Ballets Russes - Brief History

Brief History

The company's productions, which combined new dance, art and music, created a huge sensation around the world, altering the course of musical history, bringing many significant visual artists into the public eye, and completely reinvigorating the art of performing dance. The Ballets Russes was one of the most influential theatre companies of the 20th century, in part because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. Its ballets have been variously interpreted as Classical, Neo-Classical, Romantic, Neo-Romantic, Avant-Garde, Expressionist, Abstract, and Orientalist. The influence of the Ballets Russes lasts to this day.

Sergei Diaghilev acted as an "impresario" or organizer of the Ballets Russes, rather than a dancer or an artist. He was wealthy and had studied to be a lawyer. With Alexandre Benois and Leon Bakst, he had formed the Pickwick Club; together, the three published World of Art and created a movement. They believed that "art is free, life is paralyzed." Their ideas of developing a Russian art led to the creation of the Ballets Russes. Among the ground-breaking premieres of the Ballets Russes was The Firebird and The Rite of Spring in 1913, both to music by Igor Stravinsky, as well as Balanchine's Apollo to Stravinsky in 1928.

After Diaghilev's early death in 1929, the dancers scattered, and the company's property was claimed by creditors. Colonel Wassily de Basil and his associate René Blum revived the company under the name Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Balanchine and Massine worked with them as choreographers, and Tamara Toumanova was a principal dancer. De Basil and Blum argued constantly, the founders split and Blum founded another company, which he called the Original Ballet Russe.

After World War II began, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo left Europe and toured extensively in the United States and South America. As dancers retired and left the company, they often founded dance studios in the United States or South America, or taught at other former company dancers' studios. With Balanchine's founding of the School of American Ballet, and later the New York City Ballet, many outstanding former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo dancers went to New York to teach in his school.

The original Ballets Russes toured mostly in Europe. Its alumni were influential in teaching classical Russian ballet technique in European and British schools.

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