Patrons in Ballet: From the 18th Century to the Present Day

Patrons in Ballet: From the 18th Century to the Present Day

Despite the stereotype according to which an artist should always be starving, financial support of art from patrons contributed to cultural breakthroughs and striking premieres at all times. Who of the rich and famous supported ballet in different years?

Count patron and merchant patron

In the 18th-19th centuries, the ballet art was supported by the rulers themselves and people close to them. People who owned capital also joined the charity.

Count Nikolai Sheremetev was a major philanthropist of the 18th century, who donated part of his savings to ballet art. In Kuskovo, he constructed a new building for the production of "big" operas and ballets. The theater became popular: the performances were a success among Muscovites.

Merchant Gavrila Gavrilovich Solodovnikov left a mark on history as the person who made the largest donation in Russia - no less than 20 million rubles. Almost all of his fortune went to charity, including money for the construction of a concert hall with a theater stage on Bolshaya Dmitrovka. The merchant's contemporaries watched ballets and extravaganzas there, and the building itself was called Savva Mamontov’s Private Opera, after another art patron. Today it is the Operetta Theater.

The inspirer of patrons from different countries - Sergey Diaghilev

Patronage in ballet becomes a powerful tool of support during Sergei Diaghilev's Russian Seasons. The great impresario knew how to find an approach to philanthropists from all over the world, he infected them with a passion for art, and each of them, in their own way, contributed to the prosperity of classical dance. Strong supporters of Diaghilev’s endeavors from Russia were Savva Morozov, Baron Dmitry Ganzburg and Nikolai Bezobrazov. Another philanthropist, Victor Dandre, borrowed money for Diaghilev against his guarantee.

Moreover, no matter what country the Russian impresario was in, he always tried to enlist the personal and financial support of Western patrons. He succeeded brilliantly: in France he was assisted by Countess Chevin, Countess Bearn and Marquis de Tanay. As for Princess Edmond de Polignac (aka Winnaretta Singer, daughter of the millionaire who created the sewing machine empire), her own biographer called her "Diaghilev's main financier throughout his entire life and until his death”.

Another friend, Misia Sert, became a real benefactor and helped the entrepreneur in difficult times. Once, when Diaghilev had no money to pay his dancers and they refused to go on stage, Sert gave the impresario a thousand francs to resolve the conflict. Among other patrons of the Diaghilev ballet era, historians name Agu Hans, Countess Greffühl, Madame Kunards.

What did all these people have in common, besides wealth? First of all, many of them truly loved ballet. For example, Princess Edmond de Polignac never missed a single event organized by Diaghilev.

Secondly, helping art was always prestigious. Patrons were rightfully proud of their generosity and appreciated the opportunity to be "on friendly terms" with famous dancers and artists.

All of Diaghilev's projects - from the World of Art magazine, which was his debut, to ballet enterprises in different parts of the world - were implemented with patronage support. Based on this one fact, we can conclude about the importance of charitable financial support for the world of ballet.

Modern patrons - people from the pages of Forbes

The history of patronage in Russian ballet continues. For example, in 2014, the Renova Foundation of Viktor Vekselberg sponsored the Bolshoi's tour in New York, and the ballet impresario Sergei Danilian, who is now called modern Diaghilev, named Roman Abramovich, the Vladimir Smirnov and Konstantin Sorokin Foundation among the patrons of art.

Today, the State Academic Bolshoi Theater is being supported by Oleg Deripaska, who is a public figure. His support is not only financial, but also ideological - in particular, thanks to his participation, the current season of the Bolshoi Ballet opened with four absolutely new works - the one-act ballet program called Four Characters in Search of a Plot. During the pandemic, when art all over the world was paralyzed, the Bolshoi continued to work. No less important is the impact of Oleg Deripaska on the formation of a new culture of ballet perception - its popularization, attraction of a younger audience.

A new tradition in patronage is support not only from individuals but also from companies. Thus, for some time now, Ingosstrakh has been the general sponsor of the Bolshoi Theater.

Business owners support ballet, as aristocrats and merchants, rulers and those close to power once did. And representatives of the ballet world admit that financial support and lobbying are as important today as they were centuries ago.