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Serge Diaghilev - New Biography by Sjeng Scheijen


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#1 leonid17

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 10:10 AM

A new biography of Diaghilev by Sjeng Scheijen which I am informed is a good read, has already been published in Dutch and will be available from in the USA and UK from 15th October 2009
details on AMAZON website.

#2 dirac

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 10:13 AM

Thank you for the heads up, leonid. It seems to me it's been awhile since the last proper biography, although I could be mistaken about that.

#3 bart

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 01:00 PM

Is anyone familiar with the Llifar biography, dating from the early 30s? I notice that it is available, in what appears to be a reprint, on Amazon.

#4 dirac

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Posted 27 August 2010 - 11:27 AM

New member Bonnette posted this to the General Reading forum and I thought it should be copied here:

I'm just starting Sjeng Scheijen's biography of Diaghilev - have only read a couple of chapters, but the translation so far seems fluid and I like the writing style.

For those who are interested, I came across a link to Alastair Macaulay's New York Times review of the book - here it is.



#5 dirac

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Posted 27 August 2010 - 11:30 AM

Please tell us about it when you're finished, Bonnette. A quote from the review:

This bankruptcy is among Mr. Scheijen’s many revelations. For fluency of storytelling, “Diaghilev: A Life” easily surpasses both Mr. Buckle’s dense biography “Diaghilev” and Lynn Garafola’s intellectual analysis “Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes” (1989). Mr. Scheijen draws happily from a wide range of sources that have become available in recent years in Russia and the West, notably the diaries of the German diplomat and arts patron Count Harry Kessler and the archives of the composer Serge Prokofiev, both of whom were intimate members of Diaghilev’s circle for many years.

Yet Mr. Buckle’s approach — that of both celebrity hound and aesthete — and Ms. Garafola’s probing application of modern historical methods both yield a far more intense wealth of detail. They also demonstrate a much greater sheer excitement over Diaghilev’s achievements. The often cool Mr. Scheijen brings us the latest information but omits too many of the facts already in the common domain. And at many moments he prefers to concentrate on his archival discoveries rather than to re-examine central areas of Diaghilev’s artistic work.


I will say there's nothing necessarily wrong with a biographer focusing on the life and less on the work, as long as we don't forget why we're reading about the fellow. It's a different approach.



#6 Helene

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Posted 27 August 2010 - 11:31 AM

It looks like Diaghilev was a role model to Balanchine in more ways than one; from the review:

Mr. Scheijen tackles this revealingly but calmly. At several points art and life for Diaghilev were indivisible. Notoriously possessive, he dismissed both Nijinsky (in 1913) and Massine (in 1921) from his company when first one, then the other, married. Then, in private, he broke down, both times. Mr. Scheijen shows that the loss of Massine — the more intelligent, worldly and self-sufficient, if less legendary, of the two — caused Diaghilev the greater crisis. He needed to be in love to keep working at his ferocious pace, but Mr. Scheijen’s narrative implies that after Massine he was never again so passionately involved.



#7 Bonnette

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Posted 27 August 2010 - 12:56 PM

I began reading it yesterday and am almost finished today, that is how engagingly written it is. I agree with the reviewer you quote, dirac - this book is neither as erudite nor as detailed as Ms. Garafola's history of the Ballets Russes, yet it serves as a fine introduction to Diaghilev and his many cultural contributions, not only in the field of ballet. I would have preferred a more probing two-volume set, but as an overview this single volume might reach a wider audience. Mr. Scheijen writes well, the book is beautifully paced, and the translation seems to be very fluid and confident. I recommend it overall, with the caveat that it will probably disappoint those looking for a critical analysis of Diaghilev's lifework.

#8 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 07:55 PM

Also to be released soon is book accompanying the exhibit at the V&A by Jane Pritchard, curator of the exhibition (and curator of dance) and Geoffrey Marsh, director of the V&A Theater Collection. This might be the place to explore Diaghilev's vision, impact, artistic legacy, etc. Amazon describes it thus:

While the early 20th century was rich with creative energy, no one brought theater and dance to the forefront of culture quite like Sergei Diaghilev did with his extraordinary Ballets Russes. From 1909 to 1929, the Ballets Russes attracted the involvement of major artists, composers, and designers. Now, on the 100th anniversary of the company’s first performance, this book delves into a rarely seen V&A collection to explore Diaghilev’s life and work, and the creative process behind his spectacular ballet productions. Featuring works by Picasso, Stravinsky, Chanel, and many others, this beautiful book showcases artistic collaboration at its finest, and traces the origins, development, and long-term influence of the Ballets Russes.


I have two copies of the Lifar biography, but have only referred to it occasionally, Lifar really gives me the creeps.

#9 Bonnette

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Posted 28 August 2010 - 09:07 PM

Andrew Foster's Tamara Karsavina: Diaghilev's Ballerina is also in the pipeline, with a projected September release date. The US Amazon site doesn't provide much information, but the UK description includes the following information:


Featuring over 200 stunning photographs from museums and private collections around the world, Tamara Karsavina: Diaghilev's Ballerina traces the life and career of one of the 20th century's greatest dance artists. This deeply-researched book details her rise through the ranks of St Petersburg's legendary Imperial Ballet where, alongside Pavlova and Nijinsky, she excelled in the classics and emerged as the supreme interpreter of Fokine's new choreography. Her spectacular debut in the West, as a star of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, put her at the forefront of all his historic seasons and confirmed her place among the greatest dancers in ballet history...Andrew Foster has been researching Tamara Karsavina's life and career for over 30 years and owns the world's largest private collection of Karsavina's photographs and images. He is a respected dance historian and is acknowledged by theatre museums worldwide as the leading expert regarding the life and career of Tamara Karsavina.


Looks like we're in for a real Diaghilevian feast!

#10 ViolinConcerto

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 05:25 AM

Here's a question about another book I see listed on Amazon:


Working For Diaghilev [Hardcover]
Sergei Diaghilev (Author)

Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Exhibitions International/B.A.I. (August 15, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9076704856


and here is the product description:

Publisher, impresario, and patron, Sergei Diaghilev was one of the greatest artistic innovators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the first to bring visual artists together to work with composers and choreographers in order to create theatrical works of art for a broad public, and the world-renowned ballets that he produced in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century left a permanent stamp on the world of dance. In Western Europe, Diaghilev is primarily known as the source of inspiration of the dance company Les Ballets Russes, which completely innovated the dance world from 1910 to 1920 and re-established the eminent position of ballet among the arts. But Diaghilev also had a profound influence on the other visual arts: He collaborated with famous painters like Matisse, Picasso, Di Chirico, and Cocteau; with choreographers such as Fokine, Massine, and Balanchine; and with composers such as Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ravel, and Debussy. This catalogue presents Diaghilev's artistic legacy in an unprecedented scale--paintings, drawings, costumes, and decors from more than 15 museological and private collections in Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Spain are brought together here for the first time. Presented here are works by Russian artists such as Michail Vrubel, Valentin Serov, Alexander Golovin, Lev Bakst, Natalya Goncharova, and Mikhail Larionov. Clothbound, 9 x 11 in./256 pgs / 200 color and 40 b&w.


They credit Diaghilev as being the author. What????

#11 Bonnette

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Posted 29 August 2010 - 06:37 AM

They credit Diaghilev as being the author. What????


That is bizarre! I've known Amazon to attribute authorship to editors, but here they've exceeded themselves! :lol:

Looks like an interesting book - probably one to add to the wishlist.

#12 kfw

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 05:33 PM

The latest New Yorker has a long Joan Accoella piece on Diaghilev occasioned by the Sceijen bio.

This is an admirable book. Apart from its revisionism, its most striking quality is its avoidance of clutter, and hence its rhetorical force. . . . Above all, he has tried to portray a deep and unified account of Diaghilev's personality. It's not a soul laid bare -- Diaghilev was secretive -- but something closer than we've seen before.


The article is only available online to subscribers, but there is a summary of it here.

#13 bart

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Posted 18 September 2010 - 06:24 PM

Thanks, kfw. It's a great review and worth locating. Acocella makes the point that Scheijen reads Russian, as Richard Buckle did not,

and he has looked at many crucial sources that Buckle -- and others -- either didn't both with or didn't have access to, including writings by Diaghilev, his friends, his family, and his commentators. These new documents enable Scheijen to sweep out many cob-webbed corners in the Diaghilev story.

.... [T]his is an admirable book. Apart from its revisionism, its most striking quality is its avoidance of clutter, and hence its rhetorical force. Scheijen has left out many things, notably, dance criticism. (Which is fine. He's not a dance critic, and there's no reason he should have to fake it.) When he wants to paint a picture of something, he limits himself to just a few details -- compelling ones ... It's not a soul laid bare -- Diaghilev was secretive -- but something closer than we've seen before.

By the way, Acocella is also quite skilled at the "avoidance of clutter." I was impressed by the way she handles Diaghilev's legacy:

Most of his ballets vanished, but his ballet masters didn't, and they needed jobs. Soon, the major companies of England, France, and the United States, plus the hugely popular Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, among others, had Diaghilev's former employees as their directors or house choreographers: Michel Fokine, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, Anton Dolin, Serge Lifar, George Balanchine. So Diaghilev didn't just jump-start Western ballet; he staffed it.

He also proclaimed its mission. Sleek modern ballets, he insisted, were not a break with the classical tradition of the past. Modernism, too, could and should be classical. Look at the New York skyline, he said:

"The skyscrapers have their own kind of classicism, i.e., our kind. Their lines, scale, proportions are the formula of our classical achievements, they are the true palaces of the modern age. It's the same with choreography ... It too has to be well proportioned and harmonious, but that doesn't mean propounding a compulsory 'cult' of classicism in the creative work of the modern choreographers. Classicism is a means, not an end."

This has been the credo of the greatest ballet choreographers of the post-Diaghilev period.



#14 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 07:14 PM

WNYC's "New Sounds" and "Soundcheck" host John Schaefer interviewed Sjeng Scheijen today on "Soundcheck." You can stream or download the interview here: Dissecting Diaghilev
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#15 PeggyR

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 07:16 AM

In the finest tradition of investigative journalism, The New Yorker has apparently uncovered new information about Sergei Diaghilev, information that will fascinate ballet lovers everywhere:

Print issue dated December 13, 2010
Page 95
Article: A Year's Reading
Subheading: Nonfiction

Diaghilev, by Sjeng Scheijen, translated from the Dutch by Jane Hedley-Prole and S. J. Leinbach (Oxford; $39.95). New revelations about the dancer.

Now you know.


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