Ballets Russes

As for myself, I have to say, again out of observation, that first of all I am a great charlatan, although one with flair; second I’m a great charmer; third I’ve great nerve; fourth I’m a man with a great deal of logic and few principles; and fifth, I think I lack talent; but if you like, I think I’ve found my real calling – patronage of the arts. Everything has been given me but money – mais ça viendra.

Sergei Diaghilev to his stepmother, Yelena

We start the year with not one, but a whole gaggle of brilliantly gifted artists: the Ballets Russes. It is, of course, mostly the composers we’ll discuss, but Ballets Russes could alsoRussian ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) provide a generous wodge of material for courses on (inevitably) choreography (Fokine, Nijinsky, Nijinska, Massine, Lifar, Balanchine); art (Bakst, Roerich, Picasso, Miró, Braque Derain, Matisse); and even haute couture – the costume design of the company had a great influence on Paris fashion (‘Coco’ Chanel herself worked on Milhaud’s Le Train Bleu and Dukelsky’s Zéphire et Flore). It was, to sum up, a company that, under the presiding genius of Sergei Diaghilev, revolutionised ‘classical’ dance and became a major platform for Europe’s avant-garde.

I had some difficulty in choosing a piece for close study. Out of the competing masterpieces Stravinsky’s work was the obvious choice (Firebird, Pet- rushka, The Rite of Spring, Pulcinella, Les Noces…), but, in the end, I decided to go for one of the finest but more neglected scores written for Diaghilev — Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.

So, each week we’ll explore one or two works from the repertoire of the Ballets Russes, from the primaeval terror of The Rite of Spring…

…through to the wonderfully loony cubist world of Satie/Picasso’s Parade:

And each week we’ll spend some time exploring the piece that Ravel himself described as ‘a choreographic symphony in three parts’, Daphnis & Chloe.

Course materials:

For this week’s Daphnis study you may find these files useful:

Daphnis et Chloé, Part 1


Cycle of 5ths

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