Diaghilev: A Life

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  3. Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen
  4. Sergei Diaghilev
  5. Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen

Diaghilev was soon responsible for the production of the Annual of the Imperial Theaters in , and promptly offered assignments to his close friends: The two collaborators concocted an elaborate production plan that startled the established personnel of the Imperial Theatres. After several increasingly antagonistic differences of opinion, Diaghilev in his demonstrative manner refused to go on editing the Annual of the Imperial Theatres and was discharged by Volkonsky in [5] and left disgraced in the eyes of the nobility.

At the same time, some of Diaghilev's researchers hinted at his homosexuality as the main cause for this conflict. However, his homosexuality had been well known long before he was invited into the Imperial Theatres. In he organized a huge exhibition of Russian portrait painting at the Tauride Palace 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.

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. His balletic adaptation of the orchestral suite Sheherazade , staged in , drew the ire of the composer's widow, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova , who protested in open letters to Diaghilev published in the periodical Rech. His choreographer Michel Fokine often adapted the music for ballet.

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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. Coco Chanel is said to have stated that "Diaghilev invented Russia for foreigners.

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 , he commissioned his first score from Stravinsky, The Firebird. Petrushka and The Rite of Spring followed shortly afterwards, and the two also worked together on Les noces and Pulcinella together with Picasso , who designed the costumes and the set.

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After the Russian Revolution of , 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 made Boris Kochno his secretary in and staged Tchaikovsky 's The Sleeping Beauty in London in ; it was a production of remarkable magnificence in both 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 start of the 20th century brought a development in the handling of tonality, harmony, rhythm and meter towards more freedom.

Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen

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 , dancers of the Ballets Russes sang Ser-gei-dia-ghi-lev during rehearsals to keep the correct rhythm.

Lifar is credited for saving many Jewish and other minority dancers from the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. After dancing with the Ballets Russes in , Ruth Page emerged as a founder of her own ballet troupes based in Chicago, including the Chigaco Opera Ballet. Diaghilev's life and the Ballets Russes were inextricably entwined. His most famous lover was Nijinsky.

Sergei Diaghilev

Ironically, his last lover, composer and conductor Igor Markevitch later married the daughter of Nijinsky. They even named their son Vaslav. A must for anyone intrigued by the Ballets Russes and the ingenious impresario indelibly linked with its achievements.


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After exhaustive research in Russian, European and American archives, Sjeng Scheijen presents us with a multi-facetted and synthetic portrait of Diaghilev, adducing much new biographical and critical material. With important sections on Diaghilev's family, education, esthetic criteria and psychological makeup, Sergei Diaghilev: A Life is a luminous, engaging and refreshing study of Diaghilev's national commitment, international mission and deep influence on the evolution of the visual and performing arts.

It is filled with the most fascinating information and is a completely intriguing read It is an astonishing achievement. Scheijen, a Dutch expert in Russian art, demonstrates, however, that Diaghilev made repeated efforts to contact them Scheijen draws happily from a wide range of sources that have become available in recent years in Russia and the West The leading edge of Scheijen's revisionism, however, is not his fact-correcting but his reinterpretations Apart from its revisionism, its most striking quality is its avoidance of clutter, and hence its rhetorical force Above all, [Scheijen[ has tried to provide a deep and unified account of Diaghilev's personality.

It's not a soul laid bare - Diaghilev was secretive - but something closer than we've seen before. The rapture of art at its most transformative seemed to infect everyone connected to the impresario. The major achievement of Diaghilev: A Life is probably its detailed portrait of Diaghilev's private life, but at the same time Mr.

Scheijen helps us to feel something of that rapture. A Life is especially excellent on its subject's formative years Scheijen dexterously plays his sources against one another to examine the erotic and professional dynamics between Diaghilev and his stars. McDonald, The New York Times Book Review "Diaghilev was larger than life, and this biography is an absorbing and dramatic account of an extraordinary individual and his time. A substantial addition to the literature on Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes, the book benefits from Scheijen's access to and selective use of materials from previously inaccessible Russian archives.

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Learn more about Kindle MatchBook. A Life on your Kindle in under a minute. Don't have a Kindle? Try the Kindle edition and experience these great reading features: Share your thoughts with other customers. Write a customer review. Read reviews that mention ballet russes diaghilev russian scheijen art biography artistic cultural personal early fascinating period insight politics western. Showing of 14 reviews. Top Reviews Most recent Top Reviews.

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. That Diaghilev was not himself an artist is ironic, though he initially wanted to paint. But in his many enterprises he help set in motion many of the trends that were to be dominant in twentieth century painting, music, and dance. It is somewhat unfortunate that Diaghilev's success with the Ballet Russes has obscured his achievements with the development of the plastic arts, way before he dazzled Parisian audiences with his dance company. It is providential that Mr.

Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen

Scheijen is not a dance specialist, as he does not let Ballet Russe splendour blind him to the other significant achievements of Diaghilev, all thoroughly discussed in his book. But Dance is central and one of the delights of this biography is that the biographer lets contemporaries do the telling as to descriptions and analysis of the Ballet Russes.

Indeed, I have read very few passages as revealing and absorbing as the long paragraph by Bronislava Nijinska quoted by Mr. Scheijen describing in minute detail her brother's fast and concentrated practice technique, his ability to create the illusion of being suspended in air by ending a jump not on the balls of his feet but on his extraordinarily strong toes.

This is but a precious detail in a book that is full of many such jewels. The biography has made use of many Russian sources so that there is much illumination on Diaghilev's early life and career in Russia. Indeed there is much wealth of detail and atmosphere of the initial years of Diaghilev as a disciplined, hard working art scholar, administrator, organizer, and his pivotal role in the artistic life of St. Petersburg and promoter of Russian art. One learns much about the intricacies of Russian cultural politics of the time and the cliquishness that governed official and bureaucratic life notwithstanding nominal absolutism in all budgetary matters by the hapless Tsar.

The first forays to Paris, of Russian music and staged opera are thoroughly documented. We go through a very interesting and informative approximate third of the book before the seventeen year old Nijinsky makes an appearance. Scheijen's text is also a corrective on many traditional interpretations of Diaghilev's personal life that with time have become unquestioned "fact"in all probability because the research has not been thorough.

Thus one learns that rather than Diaghilev be the possessive pursuer of Nijinsky, the great dancer himself, unstable, at the core probably heterosexual, but very much a careerist, was the one who originally pursued Diaghilev relentlessly so as to advance his career.

Though it may seem unfair to dwell on this aspect of the biography it being so much more than a listing of salacious detail, however, it is important to mention because, as so much in this book, thanks to Mr. Scheijen, it is revisionist, thoroughly informed, and contrary to what has been "traditional" Ballet Russe caricature of Diaghilev's personality. The fact remains that there has never been before or since a cultural figure such as Diaghilev, a man without fortune who was able to bring together for a while what was best in music, dance, and art, astonish the world and set its artistic course for the better part of a century.

The word "impresario" indeed shortchanges the man. Yet that he also was. Scheijen never lets one forget that bills had to be paid, at least most of the time. Diaghilev struggled always to get the funds together.

He also mastered the art of walking out of hotels with great panache, head held high, and leaving the bill unpaid. All told it was a wondrous, full, exciting, tempestuous life. Was there loneliness at the center of so much activity? However, one cannot escape the underlying melancholy of the perpetual Russian exile. The book has many illustrations throughout the text, and a center section of finely reproduced colored plates of Ballet Russes designs.