Ballet Companies Worldwide Celebrate Ballets Russes Centennial

April 19, 2009

Ballets Russes posterBallet companies around the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes with special performances, lectures and exhibits.

Sergei Diaghilev created the Ballets Russes in 1909 and directed it until his death in 1929. The company sparked renewed excitement for the art of ballet, which had been in a period of decline.

Diaghilev's innovative collaborations brought together dancers, such as the famed Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova; choreographers, such as Michael Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Marius Petipa, Bronislava Nijinska, Léonide Massine and George Balanchine; composers, such as Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy; as well as painters, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

The company is also credited with elevating the status of the male dancer. Male dancers Vaslav Nijinsky, Serge Lifar, Michel Fokine, L?onide Massine, and George Balanchine became popular during the company's heyday.

Among the companies presenting Ballets Russes programs this year, Boston Ballet will hold a multi-day festival. Germany's Hamburg Ballet and The Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam both have festivals planned. Also, Teatro dell'Opera in Rome, the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet in London will present special programs honoring the legacy of the Ballet Russes.

Audiences will have the rare opportunity to see revivals of ballets choreographed for and premiered by the Ballet Russes. The Rite of Spring by composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, caused a furor at its 1913 Paris premiere for its unusual choreography and music. A new version of Nijinsky's The Rite of Spring, choreographed by Jorma Elo will premiere with the Boston Ballet.

Another ballet that shocked audiences at its premiere was Nijinsky's L'Apres-midi d'un Faune (Afternoon of a Faun). In this ballet, dancers appear as a tableau, reminiscent of a painting on an ancient Greek vase. The ballet will be presented by the Paris Opera Ballet this year.

In Rome, the Teatro dell'Opera will present Fokine's Le Spectre de la Rose, which is the story of a debutante who dreams that she is dancing with the rose that she has been holding in her hand.

Many of the Ballets Russes dancers of the original company were trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. Dancers that joined later trained in Paris. The ballet company toured in Europe, at times calling the Théâtre Mogador and the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris home, and at other times touring the US.

Following the death of Sergei Diaghilev, Colonel Wassily de Basil and Ren? Blum brought back the company with the name Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. Later, Blum founded another company under the name Original Ballet Russe. Choreographer George Balanchine went on to start the New York City Ballet.

Current Exhibitions and Information

London: V & A Museum Exhibit - Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes - Exhibit includes Pablo Picasso's biggest work, created for the Ballet Russes piece Le Train Bleu.

Ballets Russes movie

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