Tuesday, 28 December 2010


If you are interested in ballet, Russia or just have some time on your hands that you’d like to spend with purpose, this exhibition is what you are after. You’d have to hurry up though – it ends on the 9th of January. The exhibition tells the story of the Russian Seasons between 1909 and 1929 in Paris and later in London and North America. It focuses on the famous impresario Serge Diaghilev who founded the troupe, the set and costume designs that were considered innovative and sensuous at the time, the influence of Ballets Russes on modern ballet and the interpersonal relationships between the dancers, Diaghilev and various artists.

There are tons of original costumes on display designed by Leon Bakst, Pablo Picasso and Benois, many of them are inspired by the Orient and must have been considered very risqué at the time – for example, Sheherezade’s costume was completely sheer. It’s a shame that there are very few recordings of the dances, because it’s one thing to see the costume on a doll and another to watch it move on a dancer. I was shocked to see how tiny all the dancing shoes were! They looked like children’s shoes, hardly 15 cm in length. Another highlight was a collection of Yves Saint Laurent dresses from fifty years ago, inspired by the ballet.

I was also surprised to learn that the ballet’s star, Vaslav Nijinsky and Diaghilev were lovers and that the two had a very twisted relationship, where Diaghilev was obsessed with the dancer and hardly allowed any outside access to him. Nijinsky had a short but intense career and retired quickly, due to his schizophrenia. His place as the genius of male ballet was empty for twenty years after his death.

Although the Ballets Russes ceased to exist after Diaghilev’s death, it is still possible to watch some of the most famous performances associated with the troupe. A couple of years ago, the Bolshoi theatre troupe performed the highly successful ‘L’apres Midi d’un Faune’ in Paris, and I am hoping that they will do more in the future.

Here is a short video of Rudolph Nureyev's Faun.

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