Sergei Diaghilev

Sergei Diaghilev

Overview
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev ( / Sergei Pavlovich Dyagilev sʲɪˈrɡʲej ˈpavləvʲɪtɕ ˈdʲæɡʲɪlʲɪf, diˈæɡɨlɛf; 19 August 1929), usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic
Art critic
An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites...

, patron
Patrón
Patrón is a luxury brand of tequila produced in Mexico and sold in hand-blown, individually numbered bottles.Made entirely from Blue Agave "piñas" , Patrón comes in five varieties: Silver, Añejo, Reposado, Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos. Patrón also sells a tequila-coffee blend known...

, ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 impresario
Impresario
An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas; analogous to a film producer in filmmaking, television production and an angel investor in business...

 and founder of the Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

, from which many famous dancers and choreographers
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 would arise.

Sergei Diaghilev was born to a wealthy and cultured family in Selischi (Novgorod gubernia), Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

; his father, Pavel Pavlovich, was a cavalry colonel, but the family's money came mainly from vodka distilleries.
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Encyclopedia
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev ( / Sergei Pavlovich Dyagilev sʲɪˈrɡʲej ˈpavləvʲɪtɕ ˈdʲæɡʲɪlʲɪf, diˈæɡɨlɛf; 19 August 1929), usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic
Art critic
An art critic is a person who specializes in evaluating art. Their written critiques, or reviews, are published in newspapers, magazines, books and on web sites...

, patron
Patrón
Patrón is a luxury brand of tequila produced in Mexico and sold in hand-blown, individually numbered bottles.Made entirely from Blue Agave "piñas" , Patrón comes in five varieties: Silver, Añejo, Reposado, Gran Patrón Platinum and Gran Patrón Burdeos. Patrón also sells a tequila-coffee blend known...

, ballet
Ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...

 impresario
Impresario
An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas; analogous to a film producer in filmmaking, television production and an angel investor in business...

 and founder of the Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

, from which many famous dancers and choreographers
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 would arise.

Early life and career


Sergei Diaghilev was born to a wealthy and cultured family in Selischi (Novgorod gubernia), Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

; his father, Pavel Pavlovich, was a cavalry colonel, but the family's money came mainly from vodka distilleries. After the death of Sergei's mother, his father married Elena Valerianovna Panaeva, an artistic young woman who was on very affectionate terms with her stepson and was a strong influence on him. The family lived in Perm
Perm
Perm is a city and the administrative center of Perm Krai, Russia, located on the banks of the Kama River, in the European part of Russia near the Ural Mountains. From 1940 to 1957 it was named Molotov ....

 but had an apartment in Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...

 and a country estate in Bikbarda (near Perm). In 1890, Sergei's parents went bankrupt, having for a long time lived beyond their means, and from that time Sergei (who had a small income inherited from his mother) had to support the family. After graduating from Perm gymnasium in 1890, he went to the capital to study law at St. Petersburg University
Saint Petersburg State University
Saint Petersburg State University is a Russian federal state-owned higher education institution based in Saint Petersburg and one of the oldest and largest universities in Russia....

, but ended up also taking classes at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music
Saint Petersburg Conservatory
The N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory is a music school in Saint Petersburg. In 2004, the conservatory had around 275 faculty members and 1,400 students.-History:...

, where he studied singing and music (a love of which he had picked up from his stepmother). After graduating in 1892 he abandoned his dreams of composition (his professor, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie, refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev , César...

, told him he had no talent for music). He had already entered an influential circle of artists who called themselves the Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva was a Russian magazine and the artistic movement it inspired and embodied, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century. From 1909, many of the miriskusniki also contributed to the Ballets Russes...

: Alexandre Benois
Alexandre Benois
Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois , an influential artist, art critic, historian, preservationist, and founding member of Mir iskusstva , an art movement and magazine...

, Walter Nouvel
Walter Nouvel
Walter Feodorovich Nouvel was a Russian émigré art-lover and writer. He co-wrote with Arnold Haskell a biography of Sergei Pavlovitch Diaghilev Walter Feodorovich Nouvel (1871–1949) was a Russian émigré art-lover and writer. He co-wrote with Arnold Haskell a biography of Sergei Pavlovitch...

, Konstantin Somov
Konstantin Somov
Konstantin Andreyevich Somov was a Russian artist associated with the Mir iskusstva. Born into a family of a major art historian and Hermitage Museum curator, he became interested in the 18th century art and music at an early age.Somov studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts under Ilya Repin from...

, Dmitry Filosofov
Dmitry Filosofov
Dmitry Vladimirovich Filosofov was a Russian author, essayist, literary critic, religious thinker, newspaper editor and political activist, best known for his role in the early 1900s influential Mir Iskusstva circle and part of quasi-religious Troyebratstvo , along with two of his...

, and Léon Bakst
Léon Bakst
Léon Samoilovitch Bakst was a Russian painter and scene- and costume designer. He was a member of the Sergei Diaghilev circle and the Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes...

. Although not instantly received into the group, Diaghilev was aided by Benois in developing his knowledge of Russian and Western art. In two years, he had voraciously absorbed this new obsession (even travelling abroad to further his studies) and came to be respected as one of the most learned of the group.

With financial backing from Savva Mamontov
Savva Mamontov
Savva Ivanovich Mamontov was a famous Russian industrialist, merchant, entrepreneur, and patron of the arts.-Biography:He was a son of the wealthy merchant and industrialist Ivan Feodorovich Mamontov and Maria Tikhonovna . In 1841 the family moved to Moscow. From 1852 he studied in St...

 (the director of the Russian Private Opera Company
Private Opera
The Private Opera , also known as:*The Russian Private Opera ;*Moscow Private Russian Opera, ;*Mamontov's Private Russian Opera in Moscow ;*Korotkov's Theatre ;*Vinter's Theatre ;*Private Opera Society ; and...

) and Princess Maria Tenisheva, the group founded the journal Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva was a Russian magazine and the artistic movement it inspired and embodied, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century. From 1909, many of the miriskusniki also contributed to the Ballets Russes...

 (World of Art)
. In 1899, Diaghilev became special assistant to Prince Sergei Mikhaylovich Volkonsky
Serge Wolkonsky
Prince Serge Wolkonsky was an influential Russian theatrical worker, one of the first Russian proponents of eurhythmics, pupil and friend of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, and creator of an original system of actor's training that included both expressive gesture and expressive...

, who had recently taken over directorship of all Imperial theaters. Diaghilev was soon responsible for the production of the Annual of the Imperial Theaters in 1900, and promptly offered assignments to his close friends: Léon Bakst would design costumes for the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 play
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 Le Coeur de la Marquise, while Benois was given the opportunity to produce Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Taneyev
Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev , was a Russian composer, pianist, teacher of composition, music theorist and author.-Life:...

's opera
Opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

 Cupid's Revenge
Cupid's Revenge
Cupid's Revenge is a Jacobean tragedy written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher. It was a popular success that influenced subsequent works by other authors.-Date and performance:...

.

In 1900–1901 Volkonsky entrusted Diaghilev with the staging of Léo Delibes
Léo Delibes
Clément Philibert Léo Delibes was a French composer of ballets, operas, and other works for the stage...

' ballet Sylvia
Sylvia (ballet)
Sylvia, originally Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane, is a full-length ballet in two or three acts, first choreographed by Louis Mérante to music by Léo Delibes in 1876. Sylvia is a typical classical ballet in many respects, yet it has many interesting features which make it unique...

, a favorite of Benois. 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 1901 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 and so it could not be the real reason for his being discharged.

Ballets Russes


Diaghilev's friends stayed true, following him and helping to put on exhibitions, mounted in the name of Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva
Mir iskusstva was a Russian magazine and the artistic movement it inspired and embodied, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century. From 1909, many of the miriskusniki also contributed to the Ballets Russes...

. In 1905 he mounted a huge exhibition of Russian portrait painting 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. In 1907 he presented five concerts of Russian music in Paris, and in 1908 mounted a production of Boris Godunov
Boris Godunov (opera)
Boris Godunov is an opera by Modest Mussorgsky . The work was composed between 1868 and 1873 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It is Mussorgsky's only completed opera and is considered his masterpiece. Its subjects are the Russian ruler Boris Godunov, who reigned as Tsar during the Time of Troubles,...

, starring Feodor Chaliapin
Feodor Chaliapin
Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin was a Russian opera singer. The possessor of a large and expressive bass voice, he enjoyed an important international career at major opera houses and is often credited with establishing the tradition of naturalistic acting in his chosen art form.During the first phase...

, at the Paris Opera.


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
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

. The company included the best young Russian dancers, among them Anna Pavlova, Adolph Bolm
Adolph Bolm
Adolph Rudolphovitch Bolm was a Russian born American ballet dancer and choreographer....

, Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations...

, Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Platonovna Karsavina was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev...

 and Vera Karalli
Vera Karalli
Vera Alexeyevna Karalli was a notable Russian ballet dancer, choreographer and silent film actress during the early years of the twentieth century.-Early life and career:...

, and their first night on 19 May 1909 was a sensation.

During these years Diaghilev's stagings included several compositions by the late Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, such as the operas The Maid of Pskov
The Maid of Pskov
The Maid of Pskov , is an opera in three acts and six scenes by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The libretto was written by the composer, and is based on the drama of the same name by Lev Mei. The story concerns the Tsar Ivan the Terrible and his efforts to subject the cities of Pskov and Novgorod to his...

, May Night
May Night
May Night is an opera in three acts, four scenes, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov from a libretto by the composer and is based on Nikolai Gogol's story May Night, or the Drowned Maiden, from his collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka....

, and The Golden Cockerel
The Golden Cockerel
The Golden Cockerel is an opera in three acts, with short prologue and even shorter epilogue, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Its libretto, by Vladimir Belsky, derives from Alexander Pushkin's 1834 poem The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, which in turn is based on two chapters of Tales of the Alhambra by...

. His balletic adaptation of the orchestral suite Sheherazade
Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov)
Sheherazade , Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as The Arabian Nights, this orchestral work combines two features common to Russian music and of Rimsky-Korsakov in particular: dazzling, colourful...

, staged in 1910, drew the ire of the composer's widow, Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova
Nadezhda Rimskaya-Korsakova
Nadezhda Nikolayevna Rimskaya-Korsakova , 1848May 24, 1919) was a Russian pianist and composer as well as the wife of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. She was also the mother of Russian musicologist Andrey Rimsky-Korsakov.-Early years:...

, who protested in open letters to Diaghilev published in the periodical Rech.
Diaghilev commissioned ballet music from composers such as Nikolai Tcherepnin
Nikolai Tcherepnin
Nikolai Nikolayevich Tcherepnin was a Russian composer, pianist, and conductor. He was born in Saint Petersburg and studied under Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory...

 (Narcisse et Echo, 1911), Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

 (Jeux
Jeux
Jeux is the last work for orchestra written by Claude Debussy. Described as a "poème dansé" , it was originally intended to accompany a ballet, and was written for the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev to choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. Debussy initially objected to the scenario, but...

, 1913), Maurice Ravel
Maurice Ravel
Joseph-Maurice Ravel was a French composer known especially for his melodies, orchestral and instrumental textures and effects...

 (Daphnis et Chloé
Daphnis et Chloé
Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet with music by Maurice Ravel. Ravel described it as a "symphonie choréographique" . The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from an eponymous romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD...

, 1912), Erik Satie
Erik Satie
Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde...

 (Parade
Parade (ballet)
Parade is a ballet with music by Erik Satie and a one-act scenario by Jean Cocteau. The ballet was composed 1916-1917 for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes...

, 1917), Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla
Manuel de Falla y Matheu was a Spanish Andalusian composer of classical music. With Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados and Joaquín Turina he is one of Spain's most important musicians of the first half of the 20th century....

 (El Sombrero de Tres Picos, 1917), Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

 (Josephslegende, 1914), Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Prokofiev
Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev was a Russian composer, pianist and conductor who mastered numerous musical genres and is regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th century...

 (Ala and Lolly, rejected by Diaghilev and turned into the Scythian Suite
Scythian Suite (Prokofiev)
The Scythian Suite is an orchestral suite by Sergei Prokofiev written in 1915.-Background:Prokofiev originally wrote the music for the ballet Ala i Lolli, which is about the Scythians. The score was written to the words of Russian poet Sergey Gorodetsky...

; Chout
Chout
Chout, Op. 21 , is the usual English-language title of a ballet by Sergei Prokofiev, written in two versions between 1915 and 1921. It is sometimes known as "The Tale of the Buffoon", or simply "The Buffoon"...

, 1915 revised 1920; Le pas d'acier
Le Pas d'acier (Prokofiev)
Le pas d'acier is a ballet in two scenes, and also suite of music based on the ballet score , by Sergei Prokofiev.-History:...

, 1926; and The Prodigal Son, 1929), Ottorino Respighi
Ottorino Respighi
Ottorino Respighi was an Italian composer, musicologist and conductor. He is best known for his orchestral "Roman trilogy": Fountains of Rome ; Pines of Rome ; and Roman Festivals...

 (La Boutique fantasque
La Boutique fantasque
La Boutique fantasque or The Magic Toy Shop was a ballet conceived by Léonide Massine who wrote the choreography and the libretto. Ottorino Respighi wrote the music based on piano pieces by Gioachino Rossini. Its world premiere was at the Alhambra Theatre in London on 5 June 1919 and was performed...

, 1918), Francis Poulenc
Francis Poulenc
Francis Jean Marcel Poulenc was a French composer and a member of the French group Les six. He composed solo piano music, chamber music, oratorio, choral music, opera, ballet music, and orchestral music...

 (Les biches
Les Biches
Les biches is a ballet by Francis Poulenc, premiered by the Ballets Russes in 1924. The composer, who was at the time relatively unknown, was asked by Serge Diaghilev to write a piece based on Glazunov's Les Sylphides, written seventeen years earlier...

, 1923) and others. His choreographer
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 Michel Fokine
Michel Fokine
Michel Fokine was a groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer.-Biography:...

 often adapted the music for ballet. Diaghilev also worked with dancer and ballet master Léonide Massine.

The artistic director for the Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

 was Léon Bakst
Léon Bakst
Léon Samoilovitch Bakst was a Russian painter and scene- and costume designer. He was a member of the Sergei Diaghilev circle and the Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes...

. 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
Fauvism
Fauvism is the style of les Fauves , a short-lived and loose group of early twentieth-century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism...

 painters and the nascent Art Deco
Art Deco
Art deco , or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and...

 style.

Perhaps Diaghilev's most notable composer-collaborator, however, was Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

. Diaghilev heard Stravinsky's early orchestral works Fireworks
Feu d'artifice
Feu d'artifice, Op. 4 is an early composition by Igor Stravinsky, written in 1908. The work is an orchestral fantasy, and usually takes about five minutes to perform....

and Scherzo fantastique, and was impressed enough to ask Stravinsky to arrange some pieces by Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

 for the Ballets Russes. In 1910, he commissioned his first score from Stravinsky, The Firebird
The Firebird
The Firebird is a 1910 ballet created by the composer Igor Stravinsky and choreographer Michel Fokine. The ballet is based on Russian folk tales of the magical glowing bird of the same name that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor....

. Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring
The Rite of Spring, original French title Le sacre du printemps , is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; and concept, set design and costumes by Nicholas Roerich...

(1913) followed shortly afterwards, and the two also worked together on Pulcinella
Pulcinella (ballet)
Pulcinella is a ballet by Igor Stravinsky based on an 18th-century play — Pulcinella is a character originating from Commedia dell'arte. The ballet premiered at the Paris Opera on 15 May 1920 under the baton of Ernest Ansermet. The dancer Léonide Massine created both the libretto and choreography,...

(1920) and Les noces
Les Noces
Les noces by Igor Stravinsky, is a dance cantata, or ballet with vocalists.-History:The ballet was premiered on June 13, 1923 at the Théâtre de la Gaîté, by the Ballets Russes with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska...

(1923).

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, 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 staged Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

's The Sleeping Beauty in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in 1921; it was a production of remarkable magnificence both in settings and costumes but, despite being well received by the public, it was a financial disaster for Diaghilev and Oswald Stoll
Oswald Stoll
Sir Oswald Stoll was an Australian-born British theatre manager and the co-founder of the Stoll Moss Group theatre company...

, the theatre-owner who had backed it. The first cast included the legendary ballerina Olga Spessivtseva. Diaghilev insisted on calling the ballet The Sleeping Princess. When asked why, he quipped, "Because I have no beauties!" The later years of the Ballets Russes were often considered too "intellectual", too "stylish" and seldom had the unconditional success of the first few seasons, although younger choreographers like George Balanchine
George Balanchine
George Balanchine , born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, a developer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet...

 hit their stride with the Ballet Russes.

The end of the 19th century brought a development in the handling of tonality, harmony, rhythm and meter towards more freedom. 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
Daphnis et Chloé
Daphnis et Chloé is a ballet with music by Maurice Ravel. Ravel described it as a "symphonie choréographique" . The scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from an eponymous romance by the Greek writer Longus thought to date from around the 2nd century AD...

(1912), dancers of the Ballets Russes sang Ser-ge-dia-ghi-lev during rehearsals to keep the correct rhythm.

Members of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes later went on to found ballet traditions in the United States (George Balanchine
George Balanchine
George Balanchine , born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, a developer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet...

) and England (Ninette de Valois
Ninette de Valois
Dame Ninette de Valois, OM, CH, DBE, FRAD, FISTD was an Irish-born British dancer, teacher, choreographer and director of classical ballet...

 and Marie Rambert
Marie Rambert
Dame Marie Rambert DBE was a Polish-Jewish dancer and dance pedagogue who exerted a great influence on British ballet, both as a dancer and teacher.- Early years and background :...

). Ballet master Serge Lifar
Serge Lifar
Serge Lifar ; 15 December 1986) was a French ballet dancer and choreographer of Ukrainian origin, famous as one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century.-Biography:Lifar was born in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire...

 went on a technical revival at the Paris Opera Ballet
Paris Opera Ballet
The Paris Opera Ballet is the oldest national ballet company in the world, and many European and international ballet companies can trace their origins to it...

, enhanced by Claude Bessy
Claude Bessy (dancer)
Claude Bessy is a French ballerina, ballet master of the Paris Opera Ballet and director of the Paris Opera Ballet School ....

 and Rudolf Nureyev
Rudolf Nureyev
Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev was a Russian dancer, considered one of the most celebrated ballet dancers of the 20th century. Nureyev's artistic skills explored expressive areas of the dance, providing a new role to the male ballet dancer who once served only as support to the women.In 1961 he...

 in the 1980s. Lifar is credited for saving many Jewish and other minority dancers from the Nazi concentration camps during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

Personal life


Diaghilev engaged in a number of homosexual
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 relationships. His first important affair was with Dima Filosofov, his cousin, when they were both little more than adolescents; his second with Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations...

, who had already had a homosexual liaison with a wealthy aristocrat, partly in order to help support his mother, sister, and mentally disabled brother (his father had deserted the family). Later affairs of Diaghilev were with Boris Kochno
Boris Kochno
Boris Kochno was a Russian poet, dancer and librettist. He was close with Karol Szymanowski who gave him as a gift a Russian translation of the chapter The Symposium from Efebos, the composer's unpublished novel. Szymanowski also dedicated four poems to him...

, who served as his secretary from 1921 until the end of his life. Diaghilev had a close platonic relationship with two women, Misia Sert
Misia Sert
Misia Sert was a pianist of Polish descent who hosted an artistic salon in Paris...

 and the dancer Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Platonovna Karsavina was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev...

, either of whom he said he would like to have married.

Nijinsky's later bitter comments about Diaghilev inspired a mention in W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden , who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England and America." See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in See also...

's poem "September 1, 1939":
"The windiest militant trash/ Important Persons shout/ Is not so crude as our wish:/ What mad Nijinsky wrote/ About Diaghilev/ Is true of the normal heart;/ For the error bred in the bone/
Of each woman and each man/ Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love/ But to be loved alone."

Diaghilev was known as a hard, demanding, even frightening taskmaster. Ninette de Valois
Ninette de Valois
Dame Ninette de Valois, OM, CH, DBE, FRAD, FISTD was an Irish-born British dancer, teacher, choreographer and director of classical ballet...

, no shrinking violet, said she was too afraid to ever look him in the face. George Balanchine
George Balanchine
George Balanchine , born Giorgi Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg, Russia, to a Georgian father and a Russian mother, was one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, a developer of ballet in the United States, co-founder and balletmaster of New York City Ballet...

 said he carried around a cane during rehearsals, and banged it angrily when he was displeased. Other dancers said he would shoot them down with one look, or a cold comment. On the other hand, he was capable of great kindness, and when stranded with his bankrupt company in Spain during the 1914-18 war, gave his last bit of cash to Lydia Sokolova
Lydia Sokolova
Lydia Sokolova was an English ballerina. She trained at the Stedman Ballet Academy and learned from such luminaries as Anna Pavlova and Enrico Cecchetti....

 to buy medical care for her daughter. Alicia Markova
Alicia Markova
Dame Alicia Markova, DBE, DMus, was an English ballerina and a choreographer, director and teacher of classical ballet. Most noted for her career with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and touring internationally, she was widely considered to be one of the greatest classical ballet dancers of the...

 was very young when she joined the Ballet Russes and would later say that she had called Diaghilev "Sergypops" and he'd said he would take care of her like a daughter.
Diaghilev dismissed Nijinsky summarily from the Ballets Russes after the dancer's marriage in 1913. Nijinsky appeared again with the company, but the old relationship between the men was never re-established; moreover, Nijinsky's magic as a dancer was much diminished by incipient madness. Their last meeting was after Nijinsky's mind had given way, and he appeared not to recognise his former lover. Dancers such as Alicia Markova, Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Karsavina
Tamara Platonovna Karsavina was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev...

, Serge Lifar, and Lydia Sokolova remembered Diaghilev fondly, as a stern but kind father-figure who put the needs of his dancers and company above his own. He lived from paycheck to paycheck to finance his company, and though he spent considerable amounts of money on a splendid collection of rare books at the end of his life, many people noticed that his impeccably cut suits had frayed cuffs and trouser-ends. The film The Red Shoes is a thinly disguised dramatization of the Ballet Russes.

Throughout his life, Diaghilev was severely afraid of dying in water, and avoided traveling by boat. Ironically, he died of diabetes in Venice
Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 on 19 August 1929, and is buried on the nearby island of San Michele
Isola di San Michele
San Michele is an island in the Venetian Lagoon, northern Italy.Originally a prison island, Napoleon's occupying forces decreed that Venetians could not bury their deceased on any of the main Venetians islands, but only on San Michele...

.

Further reading

  • Buckle, Richard
    Richard Buckle
    Christopher Richard Sandford Buckle, better known as Richard Buckle, was a lifelong devotee of ballet, and a well-known ballet critic. He founded the magazine Ballet in 1939, and revived it after the war...

    , author of Diaghilev, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1979; the only major biography.*
  • Scheijen, Sjeng, Working for Diaghilev, Gent: BAI, 2005; exhibition catalogue of the last major exhibition dedicated to Diaghilev
  • Garafola, Lynn
    Lynn Garafola
    Lynn Garafola is a prominent dance historian, critic, and frequent commentator on dance for The Nation magazine and numerous other periodicals. Noted dance critic Marcia Siegel has written of Garafola, “I do not know of another dance historian with the courage and the sophistication to bypass the...

    , Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989
  • Scheijen, Sjeng, Diaghilev: A life, Profile Books, 2009; comprehensive, readable biography, well translated from Dutch.*

External links