Consciousness of western culture

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The Ballets Russes burst upon the consciousness of Western culture like an explosion of fireworks when it opened in Paris in May of 1909, at the Chatelet Theater. These performances demonstrated new possibilities for choreography, theatrical design, painting and musical composition all at once, and introduced a new aesthetic vocabulary that became a driving force in the creative and industrial life of Europe and America. The power of the Ballets Russes stemmed from the collaboration of a remarkable creative team and the masterful way they fused musical composition, painting and costume design in performances by dancers who connected classical ballet traditions with innovative choreography. Under the leadership of Sergei Diaghilev, the company drew upon the genius of leading composers, artists, choreographers and dancers to produce revolutionary productions year after year, for two decades.

It all began with a group of schoolmates who met throughout the 1880s and 1890s to discuss art and literature and music, keeping Art for Art's Sake as their credo. Looking to Europe for inspiration, they were equally steeped in the art of Russia, as well as devotees of the Imperial Ballet and the St. Petersburg musical world. In 1897 Serge Diaghilev, a man of great energy and bold vision, formally united the disparate group under the name The World of Art, publishing an eponymous magazine from 1898-1904, and staging exhibitions that included a major retrospective of Russian portraits in Petersburg 1905, before setting his sights on Paris in 1906.

After a sensational exhibit of Russian art at the Salon D'Automne, he moved on to musical concerts in 1907 and opera in 1908, before launching the Ballets Russes with the help of the innovative choreographer Mikhail Fokin and the artist-designers of the World of Art. From the May 19th, 1909 premiere at the Chatelet Theater, the company's performances electrified Paris audiences, thanks to the fusion of the arts in a new form: music, choreography, painting and dance such as the world had never seen, all of equal brilliance. The troupe's dancers had all trained at the Imperial Ballet School, including stars such as Nijinsky, Karsavina, Fokine, Orlov, Pavlova and many others. The early ballets were mostly set to music by Russian composers, Tcherepnine, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky, and designed by Russian painters, Leon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Nicholas Roerich, Goncharova and Larionov, along Russian themes.

The material was revelatory and sensual and often profoundly provocative. The Paris audience rioted when it beheld The Afternoon of a Faun and The Rite of Spring, two masterpieces set to music by Debussy and Stravinsky, respectively, designed by Bakst and choreographed by the great Nijinsky. For twenty years, the Ballets Russes performed every year, even through World War One, and toured the world. The company was protean, adaptable, and experimental. In a continuing spirit of collaboration, painters of the French avant garde, notably Picasso, contributed substantially to Ballets Russes creativity. Picasso worked with Jean Cocteau and the composer Eric Satie to create the first Cubist ballet, Parade, produced to great acclaim in 1917. Matisse, Derain, Juan Gris, Braque and Rouault joined the Ballets Russes Artistic Pantheon. In the 1920s, important new Ballets Russes works were produced by French composers Auric, Milhaud, Sauguet, and Poulenc. The Russian influence was also a major force. In the 1920s, the company worked with the young composer Serge Prokoviev, who produced ballets with new themes. Stravinsky composed one of his most important works, Les Noces, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, in 1923. Ballets were choreographed by Leonide Massine, Serge Lifar, Nijinska, and Georges Balanchine, danced by Russians, among them Toumanova, Danilova, Lopokova, Doubrovska, and Woidzikowsky.

The company's era ended on the morning of the Nineteenth of August, 1929, when Diaghilev, the great impresario who had kept it alive and flourishing, died in Venice at the age of fifty-five. It was the death of what Balanchine called "twenty years of dance entertainment based on an inviolable rule of uniform excellence in choreography, music, decor, and performance."

Reference no: EM131069384

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