The Ballets Russes (The Russian Ballets) was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, younger dancers came from those trained in Paris, within the community of exiles. The company featured and premiered now-famous (and sometimes notorious) works by the great choreographers Marius Petipa and Michel Fokine, as well as new works by Bronislava Nijinska, Léonide Massine, the young George Balanchine at the start of his career, and Vaslav Nijinsky with the debut performance of The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
After Diaghilev's early death in 1929, the dancers scattered, and the company's property was claimed by creditors. In 1932 Colonel Wassily de Basil and his associate René Blum revived the company under the name Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Balanchine and Massine worked with them as choreographers, and Tamara Toumanova was a principal dancer. De Basil and Blum argued constantly; in 1938 the founders split and De Basil founded another company, which he called the Original Ballet Russe, while Blum renamed his group Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The three companies were the subject of the 2005 documentary film Ballets Russes.
Brief history 
The company's productions, which combined new dance, art and music, created a huge sensation around the world, altering the course of musical history, bringing many significant visual artists into the public eye, and completely reinvigorating the art of performing dance. The Ballets Russes was one of the most influential theatre companies of the 20th century, in part because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. Its ballets have been variously interpreted as Classical, Neo-Classical, Romantic, Neo-Romantic, Avant-Garde, Expressionist, Abstract, and Orientalist. The influence of the Ballets Russes lasts to this day.
Sergei Diaghilev acted as an "empresario" or organizer of the Ballets Russes, rather than a dancer or an artist. He was wealthy and had studied to be a lawyer. With Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst, he had formed the Pickwick Club; together, the three published World of Art and created a movement. They believed that "art is free, life is paralyzed." Their ideas of developing a Russian art led to the creation of the Ballets Russes. Among the ground-breaking premieres of the Ballets Russes was The Firebird and The Rite of Spring in 1913, both to music by Igor Stravinsky, as well as Balanchine's Apollo to Stravinsky in 1928.
After Diaghilev's early death in 1929, the dancers scattered, and the company's property was claimed by creditors. Colonel Wassily de Basil and his associate René Blum revived the company under the name Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Balanchine and Massine worked with them as choreographers, and Tamara Toumanova was a principal dancer. De Basil and Blum argued constantly, the founders split and Blum founded another company, which he called the Original Ballet Russe.
After World War II began, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo left Europe and toured extensively in the United States and South America. As dancers retired and left the company, they often founded dance studios in the United States or South America, or taught at other former company dancers' studios. With Balanchine's founding of the School of American Ballet, and later the New York City Ballet, many outstanding former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancers went to New York to teach in his school.
The original Ballets Russes toured mostly in Europe. Its alumni were influential in teaching classical Russian ballet technique in European schools.
The company's genesis 
The Ballets Russes was an offshoot from the Russian Mir iskusstva (World of Art) movement. The World of Art, led by Alexandre Benois, had produced painting exhibitions and published a culture magazine. In 1907 Benois and his circle conceived the idea of bringing Russian nationalist opera to Paris. They were warmly received, and Benois made plans for another season the following year. In 1908 the group presented a mixture of opera and ballet in Paris, and enjoyed riotous success, particularly in the latter art form. Afterward they presented mainly ballets. By the time the group returned to Paris in 1909 for the first "official" Ballets Russes productions, Diaghilev had firmly taken the reins from Benois (though the latter continued to work for Diaghilev for some years afterwards).
- The male dancer returns.
- Expressiveness: work was not just solely about technique or divertissements as found in classical ballet
- Movement vocabulary freed
- Individuals were important rather than a corps de ballet of classical form
- Unified theme: pieces were often one act, and always sought to express a single theme throughout the piece
- Collaboration: Choreographers and dancers collaborated with set designers and musicians in order to create pieces
- Reflection of Russian taste, themes (idea of developing Russian art, rather than importing western art and influence)
The Ballets Russes was noted for the high standard of its dancers, which contributed a great deal to its success in Paris, where dance technique had declined markedly since the 1830s. Most of the company's dancers were resident performers at the Russian Imperial Theatres in the early years. Diaghilev took them on loan to Paris during the theatres' long summer holidays.
Principal women dancers included many who earned international renown: Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Olga Spessivtseva, Mathilde Kschessinska, Ida Rubinstein, Bronislava Nijinska, Lydia Lopokova, Diana Gould and Alicia Markova, among others.
The company was more remarkable for raising the status of the male dancer, who had been largely ignored by choreographers and ballet audiences since the early 19th century. Among the male dancers were Michel Fokine, Serge Lifar, Léonide Massine, Anton Dolin, George Balanchine, Valentin Zeglovsky, Theodore Kosloff, Adolph Bolm, and the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, who was the most popular and talented dancer in the company's history.
The three most significant choreographers of the company were (in chronological order) Fokine, Nijinsky, and Massine.
Michel Fokine 
Fokine (1880–1942) created the rebirth of classical dramatic dance (though his works often included Expressionist elements). Many regard his greatest work to be Petrushka; others consider it to be Les Sylphides. Fokine also choreographed The Dying Swan, Prince Igor, and Scheherazade. Fokine graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in 1898, and eventually became First Soloist at the Mariinsky Theater.
In 1907, Fokine created his first work for the Imperial Russian Ballet, entitled Pavilion d'Armide. That same year he created Chopiniana, a piece to music by the composer Frédéric Chopin. This was an early example of creating choreography to an existing score rather than to music specifically written for the ballet (a dramatic departure in practice at the time.)
Fokine established his reputation while the Chief Choreographer for Serge Diaghilev's first ballet seasons in the West. Diaghilev gave Fokine the chance to break away from the academic form of late 19th-century ballet and implement his reforms. Among his most famous ballets created for the Ballets Russes were the Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la Rose and Petrushka.
Vaslav Nijinsky 
As a young man, Nijinsky (1888/1889–1950) danced at the Mariinsky Theater, where he was a huge success. In 1912, he began his career as a choreographer. He created several works for Diaghilev's Ballet Russes during his career. He is sometimes thought of as the father of Expressionist Dance. His most influential works were the innovative L'Apres-midi d'un Faune and The Rite of Spring (to music by Stravinsky).
Nijinsky collaborated with Stravinsky for Le Sacre du Printemps in 1913 (also known as The Rite of Spring), as well as the set designer Roerich. Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer have since reconstructed the piece, including sets and costumes, and set it on the Joffrey Ballet. In Nijinsky's time, the work was shocking and controversial, both for the music and wildness of the dance. As a result, many people in the theater on opening night created a near riot. Because of mental illness, Nijinsky eventually retired from dance; he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Léonide Massine 
Léonide Massine was born in Moscow in 1896. He studied both acting and dancing at the Imperial School in Moscow. On the verge of becoming an actor, Massine was invited by Sergei Diaghilev to join his company, as he was seeking a replacement for Vaslav Nijinsky. Diaghilev encouraged Massine's creativity and his entry into choreography.
Massine choreographed works such as The Three-Cornered Hat and Parade. In Parade, the visual was paramount. Massine collaborated with the contemporary artist Pablo Picasso for this work. As set designer, Picasso created a visual vocabulary based on cubism. Massine used jazz music for the piece.
Massine extended Fokine's choreographic innovations – he worked especially on narrative and character. His ballets incorporated both folk dance and demi-charactère dance, a style using classical technique to perform character dance. Massine created contrasts in his choreography, such as synchronized yet individual movement, or small-group dance patterns within the corps de ballet.
Other choreographers of note included Serge Lifar and Nijinsky's sister, Bronislava, who created at least one masterpiece in the form of Les noces. Balanchine choreographed Apollon musagète and Le fils prodigue for the company.
Diaghilev secured the employment of many great music composers for his ballets. This served to distinguish his ballets from many 19th-century ballets, for which the music had usually been provided by less inspired composers such as Riccardo Drigo, Ludwig Minkus, and Cesare Pugni.
Diaghilev commissioned many original scores, and borrowed freely from the existing musical canon. His ballets included music by artists such as Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel, Satie, Respighi, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss.
The impresario also engaged conductors who were, or became eminent in their field during the 20th century, including Pierre Monteux (1911–16 and 1924), Ernest Ansermet (1915–23), Edward Clark (1919-20) and Roger Désormière (1925–29).
Igor Stravinsky 
Diaghilev had hired the young Stravinsky at a time when he was virtually unknown to compose the music for The Firebird, after the composer Anatoly Lyadov proved unreliable. Diaghilev was instrumental in launching Stravinsky's career in Europe and the United States of America.
Stravinsky's early ballet scores were the subject of much discussion. The Firebird (1910) was seen as an astonishingly accomplished work for such a young artist (Debussy is said to have remarked drily: "Well, you've got to start somewhere!"). Many contemporary audiences found Petrushka (1911) to be almost unbearably dissonant and confused. The Rite of Spring nearly caused an audience riot. It stunned people because of its willful rhythms and aggressive dynamics. The audience's negative reaction to it is now regarded as a theatrical scandal as notorious as the failed runs of Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser at Paris in 1861 and Jean-Georges Noverre's and David Garrick's Chinese Ballet at London on the eve of the Seven Years' War. However, Stravinsky's early ballet scores are now widely considered masterpieces of the genre. Even his later ballet scores (such as Apollo), while not as startling, were still superior to most ballet music of the previous century.[according to whom?]
Art, design, costume 
The company invited the collaboration of rising contemporary fine artists in the design of sets and costumes. These included Benois himself, Bakst, Braque, Gontcharova, Larionov, Picasso, Chanel, Matisse, Derain, Miró, de Chirico, Dalí, Bilibin, Tchelitchev, Utrillo, Nicholas Roerich, and Rouault. Their designs contributed to the groundbreaking excitement of the company's productions. The scandal caused by the premiere performance in Paris of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring has been partly attributed to the provocative aesthetic of the costumes of the Ballets Russes.
In September 2008, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Ballets Russes, Sotheby's announced the staging of an exceptional exhibition of works lent mainly by French, British and Russian private collectors, museums and foundations. Some 150 paintings, designs, costumes, theatre decors, drawings, sculptures, photographs, manuscripts, and programs were exhibited in Paris, retracing the key moments in the history of the Ballets Russes. On display were costumes designed by André Derain (La Boutique Fantasque, 1919) and Henri Matisse (Le Chant du Rossignol, 1920), and Léon Bakst. Posters recalling the surge of creativity that surrounded the Ballets Russes included Pablo Picasso's iconic image of the Chinese Conjuror for the audacious production of Parade (1917), and Jean Cocteau's poster for Le Spectre de La Rose (1911). Costumes and stage designs presented included works by Alexander Benois, for Le Pavillon d'Armide (1909) and Petrushka (1911); Léon Bakst, for La Péri (1912) and Le Dieu Bleu (1912); Mikhail Larionov, for Le Soleil à Minuit (1915); and Natalia Gontcharova, for The Firebird (1925 version). The exhibition also included important contemporary artists, whose works reflected the visual heritage of the Ballets Russes - notably an installation made of colorfully painted paper by the renowned Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, and items from the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg.
An exhibition of the company's costumes held by the National Gallery of Australia was held from 10 December 2010 - 1 May 2011 at the Gallery in Canberra. Entitled "Ballets Russes: the art of costume, it included 150 costumes and accessories from 34 productions from 1909 to 1939; one third of the costumes had not been seen since they were last worn on stage. Along with costumes by Natalia Goncharova, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Georges Braque, André Masson and Giorgio de Chirico, the exhibition also featured photographs, film, music and artists’ drawings.
Léon Bakst 
Léon Bakst, one of the most important designers for the Ballets Russes, was born in Grodno on May 10, 1866. Aiding Diaghilev with the formation of Ballets Russes, Bakst assumed the role of artistic director. His sets and costumes brought him wide recognition. He is most noted for the sets and costumes for Scheherazade (1910), Firebird (1910), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911). He designed for Ballet Russe from 1909-1921.
Pablo Picasso 
Pablo Picasso designed Parade in 1917 for the Ballets Russes. Parade was the first ballet to include Cubist sets and costumes.
Natalia Goncharova 
Natalia Goncharova was born in 1881 near Tula, Russia. Her art was inspired by Russian folk art, fauvism, and cubism. She began designing for the Ballets Russes in 1921.
Although the Ballets Russes firmly established the 20th-century tradition of fine art theatre design, the company was not unique in its employment of fine artists. For instance, Savva Mamontov's Private Opera Company had made a policy of employing fine artists, such as Korovin and Golovin, who went on to work for the Ballets Russes.
Principal productions 
|Year||Title||Composer||Choreographer||Set and costume|
|1909||Le Pavillon d'Armide||Nikolai Tcherepnin||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Benois|
|1909||Prince Igor||Alexander Borodin||Michel Fokine||Nicholas Roerich|
|1909||Le Festin||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (march from Le Coq d'Or, used for processional entry)||Michel Fokine ("Lezginka", "Hopak", "Trepak" & "Finale")||Konstantin Korovin (sets and costumes)|
|Mikhail Glinka ("Lezginka", from Ruslan and Ludmilla)||Marius Petipa ("Lezginka", "L'Oiseau d'Or" & "Grand Pas Classique Hongrois")||Léon Bakst (costumes)|
|Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ("L'Oiseau d'Or", the Blue Bird pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty)||Alexander Gorsky ("Czardas")||Alexandre Benois (costumes)|
|Alexander Glazunov ("Czardas", from Raymonda)||Nicolai Goltz ("Mazurka")||Ivan Bilibin (costumes)|
|Modest Mussorgsky ("Hopak" (aka "Gopak"), from The Fair at Sorochyntsi)||Felix Kchessinsky ("Mazurka")|
|Mikhail Glinka ("Mazurka", from A Life for the Tsar)|
|Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ("Trepak", from The Nutcracker)|
|Alexander Glazunov ("Grand Pas Classique Hongrois", from Raymonda)|
|Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ("Finale", from last mvt. of the Second Symphony)|
|1909||Les Sylphides||Frédéric Chopin||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Benois|
|(orch. A. Glazunov, Igor Stravinsky, Alexander Taneyev)|
|1909||Cléopâtre||Anton Arensky||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|(additional music by A. Glazunov, M. Glinka, M. Mussorgsky, N. Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Taneyev, N. Tcherepnin)|
|1910||Carnaval||Robert Schumann||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|(orch. A. Arensky, A. Glazunov, Anatol Liadov, N. Rimsky-Korsakov, N. Tcherepnin)|
|1910||Schéhérazade||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1910||Giselle||Adolphe Adam||Jean Coralli||Alexandre Benois|
|Marius Petipa (revival)|
|Michel Fokine (revisions)|
|1910||Les Orientales||Christian Sinding (Rondoletto giocoso, op.32/5, orch. Igor Stravinsky, for "Danse Siamoise")||Vaslav Nijinsky ("Danse Siamoise" and "Variation")||Konstantin Korovin (sets & costumes)|
|Edvard Grieg (Småtroll, op.71/3, from Lyric Pieces, Book X, orch. Igor Stravinsky, for "Variation")||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst (costumes)|
|1910||The Firebird||Igor Stravinsky||Michel Fokine||Alexander Golovine (sets and costumes)|
|Léon Bakst (costumes)|
|1911||Le Spectre de la Rose||Carl Maria von Weber||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1911||Narcisse||Nikolai Tcherepnin||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1911||Petrushka||Igor Stravinsky||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Benois|
|1911||Swan Lake||Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky||Marius Petipa||Konstantin Korovin (sets)|
|Lev Ivanov||Alexander Golovin (sets & costumes)|
|Michel Fokine (revisions)|
|1912||L'après-midi d'un faune||Claude Debussy||Vaslav Nijinsky||Léon Bakst|
|1912||Daphnis et Chloé||Maurice Ravel||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1912||Le Dieu Bleu||Reynaldo Hahn||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1912||Thamar||Mily Balakirev||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1913||Jeux||Claude Debussy||Vaslav Nijinsky||Léon Bakst|
|1913||Le sacre du printemps||Igor Stravinsky||Vaslav Nijinsky||Nicholas Roerich|
|1913||Tragédie de Salomé||Florent Schmitt||Boris Romanov||Sergey Sudeykin|
|1914||La légende de Joseph||Richard Strauss||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1914||Le Coq d'Or||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov||Michel Fokine||Natalia Goncharova|
|1915||Soleil de Nuit||Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov||Léonide Massine||Mikhail Larionov|
|1917||Parade||Erik Satie||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1919||La Boutique fantasque||Gioachino Rossini arr Ottorino Respighi||Léonide Massine||André Derain|
|1919||Le Tricorne (El Sombrero de Tres Picos)||Manuel de Falla||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1920||Le chant du rossignol||Igor Stravinsky||Léonide Massine||Henri Matisse|
|1920||Pulcinella||Igor Stravinsky||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1921||Chout||Sergei Prokofiev||Léonide Massine||Mikhail Larionov|
|1921||Sleeping Princess||Pyotr Tchaikovsky||Marius Petipa||Léon Bakst|
|1922||Renard||Igor Stravinsky||Bronislava Nijinska||Mikhail Larionov|
|1923||Les Noces||Igor Stravinsky||Bronislava Nijinska||Natalia Goncharova|
|1924||Les Biches||Francis Poulenc||Bronislava Nijinska||Marie Laurencin|
|1924||Les Fâcheux||Georges Auric||Bronislava Nijinska||Georges Braque|
|1924||Le Train Bleu||Darius Milhaud||Bronislava Nijinska||Henri Laurens (sets),|
|Gabrielle Chanel (costumes),|
|Pablo Picasso (fondali)|
|1925||Les matelots||Georges Auric||Léonide Massine||Pruna|
|1925||Zephyr et Flore||Vernon Duke||Léonide Massine||Georges Braque|
|1926||Jack in the Box||Erik Satie
|George Balanchine||André Derain|
|1927||La chatte||Henri Sauguet||George Balanchine||Naum Gabo|
|1927||Mercure||Erik Satie||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1927||Pas d'acier||Sergei Prokofiev||Léonide Massine||George Jaculov|
|1928||Apollon musagète (Apollo)||Igor Stravinsky||George Balanchine||Andre Bauschant (scene)|
|Coco Chanel (costumi)|
|1929||Le fils prodigue/ Prodigal Son||Sergei Prokofiev||George Balanchine||Georges Rouault|
See also 
Further reading 
- Christofis, Lee (June 2009). "The Ballets Russes in Australia 1936-1940". The National Library Magazine 1 (2): 21–23. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Ballets Russes|
- "Ballets Russes", online exhibition and presentation.
- Pathé newsreel extract of Les Sylphides by Ballet Russes in June 1928, possibly a rehearsal
- Danza Ballet: Especial The Ballet Russes
- Ballet Russes (2005), documentary covering the history of the Ballets Russes, Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and Original Ballet Russe from the former's inception through the latter's end, featuring many interviews with surviving dancers of the company — IMDB listing
- From Russia with love: costumes from the Ballets Russes, 1909-1933, an online exhibition featuring material from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia
- « Centenary of Ballets Russians of Diaghilev » - two postage stamps of Monaco, created by Georgy Shishkin(Gueorgui Chichkine)
- "Monte Carlo and the Ballets Russes"
- Australia Dancing — Ballets Russes Australian tours, 1936 - 1940
- Russian Ballet History: Diahilev's artists
- Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: 20 Years That Changed The World of Art Online Exhibition, Houghton Library, Harvard University
- The Ballet Russes in Australia, Ballets Russes materials held in the Performing Arts Collection, at Arts Centre Melbourne
- "Diaghilev's Golden Age of the Ballets Russes dazzles London with V&A display". Culture24. 2011-01-09. Retrieved 2013-05-08.
- Buckle, Richard, 'Diaghilev', 1979, ISBN 0-297-775065, p.143
- "Leonide Massine". American Ballet Theatre. Archived from the original on 13 December 2010. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
- Buckle, Richard. Diaghilev. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1979.
- Albert, Jane (2010-12-11). "Inside the dress circle". The Sydney Morning Herald, "Spectrum" section. p. 2.
- "Dancing into Glory: The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes". Ballets-Russes.com. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
- Bell, Robert (ed) (2010). Ballets Russes: the art of costume. Thames & Hudson UK and University of Washington Press, USA. ISBN 978-0-642-54157-4.
- Will Gompertz (February 2, 2011). "Ballet Russes archive footage".
- [dead link]
- Garafola, Lynn (1989). Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. New York: Oxford UP.
- Purvis, Alston (2009). The Ballets Russes and the Art of Design. New York: The Monacelli Press.
- Michel Fokine ABT website
- Ballet Russe Cultural Partnership website
- Garafola, Lynn (1999). The Ballet Russe and its world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
- Anderson, Jack (1992). Ballet and Modern Dance: A concise history. New Jersey: Princeton Book Company.
- Classical Net's website (Igor Stravinsky's biography)
- The History of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929
- Léon Bakst website
- Vaslav Nijinky Biography
- Anderson, Margot et al. "Creative Australia and the Ballets Russes" Published in conjunction with the Exhibition, Arts Centre, Melbourne 2009. ISBN 978 0 9802958 1 8