Two months ago I knew diddly about Diaghilev. Since then I’ve written two features about him – including this in the Independent On Sunday – and can confidently assert that this Russian-born impressario changed the face of ballet in the early twentieth century when his company, the Ballets Russes, enlisted artists and composers like Picasso, Matisse and Stravinsky to showcase the work of groundbreaking dancers and choreographers like Nijinsky and Massine. Such is the magic of journalism.
The occasion is the V&A’s big autumn exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russe, which opens on September 25. It’s an incredibly rich exhibition, crammed with memorabilia and costumes and images and music. Highlights include the astonishing, undanceable costumes from Parade, Picasso and Cocteau’s ‘Cubist ballet’, the monumental back cloth from ‘The Firebird’, and a wonderful bust of Nijinsky that captures his odd features.
I’m not a great fan of the ‘blockbuster’ exhibition as they are rarely as satisfying and intelligent as intimate displays at the more thoughtful museums, but this one is a real cracker, demonstrating decades of learning and showcasing a marvellous collection of costumes bought in auction and secured in the V&A’s vaults for just such an occasion.
(There’s a nice piece here from Diaghilev’s biographer about the Russian’s relationship with London.)
I agree about blockbuster exhibitions but the V&A are an exception I think- the public pleasing Grace Kelly ones aside they are always really well researched and in depth. I’m really looking forward to seeing this one, I find Diaghilev interestingly intense. He also liked perfume and any perfume fan is a friend of mine.
Ah, well, as you may already know, the V&A have commissioned their own Diaghilev perfume as part of the exhibition.
Just got his biography but at the moment it is sitting in one of many piles of books.
Your might have already ready it, but Richard Buckle wrote a terrific biog of Nijinsky, responsible for the choreography of The Rite of Spring. It’s very revealing about the Ballets Russes, the relationships Diaghilev had with his fellow artists and his demands.
I read Buckle’s biography of Diaghilev, but not Nijinsky.
It’s a very old-school biog, loads more detail and references that you get these days, heavy-going/academic but fascinating.
I find Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes fascinating. In a lot of ways he realised Wagner’s ideal of the total work of art far better than Wagner did, probably because he brought together a range of artists – musical, visual, choreographic and literary – to produce the works, rather than relying on the brain of a single megalomaniac.
I agree with others that the V&A’s blockbusters somehow seem less oppressive and herded than those at other galleries or museums. I’ll probably try to arrange a double-header with their forthcoming exhibition on Charles Holden’s designs for London Underground. That will be a quality day out…
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