Richard Alston on Diaghilev's choreography

Choreographer, Richard Alston, imagines Diaghilev has given him a new dance piece to choreograph for a piece by Tchaikovsky

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Video Transcript

Hello, I’m a choreographer, and today I am imagining that Diaghilev has asked me to choreograph a piece.  So, I’m going to ask you to open with the bars of what we are working with?


Music would have been something that Diaghilev would have offered his choreographers.  He would have made a suggestion, or even given them music.  So today, I’m imagining that I’ve been given music by Tscheicvosky, music very dear to Diaghilev’s heart.

So she can take your forearm this way, and you can brush with the leg across there.  Now you are going to step up into fifth and push it out of the way, above your head, and that’s it, that is exactly what it is.

Having chosen the piece of music that has big, clear gestures, I wanted to in a way use something of the classical language, because somehow that suits that kind of grandeur.

Then making the opening phrases, seeing if I can make them plain and simple, but adding detail so that when they both take the foot off at the end of the phrase.....

And then there is this wonderful section where it just rolls on, where it seems to sort of ripple. 

Twenty four little threes, where it is just modulating so I wanted that to slide and move around, where it had no edges and then they come out into the clear again, if you like.  They come out into the light.

Those were the ideas that I had from listening to the music.  I don’t make up movement before but I try to know what sort of temperature I am looking for by really having a feel for the music.

 Diaghilev had an extraordinary track record.  In only eighteen years in his company, he discovered and nurtured five choreographers.  His first choreographer was Fokine, who was a revolutionary, really, and who made ballet much more realistic than it had been before.  Nijinsky, the next choreographer, who Diaghilev really nurtured and encouraged, was really something of an experimentalist.   very particular and very strange choreography was what he made.  He was followed by Masim, who made much more human much more characterful dance.  Really, it was more narrative, more full of character touches.  After him came the remarkable Nijinska.  She was a genius, and she produced some remarkable work.  Some of it quite art deco influenced, very stark and strong, such as Les Noces, which is her masterpiece.   The last choreographer in Diaghilev’s lifetime was George Balunchine, who had a major influence on nineteeth century choreography.  He was a neo-classicist who really explored music and it’s relationship to dance. 

Richard Alston, CBE, Artistic Director of leading ballet centre, The Place is a distinguished choreographer who has worked with Ballet Rambert, as Resident Choreographer and with the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York.


Here Alston looks back at Diaghilev’s collaborations with no less than five great choreographers over 18 years including Nijinsky, his sister Nijinska and Fokine. ‘I don’t have an idea of what I’m going to do until I hear the music,’ Alston tells us.