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SERGE DIAGHILEV AND THE STRANGE BIRTH OF THE BALLETS RUSSES

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SERGE DIAGHILEV AND
THE STRANGE BIRTH OF
THE BALLETS RUSSES
GEOFFREY MARSH
RelishingNationalAcclaim:Spring1905 recognizedasabenchmarkintheappreciationofRussianart
In the Banqueting Suite of the Metropole Hotel, Moscow,a andidentity.Evenhisenemiesacknowledgedhisastonishing
tall,bulky,elegantlydressedmanstandsupandacknowledges organizationalabilities, particularly during the dramatic
4theappreciativeapplauseofhiscolleagues–artists,critics, politicalupheavalsfollowingthe‘BloodySunday’massacre.
writers and friends (frontispiece, p.2). They have gathered
at a gala banquet to honour Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev’s Diaghilev’sChangingWorld
creationofthestupendousExhibitionofRussianHistorical In1905,Diaghilevwouldprobablyhavedismissedasabsurd
1Portraitsinthecapital,StPetersburg. Thetsar,NicholasII, theideathathewouldmanageacommercialballetcompany
hasalreadyopenedthedisplayinpersonandspenttwohours outside Russia. Yet, four years later, it had become his
viewingmostofhisRomanovancestorsamongthemany peculiardestiny–astrangemixtureofcreativeadventure,
famousRussians(pl.1). nationalisticresponsibilityandentrepreneurialburden.
AsDiaghilevlooksdownathisspeech,provocatively LikeDiaghilev’scomplexcharacter,thebirthoftheBallets
entitled‘TheHourofReckoning’,heisacutelyawareof Russeswasnotstraightforward.Acoincidenceofexternal
thepoliticalturmoiloutsideanditsextremeviolence.Seven circumstancescreatedanunusualopportunity,butitwas
weeks earlier, and only a few hundred metres away, the theinfusionofDiaghilev’srestlessambitionthatprovided
GrandDukeSergeiAleksandrovich,thetsar’suncleand thecatalystforthecreationofoneofthegreatestartistic
brother-in-law,hadbeenblownapartbyaterroristbomb enterprisesofthetwentiethcentury.
2insidetheprecinctsoftheKremlin. IfDiaghilevhadsuccessfullyriddenoutthecultural
After reflecting that his tour of country houses, stormpredictedinhisMoscowspeech,hisImperial
hunting for paintings, had revealed that ‘The end was connectionscombinedwithhisradicalartisticstance
here in front of me’, Diaghilev concludes: mighthaveresultedintheofferofakeypositioninthe
Russianartworld.Diaghilevaimedhighandbelievedhe
5We are witnessing the greatest historic hour of couldbeMinisterofCulture. Suchanappointment
reckoning,ofthingscomingtoanendinthenameof wouldsecurehisreputation,statusandfortuneforlife.
anew,unknownculture–onewhichwewillcreatebut Yet,despitehisimmediatetriumphin1905,thishappy
whichwillalsosweepusaway…Iraisemyglass…to outcomewasnottobe.Whereasbefore1906hisartistic
thenewcommandmentsofanewaesthetic.Theonly endeavourshadbeenwithinRussia,after1906theywere
wishthatI,anincorrigiblesensualist,canexpress,is alltotakeplaceabroad.Inthisprofoundchangelaythe
thattheforthcomingstruggleshouldnotdamagethe originsoftheBalletsRusses.Forthenext20yearsDiaghilev’s
amenitiesoflife,andthatthedeathshouldbeas entirelifewouldbedevotedtocreatinggreatperformance,
3beautifulandilluminatingastheResurrection. everywherebutinRussia.
To understand the origins of the Ballets Russes in
AsDiaghilevspokethesewords,hemusthavefeltatthepeak theseyears,itisessentialtoappreciatethatDiaghilevwas
ofhisartisticsuccessandthatfullofficialrecognitionwas intenselydriventosucceed,acharacteristicthatwentback
withinhisgrasp.At33,hehadassembledanexhibition tohisearlyyears.Hewasbornon19March1872,near
Detailofpl.7 000000_Diaghilev_Complete_05.qxd:Layout 1 27/4/10 11:41 Page 16
NizhnyNovgorod,buthismotherdiedafewmonthslater. mighteventuallyleadtoapublicpositionandin1901hewas
Hisfather,acolonelinthecavalry,remarriedtwoyearslater arguingforthereorganizationofRussia’sartgallerieswith
and Diaghilev was brought up by his stepmother Yelena theclearimplicationthathewastherightmantoachieveit.
Panayeva.Diaghilevrecalledhowsheinstilledinhimawill However,allsuchprefermentwasdependentonthetsarand
to succeed, telling him never to use the words ‘I can’t’, justatthetimewhenDiaghilev’sreputationwasinthe
6insistingthat‘whenpeoplewantto,theycan’. ascendant,the1905Revolutionwastoerupt.
Diaghilevwaspartofanextensivefamilyoflanded
nobility,someofwhomreachedseniorgovernmentpositions. TheRoadtoRevolution:1904–5
Hisfamily’swealthwasbasedonamonopolyfordistilling IfDiaghilevreflectedonthemonthssinceautumn1904,even
vodkaandspiritsinPerm.SoonSergehadtwohalf-brothers, hewouldhavebeenstaggeredatthepaceofeventsandthe
ValentinandYury,andheseemstohavehadagenerally changedconditionofRussia.Sincegraduatinginlawfromthe
happychildhoodinStPetersburgwherethereweremany UniversityofStPetersburgin1896,hehadpursuedacareer
7relatives.From1879–90thefamilylivedinthePermregion asacritic,organizednumerouspaintingexhibitions and
neartheUrals,firstonthefamilyestateandtheninalarge co-foundedRussia’sfirstartsmagazineMiriskusstva(World
8mansioninPermitself. ofArt). Hehadmetthetsarseveraltimes,havingbrieflyheld
9Diaghilev’s drive was accentuated by the financial apositionintheImperialTheatre, andhadtriumphedin1905
disasterthatoverwhelmedhisfamilyin1890,whenhewas withhisspectacularExhibitionofRussianHistoricalPortraits
10just18andabouttogotouniversity.Hisfatherwasmade (pl.1). Althoughpoliticaltensionwasrisingduringthis
bankruptandallthefamilypropertywasauctionedto time,dissentwaslargelycontrolledbyharshrepression.
payoffhisdebts.Overnight,Diaghilev,whohadasmall However,in1904–5,politicalandeconomicpressuresbuilt
inheritancefromhismother,becameresponsibleforhis up until they exploded into revolution (pls 2 and 4).
father,stepmotherandhalf-brothers.Insteadofbeingable InMay1903whenthecapital,StPetersburg,celebrated
tolivethelifeofaleisurednobleman,heneededtofind its200thanniversary,suchupheavalwouldhaveseemed
asourceofincomethatwouldprovidepublicrecognition improbable, but the underlying problems that would
withoutcompromisinghissocialstatus. eventuallydestroyImperialRussiawereclear.Overthe
HiscareerduringhistwentiesshowsDiaghilevtrying previous40yearsthecity,PetertheGreat’s‘Windowtothe
tomakehismarkintheworldofthearts,asaresearcher, West’builtonthemarshesatthemouthoftheRiverNeva,
critic,editor,publisherandexhibitionorganizer.Success hadexpandedatbreakneckspeed(pl.3).Migrantsfromall
1.RoomofEmpress 2.TheNevskyProspect,
CatherineII,Exhibition StPetersburg,showingthe
ofRussianHistorical AdmiraltySpire,c.1901.
Portraits,TauridePalace, Thecapital’smainstreet
StPetersburg,1905. waslinedwithluxuryshops.
RussianMuseum,
StPetersburg
3.StPetersburg:Il’yin
CartographicSoc.,1911.
By1900theelegantcentral
boulevardsweresurrounded
byrailings,factoriesand
workers’housing.
CourtesyoftheRoyal
GeographicalSociety.

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5.HenriGervex,The
CoronationofNicolasII–
sketch.Oiloncanvas,1896.
Oneofthemostopulent
eventsoftheperiod,itwas
alsooneoftheearliestto
befilmed.
Muséed’Orsay,Paris
4.Poorcitizensin
StPetersburg,c.1900
SocietyforCooperation
inRussianandSoviet
Studies
overRussiasoughteconomicbettermentinitsexpanding Sunday’afewweekslater.FromthenonRussiadescended
15factories,mills,businessesandshops. intoescalatingviolencethroughout1905.
By1890thecapital’spopulationwasnudgingnearly ThegrowingoppositiontoImperialrulewasexacerbated
amillionbutoverthenextdecadeanother400,000people bythewarwithJapanoverManchuria,beguninFebruary
movedin.Itwasestimatedthat70percentofthepopulation 1904, which revealed the general incompetency of the
werenewarrivals,largelypeasantsfleeingthecountryside. administration.TheJapanesewonasuccessionofvictories
Factoriessprangupringingtheelegantcentre.Itwasacity culminatinginthecaptureofPortArthuron2January1905
ofextraordinarycontrastswhereindustrialistsweremaking (pl.6).Thisdefeatbyanon-Westernpowerwasahugeblow
vastfortuneswhilemostoftheworkerslivedinverypoor toRussia’sinternationalprestige,butworsewastofollow.
11conditions(pl.4). Atitsheartwasthetsar,surroundedby On27to28May1905,theJapanesedestroyedtheRussian
12 16themostbrilliantcourtinEurope. UnfortunatelyNicholas fleetattheBattleofTsushimaStrait.
II,whohadsucceededin1894ontheunexpecteddeathofhis The tsar became the focus of increasing political
fatherattheageof49,wassingularlyillsuitedtosolvingthe oppositionandbyearlyOctobertherewasadefactogeneral
13country’sproblems(pl.5). Hisreactionaryviewswerebacked strikeacrossthecountry,inwhichthedancersoftheImperial
14 17bythehugeinfluenceandwealthoftheOrthodoxChurch. Theatresparticipated. Diaghilev,whowasinStPetersburg
Fromthesummerof1904politicaltensionincreased, organizingthereturnoftheloansfromhisportraitexhibition,
particularlyfollowingtheassassinationinJulyoftheInterior describedtheatmosphere:
Minister,VyacheslavvonPlehve.ByNovembertherewere
nationwidedemandsforliberalizationofthepress,andin Don’t be angry at my silence. It’s impossible to
December1904thetsarissuedamanifestopromisingsome describe what’s going on here: we’re shut in on all
politicalreforms.This,however,merelypromptedastrike sides, in complete darkness, no chemists, trams,
at the huge Putilov engineering works in south-west St newspapers, telephones or telegraphs and waiting
18Petersburgwhichinturnledtothetragiceventsof‘Bloody for the machine guns!

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6.TheLastStandofVice
AdmiralMakaroff.
Woodblockprint,1904.
TheRusso-JapaneseWar
wasadisasterforTsarNicholasII.
V&A:E.923–1959.
GivenbyJamesLaverCBE
Overleaf
7.IlyaRepin,17October1905.
Oiloncanvas,c.1907–11.
Thecelebrantsinthepainting
comefromeverypartofsociety.
RussianMuseum,
StPetersburg
Whenthetsar’sunclerefusedtotakeoverasdictator,Nicholas Whattodo? Following the closure of his portrait exhibition in October, Vladimir that our enterprise will be useful from a national
signedamanifestopromisingconstitutionalgovernmenton Bytheendof1905Diaghilevwaslesspositiveaboutthe it was difficult to see how Diaghilev could deliver another point of view [and] the Minister of Finance that it will be
19 2930October1905(newstyle). StPetersburgexplodedin progressofeventsandtheirimpactonhisownfuture.Over similar success, especially with the ongoing political profitable on the economic side…’.
25celebration,recordedinIlyaRepin’sfamouspainting17October theprecedingsixyearsthetsarhaddirectlyorindirectly crisis. However, as one door of opportunity closed,
231905,whichcapturesthebourgeoisnatureofthecheering fundedmuchofhisactivity. Thus,astherevolution another opened. Russia was becoming ever more dependent TwoCenturiesofRussianPaintingandSculpture:Paris1906
20 26crowds(pl.7). EventhecynicalDiaghilevwascaughtupin gatheredstrength,Diaghilevhadtonegotiateatrickypath. on French loans and thus maintaining Franco-Russian Early in 1906 Diaghilev conceived the idea of mounting
27theexcitement.LifarrecordsDiaghilev’sradicalauntwriting Whilehewelcomedtheoverallliberalization,hemusthave relations was of critical importance. It was essential to a major exhibition of Russian paintings as part of the
30thefollowingday:‘Wearerejoicing.Yesterday,even,wehad becomeincreasinglyconcernedthatgrowinginstability improve French confidence in the aftermath of the disaster new Salon d’Automne in Paris. However, there is no
champagne.Youwouldneverguesswhoboughtthe wouldresultinlesssubsidyandfewerculturalopportunities. of the Russo-Japanese War and the upheavals of 1905. The evidence that Diaghilev saw this as a permanent move to
21manifesto…Seriozha[Diaghilev]ofallpeople.Wonderful!’ Russian government was thus willing to support cultural the West. On the contrary, it was a convenient means of
Diaghilev,whohadhelpedsupportthestrikeof Sothingsarecomingoutbadly–itcan’tbehelped. initiatives in Paris, which promoted a positive image of the occupying his time, making contacts and advancing his
28 31dancersattheImperialTheatre,waspersonallyaffected Onejusthastositandwastetime,butwhenwillthiswild country as part of the ‘European club’. reputation while things settled down in Russia. Nor
22inatleastoneway.HisfriendthedancerSergeiLegat, bacchanalbeover,whichisnotwithoutsomeelemental Diaghilev was well aware of the opportunities this did he head straight to Paris, instead taking his new
feelinghehadsoldouthiscolleagues,slithisthroatwith beautybutwhichlikeeverytempestbringssomuch threw up but also the tensions, writing to Rimsky-Korsakov: boyfriend, Aleksey Mavrin, on a tour of the Mediterranean,
24arazoron17Octoberwhenheheardofthetsar’scapitulation. hideousmisery. ‘Don’t forget that I have to convince the Grand Duke and arriving in Paris in late May.

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9.WagondeNordTrainat
aninterchangestationonthe
Russian-Germanborder,1903.
Diaghilevcouldtravelfrom
StPetersburgtoParisinabout
50hours.
Duringthistour,Diaghilevvisitedthe1906IVOlympic aseriesof‘historic’RussianconcertsattheParisOpéra,
38Games held at the Panathenian Stadium in Athens from arguablythemostprestigiousvenueinEurope. Thefive
32 3922Aprilto2May1906. SinceAthenswasdifficulttogetto concertsinMay1907wouldbewellreceived, notleast
andDiaghilevshowedlittleinterestinsportitisworthasking becauseDiaghilevhadpersuadedFyodorChaliapin,the
33 40whyhemadethistrip. LikeanysophisticatedRussianofhis renownedRussianbass,tosing(pl.8). Thesuccessofthe
generation,hewassteepedinancientGreekcultureandthe 1906RussianartexhibitionhadprovedthatRussiahadthe
34Pan-Slavicmovementpromotedinterestintheregion. In qualityofartstoimpressWesternaudiences.However,
addition,thehomoeroticattractionof900athletesshould Diaghilevwasshrewdenoughtorealizethatcontinuing
not be underestimated. But there was perhaps a more commercialsuccesswoulddependonplayingtotheir
strategicreasoninhismind.Thegreatnineteenth-century prejudices,particularlytheviewthatRussiahadabloody
internationalexhibitionstypicallyincludedmajorartshows. historyandwasavastcountryfullofexotictribes,musicand
41BaronPierredeCoubertin,whohelpedfoundthemodern dancing. EvenduringDiaghilev’sownlifetime,Russiahad
Olympics,consideredartisticendeavourtobeasimportant expandedtocolonizemany‘exotic’peoples.Operawasan
asphysicalcompetition,andorganizedtheawardingof establishedwayofpresentingRussia’smainstreamhistory.
35medals. Diaghilevmayhavebeenseekingopportunities However,perhapsasearly1906,Diaghilevmayhaveturned
topromoteartshowsatfutureOlympics,particularlysince toconsideringballetasawayofpresentingthediverse
36the1908GameswereplannedforRome. culturesalongRussia’sborders.
WhatevertheprecisereasonsforDiaghilev’s1906trip BytheChristmasof1906,Diaghilevwasheadingback
totheAegean,hismainfocusinPariswastosecureaRussian to Paris to resume his self-appointed task of introducing
42sectionattheSalond’Automne.BytheendofMayhehad RussianartandmusictoWesternEurope. Althoughhe
mettheorganizersanditwasagreedthathewouldsupplya didnotyetknowit,thisdeparturewouldbeoneofhislast
summaryexhibitionofRussianartoverthelasttwocenturies. asaresidentofStPetersburg.Soonhewoulddisposeofhis
By2Junehehaddrawnupalistofartistsandsethimselfthe apartmentonthefashionableFontankaEmbankment,
immensetaskoforganizingtheloanandtransportof750 whereBaksthadpaintedhisfamousportraitofDiaghilev
worksin15weeksreadyfortheopeninginOctober. withhisnanny(seepl.18).Fromnowonhewouldstayatthe
Theexhibitionwasagreatsuccessandthecritical nearbyluxuryHoteld’Europeonhisincreasinglybriefvisits.
8. Valentine Gross, cover of the receptionalonefullyjustifiedDiaghilev’sswitchto Hewouldbecomeawandererand,ineightyearstimein1914,
souvenir programme for Théâtre
promotingRussiancultureabroad.Earlierintheyear anexile,nevertoreturntohishomeland.national de l’Opéra, May–June 1914.
The illustration drawn, from a DiaghilevhadmettheComtesseGreffuhle,ahugelywealthy The2,000kilometresbetweenStPetersburgandParis
photograph, shows Vera Fokina and 37patronofthearts. ImpressedbyhisknowledgeofRussian represented(pl.9)forDiaghilevfarmorethanatrainMikhail Fokine inSchéhérazade.
V&A:Theatre&PerformanceCollections music,thenlittleknowninFrance,sheofferedtosupport journeybetweentwoImperialcapitals.Itwasaleapfromthe

000000_Diaghilev_Complete_05.qxd:Layout 1 27/4/10 11:41 Page 26
double-headedeagleoftheRomanovtsarstothetricolourof alternative.DiaghilevhadburnthisbridgesinRussiaand
theThird Republic, from autocracy to democracy, from musthaverealizedthattheonlywayleftopentohimwasto
OrthodoxytoCatholicism,andfromstate-controlledculture developa‘mixed’economicmodelbasedonacommercial
49tothecreativefermentoftheinternationallyacknowledged operationcombinedwithsubsidiesfromrichsupporters.
43capitaloffashionandthearts,‘TheCityofLight’, where Like many new operations he overreached himself
entertainmenthasevolvedintoaquasi-capitalistindustry. financiallyinthe1909seasonbutavoideddisasterbyadroit
For Diaghilev the move to Paris was the opportunity to negotiation.Twoyearslater,onthebackoffiveperformance
escape the turmoil and chaos of political revolution in seasons, Diaghilev had his own loyal ballet company,
Russia,andtosavourthecultural,aestheticandsexual excellentself-generatedproductions,agrowing‘brand’
opportunitiesofasensualcitywhichhadembraced and following, and Nijinsky – who was also his boyfriend –
decadenceinallaspectsoflife. establishedasaninternationalstar.Althoughheneverwent
Moreimportantly,Pariswouldprovideanewanda backtoexhibitingartonalargescalehehadthepleasureof
potentiallyprofitableplatformforDiaghilev’suniqueform beingabletocommissionartistsandcomposersforhisballets
44 50ofculturalentrepreneurship. In1906hisfocushadbeen as and when he wanted. In addition, he had found a
promotingRussianpainting.In1907hewouldturntoRussian sustainablewaytomakeareasonablelivingandtodevelop
musicandopera.Buthewasalsowellawareofthelatent hisownreputation.Aboveall,hewasabsolutelyincharge
resourcesoftheRussianImperialBallet,commenting: andanswerableonlytothepayingpublic.TheBalletsRusses
wasnevergoingtomakehimafortunebutitprovidedarich
FromOperatoBalletisbutastep.Atthattimethere platformforhisambitions,anoutletforhisuniquemixof
weremorethan400balletdancersontherosterofthe talentsandadependent‘family’ofhisown.
ImperialTheatres.Theyhadallhadaremarkablygood By the end of 1911, with the success of the London
training, and they danced the traditional classical Coronation season behind him, Diaghilev felt confident
ballets … All these ballets I was very familiar with, enoughtobooktheNarodnyDomTheatreinStPetersburg
havingbeenattachedtotheDirectoroftheImperial for spring 1912 to compete head to head with the Imperial
45 51Theatresfortwoyearsorso. Balletinitshomecity. Unfortunately,atthecrucialmoment,
thetheatreburntdown.Diaghilevcouldnotsecureanother
Such was his creative energy that within 28 months he venue in time and the tour was cancelled. Diaghilevwould
hadfoundedoneofthemostfamousandinfluentialdance haveseentheseeventsasmerelydelayinghistriumphant
companiesinhistory. returntohishomeland.However,changingworldevents
outwittedhim,andtheBalletsRusseswasnevertoperform
Diaghilev:MaverickorCannyOperator? inRussia.
Did Diaghilev take a leap in the dark in 1906? Hardly.
HismovetotheWestwasanastuteandpragmaticresponse Finale
tothecomplexpoliticalandculturalsituationinRussia.By In January and March 1914 Diaghilev visited St Petersburg
shiftinghisactivitiestoParisandlaterelsewhereinWestern on brief business trips but then returned to Berlin to begin
Europe, he could avoid the paralysis back home while the Ballets Russes’ European and South American tour for
notchinguphigh-profilesuccessesabroad.Hecouldalso the year. He was never to return to Russia and he became a
52exploitthesubstantialImperialsubsidiesandothersupport nomadic exile.
availableforforeignprojectstounderwritethefinancial Over the next 15 years, until Diaghilev’s sudden death
risks,whilebuildinganetworkofhisowncontacts.Asand in 1929, the Ballets Russes continued to provide a purpose,
53whenthingsimprovedinRussia,hewouldbeabletoreturn, a living, a status and, ultimately, eternal fame.
coveredingloryfromhispatrioticactivitiesoverseas.
However,Diaghilevdemonstratedthefullextentof He lived and died ‘a favourite of the gods’. For he
hissteelyambitioninMarch1909whenthetsarsuddenly was a pagan, and a Dionysian pagan – not Apollonian.
withdrewallfinancialandpracticalsupport,anddisaster He loved everything earthly – earthly love, earthly
46loomed. ByApril,Diaghilevwasrehearsingagroupof passions, earthly beauty. Heaven for him was just a
54balletdancersinStPetersburgandcablinghispromoterin lovely dome above a lovely earth.
Paris:‘Nooperathisyear.Bringingbrilliantballetcompany,
eightystrong,bestsoloists,15performances.Repertorycan
beenlarged…threeballetsperprogramme….Startbig 10.AfterAleksandrGolovin,
47 costumewornbyFyodorChaliapinpublicity.’ Thegroupofdancers,choreographers,artists
asBorisGodunovinthecoronationandtechniciansthatwastobecometheBalletsRusseswas
scenefromBorisGodunovfor
48underway. The court was amazed that rather than giving Diaghilev’sSaisonRusses.Silkand
metalthread,glassbeads,‘essenceup,Diaghilevcarriedonregardless,albeitatthecostof
d’orient’pearls,metal,paintedsilk
droppingoperaandfocusingonballet,whichwasmuch lining,replacementfur,c.1908.
cheaper,forthe1909season.Intruth,however,hehadlittle V&A:S.459(&parts)–1979
000000_Diaghilev_Complete_05.qxd:Layout 1 27/4/10 11:41 Page 28
Opposite 12.VaslavNijinskyas
11.AfterAlexandreBenois, AlbrechtfromGiselle
costumewornbyVaslav (ActII),1910.
NijinskyasAlbrechtfrom PhotographbyBert
Giselle(ActII).Silkvelvet V&A:Theatre&
withreplicasilkshirt,1910. PerformanceCollections
V&A:S.836&A–1981 THM/165
000000_Diaghilev_Complete_05.qxd:Layout 1 27/4/10 11:41 Page 30
whowereoriginallyfromtheImperial duringthecompany’s1917tourofSouth rudimentarymeans.ManyoftheTRAVEL
RussianBalletofStPetersburg,from America,whiletravellingfromRiode engagementswereinsmalltowns,
KristianVolsing Russia to Paris for long summer JaneirotoSãoPaulo.Asthetrain whichinvolvedcrossingroughterrain
seasons. The train journey was a climbedthroughtheMantiqueira byhorseandcart.Performanceswere
distance of over 2,000 kilometres and Mountains,sparksfromthetimber- reducedtothesimplestofsets,which
took about two and a half days, with poweredengineflewpasttheopen could be transported by the cast
changes at Warsaw and Berlin. truckcontainingthescenerydesigned themselves;thelargersetswereseen
Thecompany’sfirstengagements byLéonBakstforLeSpectredelarose onlyinmajorcities.
outsideEuropetookplacein1913.The andCléopâtre,settingthemonfire. Althoughtraintravelwasthe
journeyfromSouthamptontoRiode Thetrainwasforcedtostopinthe dominantmeansoftransportationat
Janeirotookoverthreeweeks,and middleofthemountainswhilethecast thistime,scheduledflightsbetween
Diaghilev,afraidofcrossingtheocean, savedwhattheycouldfromtheburning European cities began to emerge
didnotaccompanythem.Hisonly wreckage.SergeGrigoriev,therégisseur, after the First World War. At the
excursionbeyondEuropewasduring hadanastysurprisewhenhearrived beginning of the 1920s, Croydon
theFirstWorldWar,whenin1916he laterinSãoPaulobycar.Afurther Aerodrome,nearLondon,
tooktheten-dayvoyagebyshipfrom incidentbefellSokolovaonajourney establishedregularpassenger
BordeauxtoNewYork.Unableto backfromMonteCarlotoParisin1921, servicestoParis,Rotterdamand
secureaseasonofperformancesin duringwhichshesharedaberthwith Berlin.TheEkstromCollectionat
FranceorBritainduringthisperiod,he singerZoiaRosovska.Onwakingat theV&ATheatre&Performance
hadtotakehiscompanytotheUSA, dawn,Rosovskawasshockedtofind departmentholdsasingleaeroplaneThe Ballets Russes toured extensively,
traversing the globe during the whichhadnotyetenteredtheconflict. thathernecklacehadbeenstolen ticketfromCroydon,purchasedfor
TheBalletsRussesperformedincities whileshewasasleep.Duringthenight, aBalletsRussesconductor.company’s 20-year existence. They
travelled by train and ferry across traversingNorthAmerica,fromNew athiefhadfilledthecompartment
1 Sokolova1960,p.108.YorktoSanFrancisco. withchloroformbeforestealingtheEurope and the USA, Canada and
1SouthAmerica,performinginmostof Transportationsystemswereprone performers’possessions.
todisaster.Principalcharacterdancer The1918tourofSpainsawthethemajorcities.Diaghilevtransported
many of the company’s first dancers, LydiaSokolovarecalledatrainfiasco companytravellingbymore
IgorStravinskyandSerge ThecompanytravellingtoSouth Above
DiaghilevatCroydon AmericaontheReinaVictoria-Eugenia AdolphBolm,SergeGrigoriev,
Aerodrome,c.1926. inJuly1917.SnapshotfromStanislas LéonideMassine,LydiaSokolova,
Idzikowski’sphotoalbum. HildaBewicke,SergeDiaghilev,
V&A:Theatre&PerformanceCollections LydiaLopokova,Lubov
THM/376 Tchernicheva,OlgaKokhlovaand
NicholasKremneffonboarda
traininChicago,1916.
RussianStateTheatreMuseum,
StPetersburg
Right
BalletsRussesdancers,with
LubovTchernichevainthe
foreground,posingincostumes
fromSchéhérazade,Granada,
Spain,May1918.
V&A:Theatre&
PerformanceCollections
THM/376
000000_Diaghilev_Complete_05.qxd:Layout 1 27/4/10 11:41 Page 32
DIAGHILEV THE MAN
SJENG SCHEIJEN
On 14 July 1902, the Campanile of St Mark’s Basilica in fifthyearofthejournal’sexistenceandfourteenyearsafter
Venice collapsed and was completely destroyed. A major VanGogh’sdeath.Meanwhile,Diaghilevdevotedmuch
crack, which had appeared days before, gradually widened, spacetotheartofbygoneyears–especiallythatofthe
but even once it was declared that the tower could not be eighteenthcentury,aboutwhichhewaspassionate.
1saved it took exactly 3 days and 19 hours before it fell down. Butin1902manythingschangedforDiaghilev.
Watching the mighty structure slowly crumble must have Althoughhehadonlyjustturned30hewasalreadyatthe
been eerie, and no-one knew whether it would take other forefrontofthevisualartsworldinStPetersburg.Whereto
buildings in its fall – perhaps even St Mark’s itself. The gofromthere?ShortlybeforehisvisittoVenicehespenta
collapse of the Campanile was seen by many as symbolic, fewmonthsattheclinicoftheViennesepsychiatrist,Richard
not only of the fragility of Venice itself, but also of the vonKrafft-Ebing,wherehetriedtocometotermswithhis
glories of European civilization, of which Venice was such homosexuality.Healsoconfrontedhispathologicalfearof
a stunning example. Although the twentieth century had death.Intwolonganduncommonlyphilosophicaland
only just begun and spirits in general were high, many poeticletterstohisstepmother,writtenfiveweeksafterhe
felt that the rapid industrialization and modernization sawtheCampanilecollapse,hepredictedthathewould
3sweeping across Europe were changing the very fabric ‘managetoactlikeWagnerandwillcometoVenicetodie’.
of the civilized world – not always for the better. ForDiaghilev,stagingthecircumstancesofhisowndeath
ThiswascertainlythecasefortheyoungRussian,Serge wasameansofcontaininghisfears,and27yearslater,inthe
Diaghilev,whowasalreadyaregularvisitortothecityand summerof1929,hedulydraggedhimselftoVenicetodie.
whothatsummerhadtakenaprolongedstay,hopingtoheal ThecollapseoftheCampanile(pl.13)leftalasting
hisailingrelationshipwithhisloverandfirstcousin,Dimitry impressiononbothDiaghilevandhiscousin.Shortlyafterthe
‘Dima’Filosofov,towhomhehadbeendedicatedformore eventDimawroteanessayentitled‘ContemporaryArtandthe
than12years. CampanileofSanMarco’,inwhichhearguedthatrebuilding
Atthattime,Diaghilevwasfarfrombeingtheman thetowerwaspointless,andifattempted,shouldbedonebya
4whowouldconfronttheEuropeantheatrepublicwith contemporaryarchitect‘likeOlbrichorMackintosh’. Ina
suchbeaconsofmodernismasTheRiteofSpringorParade. heartfeltstatementheadvocatedthatitwasbettertoembrace
Indeed,hefirmlybelievedthat‘inmusiconecannotgo contemporarylife,andcontemporaryart,thantoloseoneself
furtherthanWagner,andyoucannotundresstheartof inastultifyingrespectfortheartofthepast:
2paintingmorethanManetandZorn’. Heconsidered
craftsmanshiptobe,ifnottheessenceofartisticcreation, Somuseumswiththeirbric-a-bracwilldonogood,if
thensurelythefirstconditionwithinwhichittookplace.In outside,onthestreet,inschools,infactories,inshortin
hiscelebratedmagazineMiriskusstva(WorldofArt),there oureveryday,working,greyandvulgarized,butatthe
wasplentyofroomforyoungerartists,butitwasnevera sametimegrandlife,doesnottrembletheartisticnerve.
soapboxforthenewesttendenciesinEuropeanart.The Weliveinanageoftrams,trainstations,theatres,
Impressionistswerepaidlittleattention,andCézanneand schools,departmentstores,restaurants,apartment
VanGoghwereonlymentionedforthefirsttimein1904,the buildings,factories,newspapers,books.Ourartists
Detailofpl.18