Diaghilev's friends stayed true, following him and helping to put on exhibitions, mounted in the name of Mir iskusstva. In 1905 he mounted a huge exhibition of Russian portrait painting in St Petersburg, having travelled widely through Russia for a year discovering many previously unknown masterpieces of Russian portrait art. In the following year he took a major exhibition of Russian art to the Petit Palais in Paris. It was the beginning of a long involvement with France. In 1907 he presented five concerts of Russian music in Paris, and in 1908 mounted a production of Boris Godunov, starring Feodor Chaliapin, at the Paris Opera.
This led to an invitation to return the following year with ballet as well as opera, and thus to the launching of his famous Ballets Russes. The company included the best young Russian dancers, among them Anna Pavlova, Adolph Bolm, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina and Vera Karalli, and their first night on 19 May 1909 was a sensation.
During these years Diaghilev's stagings included several compositions by the late Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, such as the operas The Maid of Pskov, May Night, and The Golden Cockerel. His balletic adaptation of the orchestral suite Sheherazade, staged in 1910, drew the ire of the composer's widow, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova, who protested in open letters to Diaghilev published in the periodical Rech. Diaghilev commissioned ballet music from composers such as Nikolai Tcherepnin (Narcisse et Echo, 1911), Claude Debussy (Jeux, 1913), Maurice Ravel (Daphnis et Chloé, 1912), Erik Satie (Parade, 1917), Manuel de Falla (El Sombrero de Tres Picos, 1917), Richard Strauss (Josephslegende, 1914), Sergei Prokofiev (Ala and Lolly, rejected by Diaghilev and turned into the Scythian Suite; Chout, 1915 revised 1920; Le pas d'acier, 1926; and The Prodigal Son, 1929), Ottorino Respighi (La Boutique fantasque, 1918), Francis Poulenc (Les biches, 1923) and others. His choreographer Michel Fokine often adapted the music for ballet. Diaghilev also worked with dancer and ballet master Léonide Massine.
The artistic director for the Ballets Russes was Léon Bakst. Together they developed a more complicated form of ballet with show-elements intended to appeal to the general public, rather than solely the aristocracy. The exotic appeal of the Ballets Russes had an effect on Fauvist painters and the nascent Art Deco style.
Perhaps Diaghilev's most notable composer-collaborator, however, was Igor Stravinsky. Diaghilev heard Stravinsky's early orchestral works Fireworks and Scherzo fantastique, and was impressed enough to ask Stravinsky to arrange some pieces by Chopin for the Ballets Russes. In 1910, he commissioned his first score from Stravinsky, The Firebird. Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913) followed shortly afterwards, and the two also worked together on Pulcinella (1920) and Les noces (1923).
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Diaghilev stayed abroad. The new Soviet regime, once it became obvious that he could not be lured back, condemned him in perpetuity as an especially insidious example of bourgeois decadence. Soviet art historians wrote him out of the picture for more than 60 years.
Diaghilev staged Tchaikovsky's The Sleeping Beauty in London in 1921; it was a production of remarkable magnificence both in settings and costumes but, despite being well received by the public, it was a financial disaster for Diaghilev and Oswald Stoll, the theatre-owner who had backed it. The first cast included the legendary ballerina Olga Spessivtseva and Lubov Egorova in the role of Aurora. Diaghilev insisted on calling the ballet The Sleeping Princess. When asked why, he quipped, "Because I have no beauties!" The later years of the Ballets Russes were often considered too "intellectual", too "stylish" and seldom had the unconditional success of the first few seasons, although younger choreographers like George Balanchine hit their stride with the Ballet Russes.
The end of the 19th century brought a development in the handling of tonality, harmony, rhythm and meter towards more freedom. Until that time, rigid harmonic schemes had forced rhythmic patterns to stay fairly uncomplicated. Around the turn of the century, however, harmonic and metric devices became either more rigid, or much more unpredictable, and each approach had a liberating effect on rhythm, which also affected ballet. Diaghilev was a pioneer in adapting these new musical styles to modern ballet. When Ravel used a 5/4 time in the final part of his ballet Daphnis and Chloe (1912), dancers of the Ballets Russes sang Ser-ge-dia-ghi-lev during rehearsals to keep the correct rhythm.
Members of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes later went on to found ballet traditions in the United States (George Balanchine) and England (Ninette de Valois and Marie Rambert). Ballet master Serge Lifar went on a technical revival at the Paris Opera Ballet, enhanced by Claude Bessy and Rudolf Nureyev in the 1980s. Lifar is credited for saving many Jewish and other minority dancers from the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Read more about this topic: Sergei Diaghilev
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