Diaghilev Essay, Research Paper


“He fancied a career in music, but was a terrible composer. He wanted to be a painter, but lacked vision and aptitude. He wanted to change the face of dance, but had no dance training whatsoever. By his own admission, this poor, misguided soul had ” no real gifts.” He went on to become one of the most influential artistic figures of the twentieth century. Despite his claim to the contrary, Serge Diaghilev, founder of the famous Diaghilev Ballets Russes, had many gifts most notably as a talent scout, an impressario, and a visionary who encouraged collaboration in the arts.”

Born March 31, 1872, in Gruzine, Novgorod Province, Diaghilev showed no talent in his early years, there was never a thought that he would set out on a dance or theatrical career, although, he really wanted to become a composer, as mentioned in the quote above. In 1890, Serge s family moved to St. Petersburg where he studied law, while continuing to pursue a career as a composer. After many failures, he was successfully dissuaded from his dream by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, who was a famous Russian composer, and one of Diaghilev s idols, at the time. In another failure to succeed, Diaghilev reluctantly joined a circle of famour writers and painters, led by the Russian painters L on Bakst and Alexandre Benois. During this time, Diaghilev did succeed and indeed felt he had finnaly found his place in life. He founded AND edited a progressive art journal “Mir Iskusstva” ( The World of Art) from 1899 1904. In 1899, as a project, Diaghilev became the artistic adviser to the Imperial Theatres in Moscow, where he produced and co-produced several operas and ballets. It was then that he decided what he really wanted to do and after completing his term with the Imperial Theatres and the printing of Mir Iskusstva being canceled, he decided to move and settle in Paris, France, where he successfully produced “Boris Godunov”, a famous opera, in 1908.

Diaghilev had seen ballets before, but it wasn t until he saw “Raymonda” that ballet took any effect on his life. He then decided, that he would try doing more than producing with the art of Ballet. It s from this time on that we talk of the “Diaghilev Period”. In 1909, Diaghilev hit it big with the famous Russian dancer and choreographer in Michel Fokine and a group of russian dancers that included Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. It was now that Diaghilev established “Les Ballets Russes”. This company made possible the realization of Fokine s ideas of ballet as an art that unified dance, drama, music, and painting.

“What he did is he took the art form way from the imperial courtlike presentational form of dance as we knew it then, and pushed the envelope, used the theatre and the dance as a vehicle to challenge the audience’s assumptions.”

The Ballets Russes impact on the twentieth century is unimaginable. Diaghilev presented a wide range of ballets from Giselle (1910), to Parade (1917), to Sleeping Beauty (1921). Diaghilev was extremely effective in bringing to life the creativity of the people he worked with, and his bringing together of these talents was the standard for much of the art and music of this period. Diaghilev had a whole scenic crew behind him, including such famous french artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, who also wrote scenarios for Diaghilev s ballets. Diaghilev s favorite composer, Igor Stravinsky, created many musical scores for him, including “The Firebird” and “Petrushka”. All of his successes seemed rather impossible, considering, Diaghilev himself, was neithera choreographer or dancer himself. Diaghilev had found his niche and was certain to not fail himself, the people he worked with, nor his audiences. He had a “superhuman” gift to guide dancers, choreographers, musicians, and designers to work well together and strive for a collaborative success. After reaching that goal, Serge Diaghilev brought ballet back to life in a most spectacular revival.

Just after the peak of the Ballets Russes success, Diaghilev took sick and tragically died in 1929. His company fell apart and it s former members took to different routes. With this, however, came many great new dance companies. Former student George Balanchine emigrated to the United States and founded the New York City Ballet, Ninette de Valois, Anton Dolin, and Alicia Markova went on to dance in London and Serge Lifar became director of the Paris Op ra Ballet, to name a few. Serge Diaghilev s enlightened many in his day, and still do now. He created his own form of dance, that was pleasing to the audience in many more ways that one, and expanded the dance world and brought it to new hights, which some say it has still not exceeded.

The History of The Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev

The Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev quickly turned into a Russian migr ballet company that toured outside Russia from 1909 to 1929, always under Serge s direction. Originally begun in 1909 as a small summer theatre in Paris by the Russian opera and Ballet, Ballets Russes became a permanent ballet company in 1911. Diaghilev brought in only the best dancers, choreographers and designers of his time. The company s advanced techinical skill, innovative ballets, and colorful designs made them the most sought after company around. With a risky prediction sensing the want in the west for exotic Russian themes, Michel Fokie brought to life a new idea in abstract ballet. The company s first abstract ballet was “Les Sylphides” and they never looked back. Nijinsky s dances combined with Diaghilev s visions broke the ideas of classical technique and brought in eroticism and un-imaginable ideas, such as riots and fighting on-stage.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 caused Diaghilev to cut his links with Russia, and the company continued, even though they were greatly in debt. Foreign dancers with aliases as names started to dance for the company. Diaghilev hired a new choreographer ( Russian L onide Massine), and he produced many popular ballets that relied on strong character work, including ballets such as “La Boutique Fantasque” in 1919. Finally, in 1921, Diaghilev returned to a true classic ballet in “Sleeping Beauty”, but reanmed it “The Sleeping Princess”. The company toured across Europe and North and South America, finally settling in Monte-Carlo, Monaco from 1922 to 1929. However, when Diaghilev tragically died in 1929, the company was stopped.

The Diaghilev Ballets turned in to a great organization which was glamorous, exciting, and extremely different. Though a great risk was taken, many times, the audiences could not get enough, however, when Diaghilev presented a ballet, it was because it was what he envisioned, and had nothing to do with what the public wanted. Diaghilev s dancers respected him so much, that they danced for him and not for the audience.

“What he refused to do, which I feel was so important, was not ask the audience what they wanted to see. He led them, you know. And in his own way, was sort of, was the first to break all the rules. If you really think about it, the timing was sort of the first ides of modern dance. ”



(2) http://www.staff.dmu.ac.uk/ jafowler/diaghil.html

(3) Encarta 96 Interactive Encyclopedia” distributed by Microsoft

(4) http://www.bravo.ca/footnotes/episodes/episode10.html

Guiness Encyclopedia 98 distributed by Wayzata Technologies


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