Diaghilev's Ballets Russes
For 20 years, the Ballets Russes revolutionised dance. Under impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the company premiered some of the most sensational – and scandalous – works of the 20th century.Read more…
Initially based in Paris, the Ballets Russes toured widely, but never performed in Russia. The line-up of Diaghilev's collaborators was exhilarating: Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Prokofiev among the composers; the artists Kandinsky, Picasso, Goncharova and Matisse; and costume designers Léon Bakst and Coco Chanel.
Its first works included Michel Fokine choreographing iconic Russian scores such as 'Scheherazade' and the pulsating Polovtsian Dances. Fokine's 'Cléopâtre' employed music by Arensky. Stravinsky composed his early ballets for the company – 'Firebird', 'Petrushka' and 'The Rite of Spring'. The latter famously sparked a near riot among the audience at its Paris premiere in 1913, causing the choreographer Nijinsky to shout out the numbers to the dancers from the side of the stage as they could no longer hear the music.
Just a fortnight earlier, 'Jeux' (Debussy) had received its premiere, a shadowy threesome about a game of tennis in the woods – and a search for a lost ball. Other French ballets included Debussy's 'Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune' (danced by Nijinsky himself) and Ravel’s 'Daphnis et Chloé'.
Most of the repertoire was Russian or French. Exceptions include a ballet by Richard Strauss – 'Josephs Legende' – and Manuel de Falla's fiery 'El sombrero de tres picos', choreographed by Léonide Massine.
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