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Diaghilev Era


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#1 Funny Face

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Posted 06 September 2003 - 10:25 AM

Hi, could I jump in with some notes about the pre-1930 period? Specifically, how some of that collaboration of various arts came together even earlier?

On February 4, 1909, in St. Petersburg, Diaghlev was a member of the audience at the premiere performance of Stravinsky's "Fireworks." This large orchestral work was a predecessor to the famous "Firebird" ballet and has been infrequently performed since its debut due to being overshadowed by the composer's latter more renowned works. But "Fireworks" is a landmark piece for a number of reasons.

While both Stravinsky and Diaghilev had initially been expected to pursue careers in law or music, Diaghilev had opted out of both, while Stravinsky vacillated between the two, with some of his uncertainty stemming, at least in part, by having reportedly been rebuffed by fellow protege of Rimsky Korsakov, Alexander Glazunov (considered the last important composer of the Russian National School).

While Glazunov was considered to be Rimsky Korsakov's favorite pupil, Stravinsky simultaneously regarded Rimsky Korsakov as a father figure, from whom he was able to elicit sufficient approval so as to be granted private lessons in composition.

During the summer of 1908, Stravinsky composed the aforementioned "Fireworks," to celebrate the upcoming wedding of his mentor's daughter. Upon completing the work, Stravinsky mailed it to Rimsky Korsakov, only to receive word several days later of his teacher's death.

While the untimely death of Rimsky Korsakov denied Stravinsky the opportunity to receive the approval he so craved from his mentor, it was fortuitous for him that Diaghilev (the talent scout of the day) was there to show his appreciation by requesting Stravinsky, 10 years his junior, to arrange some works of Grieg and Chopin for his ballet company.

From the beginnings of that collaboration would eventually spring the likes of "The Firebird," "Petrouchka," and "Rite of Spring."

I'll close this post at this point, but if anyone's interested, I've got some interesting information about how Picasso got into the mix.

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 06 September 2003 - 11:34 AM

Just a note: I split this off from the 20th Century timelines thread.

#3 Funny Face

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Posted 06 September 2003 - 06:21 PM

Thank you, Alexandra.

Just a bit of history on Picasso's role in ballet. Those who have seen "Parade" no doubt recognize Picasso's cubistic style in the sets and costumes, but might be surprised to learn that not all of Picasso's work is so recogniizable. While some (perhaps unenlightened) critics would denigrate those works which feature angularity and chaos and beastliness, opining that Picasso was simply unable to paint any other way, the fact is that Picasso could and did paint in a style which is considered tradtionally beautiful, but found cubism, among others, a natural extension of his evolution as an artist, something he could not personally accomplish within, say, the more acceptable mode of Renaissance realism.

Picasso was born in 1881 in Malaga, Spain, making him a contemporary of Diaghilev and Stravinsky, although his collaboration with Ballets Russes came about through rather unusual circumstances. Picasso was the son of a respected artist and teacher, and he himself showed signs of being quite prodigious at a tender age. He continued to study in Spain for a time before taking up residence in Paris.

During Picasso's formative years as an artist, a group of artists banded together in Paris, termed by public critics as "The Fauves" (wild beasts), who experimented with abandoning the traditional style in favor of defining space in a flat two-dimensional way. While Picasso was not a "Fauve" himself, we can certainly see the influences of such Fauves as Matisse (the leader of that group). At the same time, Picasso was also influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas.

World War I separated Picasso from his girlfriend, Eva Marcelle Humbert, who died in 1915. Whle grieving, Picasso immersed himself in a work called "Harlequin," and in 1917, he became involved with Diaghilev's dance company, working on costume and set design for 'Parade," during which time he not only met his future bride, Olga Kokhloven, who danced in the ballet, but received inspiration for his next work, "Three Dancers." From there, he went on to design for other Diaghilev productions.

#4 carbro

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Posted 06 September 2003 - 07:59 PM

I was planning on posting this anyway on the "Ballet in Non-Dance Films" thread. :D The 1996 film, "Surviving Picasso," aired this evening on local tv. It is a recollection of Francoise Gillot's relationship with the artist from Francoise's viewpoint, and it depicted (among other events) Picasso viewing a performance with Diaghilev where he sees Olga for the first time and is intrigued. Diaghilev explains that he hired some of his dancers because they are wonderful dancers and that he hired others for their social connections, that Olga belonged to the latter group.

What powerfully influential forces, those guys, Serge and Pablo, but I sure wouldn't want to spend time in the company of either! :devil: :)

#5 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 September 2003 - 05:19 PM

I think that there are ways of splitting the Diaghilev Era into suberas, perhaps thus:

The Initial Novelty (1909-1912)

The Rise and Fall of Nijinsky(1912-1916)

The Massine Epoch(1917-1924)

The Competition for Avant-Garde(1922-1926)

Balanchine and the Diaghilev Diaspora(1926-1929)

#6 Funny Face

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Posted 07 September 2003 - 05:29 PM

Would you consider an additional 'era' called "Joffrey and the Reconstruction," Mel?

#7 Mel Johnson

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Posted 07 September 2003 - 05:41 PM

I might consider an overarching period from 1929-present as "The Diaghilev Parousia - Several of Them"

#8 Amy Reusch

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Posted 07 September 2003 - 09:16 PM

Somewhere I read that Picasso really wanted to choreograph a ballet for the Ballet Russes but never succeeded in persuading Diaghilev to let him try. [I'm sorry not to have the reference any more.] I don't understand why he didn't just try with another group of dancers later somewhere else. I can't imagine there was no one in the dance world willing to give him a try... even if it were just a publicity stunt.

#9 Mel Johnson

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Posted 08 September 2003 - 02:48 AM

If indeed he had wanted to, Picasso would have been less interested after 1922, when Oskar Schlemmer premiered his Triadic Ballet in Berlin. It was less a ballet than a costume parade, with some of the dancers so hampered by their costumes, which Schlemmer designed, that they could barely move. Ballet by a designer? "It's been done." That's why I set 1922 as a boundary year for one of the Diaghilev suberas.

#10 Amy Reusch

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Posted 08 September 2003 - 08:59 PM

Are you saying Picasso would have thought if Oscar Schlemmer couldn't do it successfully, Picasso couldn't? (I didn't realize Picasso had such a high regard for Schlemmer) Or do you mean Diagheliv would agree with your view? I'm not sure Oscar Schlemmer's production was a failure from the artist's point of view, even if the dance world wasn't thrilled by it. A reconstruction was performed in the 1980s at the Guggenheim. I was sorry to have missed it; the costumes must have looked great set against that architecture. How does that Ballet Suedois fit into your eras (proof of the idea's failure?) And do you feel Parade was hampered by it's costumes or made by them?

#11 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 September 2003 - 02:51 AM

Are you saying Picasso would have thought if Oscar Schlemmer couldn't do it successfully, Picasso couldn't?  (I didn't realize Picasso had such a high regard for Schlemmer) Or do you mean Diagheliv would agree with your view?  How does that Ballet Suedois fit into your eras (proof of the idea's failure?)  And do you feel Parade was hampered by it's costumes or made by them?

You miss an important point here, Amy. Picasso was a creator, but he was not a producer. That was Diaghilev. Picasso wrote plays, too, but they were largely absurdist curios that only got salon readings. Ballet is different. It has to be created on bodies and presented in a space where the movement can be seen. I have no idea what Picasso thought of Schlemmer, but producers - not only Diaghilev - said "it's been done". The Ballet Suédois fits nicely into the "Race for the Avant-Garde" which followed the production of The Sleeping Princess. The proposed suberas have various arcs, some of which overlap. And at least part of "Parade" was undone by the costumes. The two Managers were supposed to be shouting like circus barkers on their entrances, but nobody could figure out a way to rig the poor guys in those constructions to be heard! For the rest of the ballet, the costumes were fine, except for the Little American Girl, whose costume had revivers combing the archives for a sketch. Picasso, Massine and Diaghilev hadn't designed a costume! They just all went to a department store and bought off the rack, ready-to-wear!

#12 Amy Reusch

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Posted 09 September 2003 - 07:05 AM

The two Managers were supposed to be shouting like circus barkers on their entrances, but nobody could figure out a way to rig the poor guys in those constructions to be heard!


Do we know what their lines were? Here's an interesting question... there must be the technology now to mic those guys... should a reconstruction have them shout or should it try to reproduce what actually was on stage? Now I want to hear them!!

#13 Mel Johnson

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Posted 09 September 2003 - 01:37 PM

Apparently they survive somewhere. I recall seeing a page of the draft used as a book illustration back when I was a teen and we had to chase the mastodons out of the studio in order to take class. I didn't speak much French then and I don't now, but I could see that the lines for the Manager from Paris went something like, "Don't you want to see the incredible (unintelligible by me for five lines)? YES!"
and so on.


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