Dancing for de Basil" for About the House (a magazine about the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden) in 1964. In 1974, she returned to ballet as a teacher and consultant. In 2005, she wrote her autobiography, Irina: Ballet, Life and Love. She passed away at her home in Australia on June 28, 2008 at the age of 89.

Igor Youskevitch: Ballet's Birthday Boy

Igor Youskevitch's birthday was March 13th. He was the son of a judge in a small Ukrainian community near Kiev. After escaping the Bolshevik Revolution in 1920, his family settled in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

Igor he made his ballet debut in Paris in 1932. He remained in Paris and continued his studies with Olga Preobrajenska for the next two years. In 1934 Youskevitch joined Bronislava Nijinska's Les Ballets de Paris, and in 1935 he became a member of Leon Woicikowski's ballet. Colonel de Basil sponsored Woicikowski's tour of Australia starring Igor Youskevitch and André Eglevsky in 1937. While with the Woicikowski's Ballet ,Youskevitch met Anna Scarpova, a dancer with the company, and they were married in 1938. That same year, Youskevitch and Scarpova became members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He remained there until he volunteered to served in the U.S. Navy in 1944.

In 1946, he joined Leonide Massine's Ballet Russe Highlights, and that fall he became a premier danseur of Ballet Theatre, now American Ballet Theatre. While with ABT he and Alicia Alonso (created roles in George Balanchine's Theme and Variations in 1947. As a team they became world renowned, and in 1948 he was guest artist with Alonso's Cuban Ballet. Youskevitch created a role in Antony Tudor's Shadow of the Wind in 1948 and he danced in Gene Kelly's movie Invitation to the Dance in 1952.

After leaving ABT in 1955, Igor returned with Alonso to star for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Igor Youskevitch won the Dance Magazine Award in 1958, In 1960 he rejoined Ballet Theatre as a Guest Artist on their first visit to the Soviet Union.

He retired from the stage in 1962, but not from dance. Youskevitch was on the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin from 1971 to 1982. He co-founded the New York International Ballet Competition in 1985, and he remained its Artistic Director until his death. He was awarded the Capezio Dance Award in 1991 and passed away in 1994.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nijinsky's Birthday!

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in Kiev, Russia, March 12, 1888. 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 to dance the leading roles in Le Pavillion d'Armida and Les Sylphides with Pavlova in 1909. The next year he danced the golden slave in Scheherazade.

He continued to dance with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes after 1909, even though 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.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cleopatra Premiere's March 8, 1908

Cleopatra was first performed at a benefit in St. Petersburg at the Maryinsky Theatre on March 8, 1908. It was called Nuit d"Egypte at that time. It was originally staged and choreographed by Fokine, solely to Arensky's score. Most of the costumes that were used were borrowed from La Fille du Pharaon and Aida, only soloist costumes were sketched by Leon Bakst. The set came from one of the operas in the Maryinsky's repertoire, but was touched up by Maryinsky stage designer, Oreste Allegri.

On June 2,1909, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes performed it as Cleopatra at the Theatre du Chatelet as part of their first season in Paris. Fokine talked Diaghilev into using a student of his, a non-professional dancer, for the part of Cleopatra, Ida Rubinstein. The sets and costumes were designed by Leon Bakst a the suggestion of Alexandre Benois.

In 1917, while on their Latin American tour, the set for Cleopatra was destroyed in a fire; in July 1918 Diaghilev ordered a new set to be designed by Robert Delauney. He ordered sketches of the costumes for Lubov Tchernicheva and Leonide Massine, from Delauney's wife Sonia.

After attending the opening night of Cleopatra's debut in Berlin, Kaiser Wilhelm II, urged members of his Society of Egyptology to study Bakst's mise-en-scene.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ballets Russes' March Birthday Girls

Tamara Toumanova was born March 2, 1919 to Georgian parents, on a train while her mother was trying to flee during the Russian Revolution. The family eventually settled in Paris. She studied ballet with Olga Preobrajenska. Tamara made her debut at the Paris Opera at the age of nine in L'Eventail de Jeanne. Tamara was one of the three “Baby Ballerinas”. George Balanchine saw her in ballet class and signed her to the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo at the age of 13. Balanchine choreographed the part of the Young Girl for Tamara in his ballet Cotillon, Concurrence and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme and Le Palais de Cristal (now Symphony in C).
Tamara was a guest artist with the American Ballet Theatre 1944-45, the Paris Opéra Ballet 1947 and 1950, De Cuevas Company 1949, La Scala 1951 and 1952, London Festival Ballet 1952 and 1954. She passed away in Santa Monica, California, on May 29, 1996.

Irina Baronova was born in St. Petersburg on March 13, 1919. Irina Baronova was one of the three famous "Baby Ballerinas" along with Tatiana Riabouchinska and Tamara Toumanova. She moved to Paris during childhood. There she studied with Olga Preobrajenska and made her debut with the Paris Opera in 1930. George Balanchine noticed Irina as he watched classes and engaged her at age 13 for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1932.
She created roles in Leonide Massine's Les Présages, Jeux d'enfants, Beau Danube, and Bronislava Nijinska's Les Cent Baisers. In 1940, she joined Ballet Theatre, now ABT, as prima ballerina. Irina also appeared in films and musicals, was a guest artist with the Original Ballet Russe and was an active member of the Royal Academy of Dancing.

Lydia Sokolova was born March 4, 1886 as Hilda Munnings. She was Diaghilev's first English ballerina. Lydia received much of her training from London's Stedman Ballet Academy, Anna Pavlova, Mikhail Mordkin, and Enrico Cecchetti. She joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company in 1913 and remained until Diaghilev died in 1929. Lydia danced every sort of role from classical to comedy. Her most famous role was that of the Chosen Maiden in Leonide Massine's revival of Le Sacre du Printemps in 1920. She also danced the lead in Massine's Le Tricorne.
When Diaghilev died many dancers had to find other employment. Lydia choreographed some London musicals and in 1935 she danced in Leon Woizikovsky's Company. She also danced in the Royal Ballet production of Massine's The Good-Humoured Ladies in 1962.
Suggested reading, book by Lydia Sokolova. Dancing for Diaghilev.