Late – or early?

Yet another e-mail has arrived from a kind person saying that the V&A is late in mounting their exhibition. I’ve been receiving these ever since the exhibition’s dates were announced.

Well exact dates to mark the birth of a company are usually dictated by company propaganda and it is always worth looking at what is being celebrated. Diaghilev’s ‘Saisons Russes’ began in Paris in 1906 with his exhibition of Russian art followed by concerts of Russian music in 1907, the opera Boris Godunov in 1908 and the first evenings dominated by ballet in 1909. But there was no company in 1909. In modern parlance Diaghilev was presenting a pick-up company of dancers during their summer vacation from the Imperial Ballet (from St Petersburg, Moscow and Warsaw) who were no doubt grateful to earn their generous salaries.


It was not until 1911 that Diaghilev established his company, the Ballets Russes, as a year-round operation. Some of the stars continued with him. Among them were Vaslav Nijinsky (pictured right in Le Spectre de la rose) who had been dismissed from the Imperial Ballet, his sister Bronislava who supported him and Adolph Bolm who had already established a parallel career abroad. Tamara Karsavina (below as Thamar)  was always a principal guest artist for Diaghilev– she never worked full time for the Ballets Russes. In 1911 many of the other dancers were new to Diaghilev.


So it is equally possible to argue that the V&A’s exhibition is early, both for the establishment of Diaghilev’s Company and its first performances in London.

What has happened in respect of the celebrations of the centenary of the Ballets Russes is that there have been about three years of events worldwide. Centenary exhibitions and performances began in 2008 and continue into 2011. We can all find important events to highlight, not least in 2010 the first ballet for which Diaghilev commissioned all elements, The Firebird. Stravinsky’s first creation for the ballet stage provides a cornerstone for our exhibition.Anyway the Ballets Russes was such a significant company the long-span of celebratory exhibitions is justified.

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