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At the Exhibition

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I went to see the Curator's talk(Jane Pritchard), one third of the exhibit and 2 films that are linked to the show. Through BALLET TALK I met "Paquita" and we really enjoyed what the V&A had for us to see.

I seriously recommend a good night's sleep, lots of coffee, and lots of time. There is so much to take in that I decided to see the rest another day.

Pritchard, who also introduced the film at the National Film Theatre, is a bundle of energy, speaks coherently without notes, and had seen nearly everything left to see about Diaghilev and his companies. The first film, a BBC profile written by Tamara Geva, hsd interviews with many members of the companies (Danilova, Balanchine, Dolin, DeValoise, W. koslov, Doubrovsks, and Markova) but was poorly orgsnized. This surprised me because her book, "Split Seconds" was the best ballet memoir I have read.

I will write more about the experience and the exhibitio when I return to the US, since I am cramped by having only an iPod to write on. Meanwhile, I urge those of you who are interested in the Ballets Russes to raid your piggy banks, seize the rare opportunity offered by the V&A, get to London and soak ip as much as you can.

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I went to the exhibition today and found it absolutely awesome. I just wish I had had more time. I spent over two hours in the exhibition and had to miss a couple of the films and rush the final room to get the train home to Liverpool.

I believe the curators have done a wonderful job in setting the context and it is fabulous to see the costumes, particularly when there are photographs of them being worn and design sketches too. It is well laid out and logical and really brings out what a collaborative genius Diaghalev was and how far his influence still stretches.

Beg, borrow or steal to get there! It's only on till January (which is criminal!).

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For those who can't get to London, the book of the exhibition is really excellent: Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes 1909-29. It is available on Amazon.

Apart from numerous colour plates of costumes there are essays on:

Serge Diaghilev and the Strange Birth of the Ballet Russes by Geoffrey Marsh

Diaghilev the Man by Sjeng Scheijen

The Transformation of Ballet by Jane Pritchard

Creating Productions by Jane Pritchard

Leon Bakst, Natalia Goncharova and Pablo Picasso by John E. Bowlt

Wardrobe by Sarah Woodcock

Music and the Ballet Russes by Howard Goodall

A giant that continues to grow- the impact, influence and legacy of the Ballet Russes by Jane Pritchard.

and 14 other shorter essays.

A three CD set (with the same title as the book) of much of the music used by the Ballet Russes is also attractive, but this may only be available from the museum's site.

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I spent most of Sunday (17th October) at the V&A as well. The Ballet Russes exhibition is worth taking some time over, as it includes a lot of innovative material -- it's not your ordinary exhibition, and includes new art works by digital and film artists as well as the standard archival materials.

There were the highlights which are likely to be different for everyone, but I loved the front cloths on display. You got a sense of the scale of the productions from those.

Jane Pritchard has done an amazing job, and I know just how hard and long she worked on this exhibit. There's a bit of a political thing here too. The V&A decided to close the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden -- against the wishes of most of the theatre industry -- so this exhibition is part of establishing the performing arts as a major part of the V&A. I just hope it's not a start that never develops!

I also attended a couple of events from the Education programme in conjunction with Ballets Russe exhibition and the ENB, called "Rephrasing Ballets Russes." An excellent lecture on Nijinska and Balanchine, ad a delightful demonstration class from entry level students at the ENB School. Very clean technique and control in some lovely young dancers in training. Here's the link to the programme: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/theatre_performance/diaghilev-ballet-russes/events/index.html

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I've been thinking about how to describe the exhibit, and the experience of going to see the exhibit, and truthfully, there is no easy, organized way to describe it. Even with the introductory talk by Jane Pritchard, it is hard to pin down the experience. It is not organized chronologically, but the different sections of the exhibit show different aspects of the life of Serge Diaghilev, the history of the Company, the people in it and elements of the productions. It feels as if things are coming at you from all over, almost as if you are in the midst of a production. It's a wonderful cacophony to be honest, and while it's not going to give you an ordered history of the Company, what they did and where they did it (use the catalogue for that!), you may end up feeling as if you were at a production, but can't quite remember the whole thing. (Like life.)

The collections of costumes and objects are amazing: the colors, fabrics, and designs show an immense range of styles, techniques and inspirations. Diaghilev's artists, especially at the beginning of the Company's history, were very knowledgeable and skillful, and used fabric techniques such as Ikat (used in remote areas of Russia as well as India and Indonesia), applique, embroidery, dying, and drawing directly on the fabric to create the effects they needed. Historical prints and paintings often were the springboards for set designs. While there are instances where the actual inspirations (drawings, children's books) are shown, mostly we are told where the ideas came from. There are some design sketches, some choreographic sketches (Nijinsky's after-the-fact notations for "L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune" for example, done during the first World War), musical scores and notes to and from Diaghilev and his collaborators.

One of the rooms is supposed to show how a production might be put together, and has older theatrical spotlights, ladders, bits of set constructions, etc. I'm familiar with these objects, but for someone who didn't know what they were, their use might not be so obvious.

There are 4 excellent five minute videos with composer Howard Goodall discussing the music and how/why it was important. For example, he discussed why so many composers were drawn to France (because it wasn't Germany, ruled stylistically by Wagner), and how Debussy (who was himself influenced by a performance of Indonesian Gamelan brought sweeping changes to European music, and was a major influence on Stravinsky.

But the videos by Howard Goodall also are part of what was, for me, the biggest problem: conflicting music! At one point there are two recordings of "The Firebird" being played in one space, both at loud volume. It made it difficult to concentrate on anything, even if it was a video of "The Firebird."

Diaghilev would not permit any filming of his company. As a result, there are no films of Nijinsky dancing. (When I went back to the exhibit for the second time, an older woman was begging a guard to let her in to see footage of Nijinsky dancing. I broke the bad news to her.) There were a few video snippets taken on other occasions, including one of Tamara Karsavina in a short segment called "The Serpent," or something like that. Most of the other bits of film show contemporary versions of ballets from the Diaghilev repertoire, or newly choreographed ballets to music from the Ballets Russes. This brings up another real problem: there is no complete listing of the items in the exhibit. I purchased the book assuming that it would have such a list, but although it has much wonderful information and great essays, there is no listing of the items shown (hence my inability to give the correct name of the video segment with Karsavina).

The films shown at the National Film Institute really complement the exhibit well. I mentioned the film written by Tamara Geva in my earlier posting. Many of the films gave personal, intimate looks at Diaghilev as well as others in his companies, including the too, too short film about Doubrovska, and the sad film "The Sleeping Ballerina" about the life and madness (and eventual cure) of Olga Spissetseva, which includes footage of her dancing the mad scene from "Giselle," narrated sensitively by Marie Rambert. The films also gave insight about how the personal side of Diaghilev's life influenced his artistic work. When Nijinsky (and later Massine) left him, he had wildly emotional reactions. According to one of the films, in both cases he went on "binges" of affairs and drinking. After Massine left him, he decided to change course choreographically, and go back to the classics. Hence, his production of "The Sleeping Princess," in London. The comments about Diaghilev were very interesting: "He could charm a butterfly into a net." (I tried to take notes during the films, and often got the comments, but not the source.)

The talk by Jane Pritchard on my first visit to the exhibit was about how the Museum had obtained many of these objects over the years. One of the greatest events was an auction, staged like a theater event. One of the films at the NFI and a short clip played in the last part of the exhibit shows the late Richard Buckle calmly sitting in the audience of the auction, having just won (for the National Arts Council) one or another of the treasures we now see all together, looking down while an excited Alicia Markova sits to his left, barely able to contain herself.

In addition to seeing the exhibit twice and seeing three of the film programs, I visited Ivy House (former home of Anna Pavlova, now a Jewish Community Center) to catch the last day of an exhibition of photographs of Tamara Karsavina. I started the walking tour that Jane Pritchard had mapped out, but it was in the Covent Garden area, and too crowded for me to enjoy. I also treated myself to a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House, and performances by the Royal Ballet and the Royal Birmingham Ballet. The performance at the R.O.H. concluded with Balanchine's "Theme and Variations," which was originally choreographed for Alicia Alonzo. It was a very respectable performance, with Tamar Rojo and Sergei Polunin as the principals. Ms. Rojo has the highest instep I have ever seen.

At the beginning of the program Monica Mason came out in front of the curtain to announce that Miss Alonzo was in the audience, and the spotlight swung to a box, where Miss Alonzo stood up, regal in black sequins. After the performance, the male lead, Sergei Polunin and Carlos Acosta (who had been in "Winter Dreams," K. MacMillan's version of "The Three Sisters" ) led Ms. Alonzo to center stage, where she was greeted by a huge ovation. It was very exciting.

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