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SEPTEMBER 25, 2004 - JANUARY 2, 2005

HARTFORD, Conn. (July 8, 2004)-In tribute to the centennial of the great ballet choreographer George Balanchine, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is presenting Ballets Russes to Balanchine: Dance at the Wadsworth Atheneum, September 25, 2004 - January 2, 2005.

With more than 80 works of art, nearly 25 costumes, and archival material and photographs, Ballets Russes to Balanchine reasserts the thrilling originality and brilliance of these theatrical productions while documenting the dawn of modernism in the 20th century. Among the visual artists represented are Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Natalia Goncharova, André Derain, Giorgio de Chirico, and Pavel Tchelitchew. The choreographers include Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine. The exhibition is also a showcase for selections from the Atheneum's unrivalled Serge Lifar Collection of set and costume designs, most of them for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. These reveal Diaghilev's genius as an impresario. Intent on restoring ballet to its rightful place among the fine arts, Diaghilev demanded a collaborative synthesis between choreography, music, painting, and literature, with the aim of creating each ballet as a total work of art. (The parallel in opera is Gesamtkunstwerk, as composer Richard Wagner termed it).

From 1909 until Diaghilev's death in 1929, the Ballets Russes incited a revolution in the scenic and performing arts whose influence and legend time has not diminished. Iconic designs for Petrushka, Le Spectre de la rose, L'Après-midi d'un faune, and Les Noces will be on view, as well as those for ballets that Balanchine choreographed for Diaghilev, including Le Chant du Rossignol, Jack in the Box, La Chatte, Apollon Musagète, Le Bal, and Prodigal Son.

Actual costumes from Diaghilev productions will be displayed, including Schéhérazade, Le Spectre de la rose, Le Dieu Bleu, Le Sacre du Printemps, Le Chant du Rossignol, The Sleeping Princess, and Le Bal. Most within Diaghilev's circle greatly admired the American dancer Isadora Duncan, as did many European, Russian, and American artists. But none compare to Abraham Walkowitz in terms of his fanatical, lifelong devotion to her memory. He made a gift of drawings, water-colors, and pastels to the Atheneum in 1949; a selection of these, which depict his "sublime Isadora" in motion, barefoot and barelegged, in her customary classical Greek-styled tunic, will be exhibited for the first time since 1950. A Diaghilev designer who became a favorite early collaborator of Balanchine's was the Neo-Romantic painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Known for his fantastic costumes and theatrical effects, he designed the sets, costumes, and lighting for Balanchine's Errante and Serenata (Magic). The Atheneum owns vivid designs for both ballets.

A favorite of Lincoln Kirstein's was Eugene Berman; the Atheneum has two of his designs for Balanchine's Concerto Barocco, as well as two for Frederick Ashton's The Devil's Holiday.

The exhibition also features Henri Matisse's costume sketches for Léonide Massine's Rouge et Noir, first produced by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1939, and which have never before been exhibited.

The museum's unique involvement in the dance world of the 1930s is documented in Ballets Russes to Balanchine. It is little known that in 1933, at the impassioned plea of Lincoln Kirstein, the Wadsworth Atheneum and its director A. Everett Austin, Jr., co-sponsored Balanchine's immigration to the United States with the intent of founding a ballet academy and a resident company in the Atheneum's newly built theater. While the Atheneum could not hold onto Balanchine, Kirstein credited it as the place where the historic first public performances of Balanchine's "Producing Company of The School of American Ballet" were given in December 1934. The final performance featured the premiere of Serenade, the first Balanchine ballet choreographed on American dancers. Earlier in 1934, in February, Frederick Ashton, whose centenary is also being observed this year, made his American debut at the Atheneum as the choreographer for the fabled Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera, Four Saints in Three Acts.

The Wadsworth Atheneum provided a stage for Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, where it gave the premiere of Lew Christensen's Filling Station, designed by the artist Paul Cadmus. Modern dance was also welcomed. Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille (with Hugh Laing), Erick Hawkins (with Peal Lang), and Anna Sokolow all performed at the museum, as did Southington, Connecticut native Alwin Nikolais, who made his professional debut as a choreographer here in 1938.

The Serge Lifar Collection was acquired by Austin for the Wadsworth Atheneum in fall 1933 when Lifar, the last of Diaghilev's protégé male dancers, met with financial disaster on his troupe's American debut tour. Lifar's art collection was on view in New York at the Julien Levy Gallery. Lifar sold the cache to pay for his troupe's return to Paris. Over the years, the Wadsworth Atheneum has augmented the Lifar Collection, primarily with original costumes from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Accompanying the exhibition Ballets Russes to Balanchine: Dance at the Wadsworth Atheneum is a 48-page book of the same name, written by Eric M. Zafran, Eugene R. Gaddis, and Susan Hood, and published by the museum. It will be available at The Museum Shop. Ballets Russes to Balanchine: Dance at the Wadsworth Atheneum is sponsored by the Katherine S. Hoffman and Dr. Anthony S. Krausen Fund, The David T. Langrock Foundation, Linda and Edmund Sonnenblick, and Sotheby's. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art is located at 600 Main Street, Hartford. For information on hours, admission, and the ART Shuttle, please visit www.wadsworthatheneum.org or call (860) 278-2670.

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