Ballets Russes photos

Postcard showing photograph by Bassano of Tamara Karsavina and Adolph Bolm in The Firebird

It is so satisfying when everything links up. I go to the Canaletto at the National Gallery and cannot escape the fact that Venice was Diaghilev’s favourite city. I see The Glasgow Boys at the Royal Academy and I am aware that it was the World of Art Group led by Diaghilev who introduced their work to Russian viewers. OK I am a bit mentally stuck in one world but anyone seeing the Bassano display at the National Portrait Gallery which runs through until 24 July cannot fail to make a link with our exhibition as it includes several images of the Ballets Russes. These include a charming image of Lydia Lopokova in 1918 taken when she had just arrived with Diaghilev’s company to dance at the London Coliseum (her London debut) and a lovely portrait of Lubov Egorova as Aurora in The Sleeping Princess taken when she was at the Alhambra in 1921. Egorova danced the role of Aurora more than any other ballerina that season. The National Portrait Gallery is of course located between these two theatres (see the Diaghilev London Walk on this website) so the ideal location for this little exhibition.

Lubov Tchernicheva and Anton Dolin as Aphrodite and Hymen in The Faithful Shepherdess (Les Tentations de la bergère) as presented at the London Coliseum

The Bassano studio had been opened in Regent Street by photographer Alexander Bassano in 1850. The founder retired in 1903 but the studio remained active until 1979. The NPG’s collection of dance photographs from the Bassano studio taken in the early years of the C20th is impressive and includes many dancers whose careers overlapped with the Ballets Russes. The range of productions help to contextualise Diaghilev’s work and that of the other Russian dancers who performed in London in the first decades of the C20th.. The exhibition includes Adeline Genée, Maud Allan, Unity Moore, Leonora and Derra de Meroda as well as Anton Dolin, Lydia Sokolova, Lubov Tchernicheva and Leon Woizikowsky who are shown in Ballets Russes productions. Also included are a trio who starred with the Ballets Russes, Tamara Karsavina, Lydia Kyasht, and Anna Pavlova but photographed in conjunction with performances with their own companies. Also included is Roshanara (1894-1926, real name Olive Craddock) a dancer of Anglo-Indian origin who presented ‘Indian’ dance in Britain and the USA. Roshanara was a speciality turn on Pavlova’s 1912 tour of Britain having already given a season of her own at the Palace Theatre. In America she was briefly a member of Adolph Bolm’s fascinatingly multi-cultural Ballets Intimes. Most interesting from our perspective is the fact that she danced five performances as Zobëide in Schéhérazade in 1911. She was one of those intriguing exotic dancers Diaghilev employed for specific roles the list of whom begins with Ida Rubinstein. There is little written about her Ballets Russes performance (Prima Ballerina, Matilda Kschesinskaya was dancing on the same evenings and attracted most press comment). I do wonder if she wore a costume similar to the blue dress in the exhibition which seems to have been the costume for Zobëide during that 1911 autumn season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.


Costume for Zobëide designed by Léon Bakst as worn by Karsavina in 1911

(V&A Images)

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