6 iconic painters and designers of Russian ballet

6 iconic painters and designers of Russian ballet

They created more than just costumes and sets for ballet performances. These artists were reformers and creators of the whole stage worlds.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky: 25 performances and a libretto

"The good genius of the Russian theater" - this is what the 19th century newspaper reporters called Ivan Vsevolozhsky. In 1880, he was appointed Director of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theaters and was not just a designer and screenwriter. Vsevolozhsky's active social position helped him initiate a theatrical reform in 1882. They allowed not only imperial theaters to write ballet music and gave ballet dancers permanent salaries instead of occasional fees.

Vsevolozhsky the artist created the scenery for the St. Petersburg performances. During his theatrical career, he worked on costumes for 25 productions. Among them are The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Raymonda. By the way, Ivan Vsevolozhsky wrote a libretto for The Sleeping Beauty ballet

Karl Waltz: "alchemist" and connoisseur of technological progress

Contemporaries called this stage designer a magician and a wizard. Waltz (Valts) was born in St. Petersburg, and received his art education in Germany. The artist created the entire visual range for the performances - scenery, stage lighting, special effects.

His love of technical progress is well known: Karl Waltz used electricity on stage a lot and improved the scenery lifting equipment.

His biography also included successful work abroad. In Diaghilev's Russian Seasons, he acted as a guest stage designer for eight seasons. We know that Parisian journalists called him "Russian Cagliostro" - for the "alchemy" that Waltz created on the ballet stage. 

Konstantin Korovin: 60 productions at the Bolshoi and love of scale

The painter, architect and writer was creating visual accompaniment for ballet and opera performances for decades. In 1884, his collaboration with the Opera of the merchant and philanthropist Savva Mamontov began. As a theater artist, Korovin worked with the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters, as well as with La Scala in Italy.

Konstantin Korovin acted as a reformer for the Bolshoi. At his suggestion, they introduced a position of the chief artist, who worked on implementing an idea together with the choreographer or director. The painter also changed the look of the ballerinas of that time, proposing to replace tight corsets with loose tunics.

Korovin's theatrical heritage is impressive: he worked as a designer in 60 productions, and this is just for the Bolshoi Theater. The scale of the stage decor created by the artist was impressive: it was no longer a background, but rather objects included in the very action of the performance. Thus, in the Le Corsaire ballet, he was especially successful in creating the atmosphere of the oriental slave market, and in the Don Quixote ballet, the audience remembered his tavern where the characters found themselves. 

Léon Bakst: European success and love for antique and oriental plots

The St. Petersburg designer debuted in ballet in 1900 with the production of The Fairy Doll by Josef Bayer. However, the name of Bakst is primarily associated with Sergei Diaghilev. The painter created images for the ballets Cleopatra, Scheherazade, Carnival, and contemporaries said that it was the costumes for ancient and oriental stories that he was especially marvelous at. 16 works by Leon Bakst for the Russian Seasons and for the troupe of Ida Rubinstein put him in line with other famous designers of that time.

In his memoirs, the painter describes his creative method vividly:

“In every color there are shades that sometimes express sincerity and chastity, sometimes sensuality and even brutality, sometimes pride, sometimes despair. <…> This is exactly what I tried to do in Scheherazade. On the sad green I put blue that is full of despair ... There are solemn red tones and red tones that kill <...> An artist who knows how to benefit from these properties is like a conductor..."

Alexander Benois: theater "in blood" and recognition both in Russia and Europe

It is curious enough that Benois's grandfather, the architect Alberto Cavos, built the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and reconstructed the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

Alexander debuted as an opera designer in 1900, and his first creative experience in ballet was the production of Le Pavillon d'Armide, in which Benois also acted as a librettist.

But it was cooperation with Diaghilev that brought him real fame. The artist designed such ballets as Giselle, Sylphides, The Nightingale, Petrushka - he also wrote a libretto for this ballet by Igor Stravinsky.

However, Benois was inspired not only by ballet: he designed several dramatic performances for the Moscow Art Theater under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavsky.  

Sergei Sudeikin: working with great choreographers and artistic finds

The theater-lovers learned the name of this artist thanks to Savva Mamontov. As a ballet designer, Sudeikin collaborated with the Moscow Maly Theater: he created scenery for the ballets Swan Lake, The Cavalry Halt and Vain Precaution.

Impresario Sergei Diaghilev also had a hand in the creative destiny of his namesake. Sergei Sudeikin designed The Afternoon of a Faun by Claude Debussy and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.

Later, the artist continued working as a designer in exile. He worked on productions by the Metropolitan Opera, among which were Igor Stravinsky's ballets Petrushka and The Nightingale. Sudeikin cooperated with the companies of renowned ballet masters - Mikhail Fokine, Leonide Massine, George Balanchine.

Creating the main character’s image for the short ballet Salome was a unique experience for the artist. Diaghilev invited him to the production as a designer and Sudeikin came up with the image of a comet for the ballerina Tamara Karsavina. Her dance at the top of the stairs that lasted 13 minutes and its visual solution was a real find.