Three Guests (but were they wise men?)

Theatre and Performance
December 23, 2010

Design by Léon Bakst for Felicita in The Good-Humoured Ladies (1917) V&A images

Happy Christmas! Its taken me a long time to notice that on the Christmas Tree in the Sackler Centre (the V&A’s home of L&I) many of the ‘presents’ include copies of the famous poster image of Vaslav Nijinsky as the Spirit of the rose. Does this mean that Father Christmas has a supply of Ballets Russes treasures to deliver? The image by Jean Cocteau was created for the 1911 season in Monte Carlo when the Ballets Russes as a Company was first formed although the version of the poster in our exhibition is for the 1913 season at the Théâtre des Champs Elyssées.

A friend e-mailed to me the link for the exhibition which opened in Canberra, Australia, two weeks ago and which I hope to get to next year, Ballets Russes: The Art of Costume.

I see they have twice as many costumes on display than we are showing at the V&A but, like last year’s Ballets Russes exhibition in Stockholm, their brief is to display their full collection.

I must say I was a little concerned that on their ‘About’ the exhibition page the first two photographs to appear are credited as ‘unknown photographer’. In the spirit of the Christmas pantomime one’s response is ‘Oh no they’re not’. One of the joys of the multiplicity of exhibitions on the Ballets Russes over the past two years is that so many more identifications have been sorted and we can all now put records straight.


I was really interested to note the choice of image for their Catalogue cover. This is a photograph of a costume for one of the male guests in Le Bal choreographed by George Balanchine and designed by Giorgio de Chirico. The costume is a three-piece suit with a terracotta flannel jacket decorated with architectural motifs, attached green ‘waistcoat’ and white flannel trousers, hand-painted with black wavy stripes. Strikingly it has a white twill dicky appliquéd with an Ionic column in place of a tie. Our own version of this costume can be seen just before you exit the V&A’s exhibition.

This means that there are currently three versions of the costume currently on display in major exhibitions on different continents: ours at the V&A, the one on display at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and one owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, currently on loan to the exhibition, Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936, at the Guggenheim, New York

I saw this exhibition a couple of weeks ago when visiting New York to give a presentation to the American Friends of the V&A. Inevitably it has a number of links with the second half of the history of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and includes a particularly lovely portrait by Picasso of his first wife Olga Koklova who danced with the Ballets Russes primarily in the corps de ballet. Her roles included a sylph in Les Sylphides, a nursemaid in Petrouchka, and one of the princesses in The Firebird. Her most famous role was probably as Felicita in The Good-Humoured Ladies (1917); Léon Bakst’s design for her costume (reproduced at the top of this blog) is in Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 at the V&A.

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