rush to the ballets russes

4 January 2011 § Leave a comment

If you haven’t yet made a beeline for the ballet you must do so right away! Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes – the current blockbuster at the V&A – closes this Sunday 9 January 2011.

Even if, like me, you have little specific interest in the ballet this is a marvellous exhibition that explores the world of the influential artistic director Serge Diaghilev and the most exciting dance company of the 20th century, the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev imaginatively combined dance, music and art to create ‘total theatre’. A consummate collaborator, he worked with many of the greatest artistic talents of the day; people like Stravinsky, Chanel, Picasso, Matisse and Nijinsky. There are, for example, amazing Russian ‘suprematist’ costumes from Leon Bakst, fascinating artwork from the likes of Bracque and Matisse  plus vast theatre backdrops from Picasso and Gontcharova.  A brilliant Wyndham Lewis oil even manages to find its way in to the mix.

Diaghilev’s dramatic performances transformed dance, reawakening interest in ballet across Europe and America. Celebrating the company’s key period of activity, this major exhibition reveals Diaghilev’s enduring  influence on 20th-century art, design and fashion and includes more than 300 objects including giant theatre cloths, original costumes, set designs, props and posters by artists and designers. These tell the story of a company which began in the social and political upheaval of pre-Revolutionary Russia and went on to cause a sensation with exotic performances that had never been seen before.

The whole is interspersed with informative mini-lectures, archive film and stirring music from the likes of Wagner (no, the real one) and Stravinsky. All very educational – you never know, I might even break the habit of a lifetime and try a ballet at Covent Garden!

Full details at the V&A website.

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