The Man Who Made the World Fall in Love with Russian Ballet

The Man Who Made the World Fall in Love with Russian Ballet

The name of Sergei Diaghilev is well known to connoisseurs of classical ballet all over the world. A talented entrepreneur, enthusiastic impresario and meticulous organizer, he dreamed of making Russian dance art recognized in the West. This is how Diaghilev's Russian Seasons appeared. This format was unique for that time, it combined touring performances, concerts and exhibitions. The dream came true: the Russian ballet was not only recognized, but loved.

From youthful love for art to Russian Seasons

Sergei Diaghilev grew up in a family of art connoisseurs: from childhood, he accompanied at musical and literary evenings, studied at the conservatory (and in the law school at the same time). The first exhibitions organized by Diaghilev were exhibitions of contemporary artists. This experience received controversial assessments but was defining for the organizer himself.

Later, Diaghilev admitted that he always believed one of his main tasks was popularization of Russian art in the West. In 1906, Sergei Diaghilev organized an exhibition in Paris, it was called "Two Centuries of Russian Painting and Sculpture". It was this exhibition that opened the cycle of Russian Seasons in art. After that, Diaghilev enthusiastically takes up the organization of musical events in Europe. In 1907, a series of five Historical Russian Concerts were presented on stage of the Grand Opera in Paris and were an enormous success. All little things were important for Diaghilev: he accompanied the magnificent concert program with printed biographies of Russian composers. The audience was delighted.

Ballet apotheosis of the Russian Seasons

The idea to take Russian ballet abroad came to the impresario in 1907: this is how the fourth Russian Season became a dance and opera season. The Russian troupe arrived in Paris in the spring of 1909. “I thought about new short ballets,” Diaghilev wrote, “In which the three factors - music, pattern and choreography - would be merged much closer than has been observed so far." The public's reaction was ambiguous: many didn’t appreciate the choreography, but they were fascinated by the scenery, costumes and talent of the ballerinas Pavlova and Karsavina.

“I thought about new short ballets,” Diaghilev wrote, “In which the three factors - music, pattern and choreography - would be merged much closer than has been observed so far."

Sergei Diaghilev himself was so inspired by the success of the ballet Russian Season that he later focused on the ballet entreprise. The new season with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Stravinsky's Firebird opened for the audience at the Grand Opera - it was an absolute success! In 1911, Diaghilev's Russian Ballet moved to Monte Carlo, and these were not the same Russian Seasons that Europeans applauded. At this stage, the impresario focused on the ballet entreprise and unusual ballet performances, improvisations and numbers. The circle of creators participating in Diaghilev's brainchild was growing: Western composers, playwrights and decorators take part in the performances (among them was, for example, Pablo Picasso).

Not just an organizer: Diaghilev's mark in world ballet

Sergei Diaghilev was distinguished by his well-known creative inflexibility. He insisted that Anna Pavlova, but not Vera Fokina, should dance the part of the Dying Swan to the music of Saint-Saens. The impresario was right - everyone who saw Pavlova in this role confirmed.

And Diaghilev always had the courage to be an innovator. He was not afraid to be ahead of his time, didn’t hold on to traditions and was sometimes misunderstood.  The Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring to the music by Stravinsky was a failure, as was the first show of the ballet Parade in 1917.

He was not afraid to be ahead of his time, didn’t hold on to traditions and was sometimes misunderstood.

There were 20 ballet Russian Seasons in total. The evolution of innovation and skill was easily traced by world critics from the first to the last performance. And Diaghilev never performed his functions as an organizer formally: he created concepts, changed the content of productions, added details and involved those who could give the world of art a fresh look and bright talent. For many, Diaghilev's high marks became a pass to the big ballet and opened the world stage.

For decades, Diaghilev's Russian Ballet pushed the boundaries of classical dance art.
 

The choreography of many productions was called "pretentious and broken", stylized and expressionistic, plastique and ahead of time. However, these are only partial definitions that emphasize certain features of Russian ballet in the era of Diaghilev. Among the ballet performances that belong to the ages and gather spectators to this day are Scheherazade, Giselle, Petrushka, Swan Lake, The Rite of Spring, The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, etc. Once they appeared on posters as premieres of Russian Seasons or Diaghilev's Russian Ballet, but today they are world classics and they became such thanks to the talented entrepreneur.