Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Tatiana Riabouchinska (May 23,1917 – August 24, 2000)

Tatiana Riabouchinska was born in Moscow on May 23, 1917. She studdied with Alexander Volinine and Mathilda Kschessinska. Tatiana made her debut in Paris with the Chauve-Souris revue in 1932.  Tatiana was the one of the three “Baby Ballerinas”.  She was only 15 when she joined the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, at the request of George Balanchine She was known for her speed, her light, delicate style, her musicality, and her sensitive interpretation of roles.

Tatiana stayed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo until 1942.  Afterwards she would go on to guest with Ballet Theatre, now ABT, the Original Ballet Russe, Ballet des Champs-Elysées, and the London Festival Ballet

Tatiana created the role of the Florentine Beauty in Paganni, which some consider to be her finest work, due to a nearly impossible set of whirling pirouettes that she executed before collapsing at the feet of Paganini. Dance critic Arnold Haskell called her performance, “among the most moving I have seen on the ballet stage.”  Tatiana was also the Junior Girl in Graduation Ball, title roles in Coq d'Or and Cinderella.  Tatiana married fellow dancer and choreographer David Lichine.  She passed away in 2000, just after teaching a ballet class.

Video of Tatiana Riabouchinska

Mikhail Fokine (April 25, 1880 - August 22, 1942)

Mikhail was born in St. Petersburg April 25, 1880 and studied at the Imperial School. He graduated at the age of 18 immediately entering the Maryinsky Theatre. He was promoted to soloist in 1904. He started teaching at the Imperial School and choreographed his first ballet, for a student performance, Acia and Galatea in 1905.


Mikhail Fokine is one of, if not the, best known choreographer of the 20th century. His ballets are still performed by ballet companies worldwide.  In 1907, he choreographed The Dying Swan for Anna Pavlova, in Carnival of Animals which became her iconic solo.  He also created Firebird for Pavlova, but after hearing Stravinsky’s music she refused to dance it so Tamara Karsavina danced it.


The first ballet Fokine choreographed for the Maryinsky Theatre was Le Pavillon d'Armide. This ballet was included in the repertoire of the first season of Diaghlev's Ballets Russes, in Paris in 1909. He became Diaghlev's chief choreographer, while continuing to dance in Russia until 1918.

Fokine left the Ballets Russes in 1912 because Diaghilev was favoring Vaslav Nijinsky's choreography. He freelanced, finally settling in the United States in 1923.  He married Vera Antonova Fokina, they had often been partners in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Fokine originally choreographed "Chopiniana", to later be renamed "Les Sylphides", for a performance outside the Maryinsky in 1907.  He restaged Les Sylphides for the then Ballet Theatre's, now ABT, inaugural performance in 1940 at New York's Center Theatre.  


Video of Mikhail Fokine

Christian Berard (August 20, 1902- February 11, 1949)

Christian Berard was also known as Bébé. He was a French artist, fashion illustrator and designer.  Bérard and Boris Kochno, who directed the Ballets Russes, were also co-founders of the Ballet des Champs-Elysées.   

Bérard was the son of the official architect of the city of Paris, André Bérard.  Born in Paris in 1902, Bérard studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly as a child. In 1920, he entered the Academie Ranson.  Bérard showed his first exhibition in 1925, at the Gallery Pierre. 

From the start of his career he had an interest in theatrical scenery and costume designs, and played an important role in the development of theatrical design in the 1930s and 1940s.   He also worked as a fashion illustrator for Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Nina Ricci.

In 1930, Bérard designed his first theater set, for Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine at the Comédie-Française. In 1931, Bérard joined the company of the Ballet Russes in Monte Carlo, working with choreographer George Balanchine on the ballet Cotillon. Balanchine had taken over for ballet impresario and founder of the Ballet Russes, Sergei Diaghilev.Cocteau was a life-long friend. Bérard's most renowned achievement was probably his lustrous, magical designs for Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête

Throughout his career, when he needed the income, Bérard continued to do illustrations for fashion and interior design magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Art et Style, Formes et Coleurs and Style en France. He had a great eye for fashion and style, and his work elevated the art of fashion illustration, updating a Watteau or Fragonard sensibility for women’s fashion to the styles of the 1930s and 40s. His work often inspired the couture collections of designers like Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Nina Ricci. Bérard also did some interior decoration and textile design—painting murals and decorative screens, designing rugs—as well as a line of scarves for Ascher Silks, London.

Christian Berard died in 1949, while at work on the costumes and sets for Les Fourberies de Scapin at the Théàtre Marigny, working with friends director Louis Jouvet and actors Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud. After giving some final instructions, Bérard stood up and said: “Well, that’s that,” and collapsed from a cerebral embolism.

Christian Bérard’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Menil Collection, Houston and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

Video of Christian Berard

Serge Diaghilev (March 19, 1872- August 19, 1929)   

Serge Diaghilev was a law student when he came to St. Petersburg. While there he became co-founder of the progressive art magazine Mir Iskusstva (The World of Art) in 1899. The same year he was appointed artistic adviser of the Maryinsky Theatre. He resigned this post in 1901 and when the magazine stopped publishing in 1904, he concentrated on organizing exhibitions of Russian art in St. Petersburg and Paris. In 1908 he brought a production of "Boris Godunov" to Paris, with the famous singer, Feodor ChaliapinIn 1909 he brought to Paris a season of opera and ballet and, with the best dancers from the Maryinsky, he scored a great success.  Prior to 1909 an independent ballet company was almost unheard of.  Most ballet companies were part of an opera company or was subsidized by the court or the ruling power. The Paris Opera was the home of the ballet, even in Russia the ballet was part of the opera. In 1909 when Diaghilev decided to bring a small company of dancers to Paris he did this by bringing the great opera star Chaliapin to share the program. Both people in Russia and Paris thought that he was crazy. Diaghilev struggled to get enough money for his Paris project. After the first season in Paris, he had to raise money again, during the dancers yearly time off. He had to get them back to St. Petrersburg before their season started.


After the innagural performance May 19, 1909, repeat visits in the following years resulted in the formation of the Ballets Russes in 1911 as an independent private company.  The final season for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was in 1929.  Diaghilev died in Venice, Italy, on August 19, 1929, and is buried on the nearby island of San Michele.


Although Diaghilev reformed European ballet, his company was often on the verge of bankruptcy. He never returned to Russia after the 1917 revolution. In fact, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes never performed in Russia. With his infallible flair, and his immaculate taste he anticipated what the audiences wanted. Instead of a full-length ballets he gave them Aurora's Wedding, and the second act of "Swan Lake," "Les Sylphides," "La Boutique Fantastique," "Les Biches," "Jeux," and many more. 

Video of Serge Diaghilev


Composer Alexander Galzunov's Birthday August 10th

Alexander Glazunov was born on August 10, 1865 in St. Petersburg, Russia and dies on March 21, 1936 in Paris, France. Glazunov studied privately with Rimsky-Korsakov from 1879 through 1881 and had his First Symphony performed when he was 16.

He wrote the music for three of Petipa ballets: Raymonda in 1898, the work for which he is best known, Les Ruses d'amour in 1900, and Les Saisons in 1900. George Balanchine used music from Raymonda for his Pas de dix (1955), Raymonda Variations (1961), and Cortège hongrois (1973). Choreographer Ashton, used selections from Glazunov's music for his Birthday Offering in 1956. Gorsky choreographed his 5th Symphony in 1916, one of the world's first symphonic ballets. And more recently, Twyla Tharp used Glazunov's Scènes de ballet for The Little Ballet in 1984. Anna Pavlova danced Pandéros in the Petipa/Glazunov Raymonda, in Saint Petersburg, in 1910. (photo left)

Glazunov became a member of the circle around the patron Belyayev, who took him to meet Liszt in Weimar in1899. Glazunov was appointed to the St. Petersburg Conservatory, which he directed from 1905 until leaving the Soviet Union in 1928. Glazunov's life in exile, which included an unsuccessful tour of the United States, was difficult but did not suppress his creative energy. He traveled around the world for several years, eventually settling in Paris. Music composed during this period includes the Concerto-Ballata for Cello and Orchestra and the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Strings, a standard work of the saxophone repertoire.

Leonide Massine (August 9, 1896-March 15,1979)

Massine studied at the Moscow Bolshoi School, graduated in 1912 and joined the Bolshoi Ballet.  When Diaghilev fired Nijinsky, a void was left both in the ballet company. While visiting in Moscow, Diaghilev saw a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet, and noticed Massine dancing in Don Quixote and Swan Lake.  Diaghilev persuaded him to leave the Bolshoi and join his company. Massine joined the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes company in 1914, and by 1915 he had choreographed his first ballet for the Ballets Russes. 


Massine became an outstanding-actor dancer. Before joining the Ballets Russes, Massine had considered giving up dance and becoming an actor.  Massine continued to choreograph for every major company including three years as lead dancer and choreographer for the Roxy Theatre in New York City. In 1945 and 1946 he formed his own company called Ballet Russe HighlightsMassine created over 50 ballets, he was a prolific choreographer.  A few of his ballets are: The Good-Humored Ladies, La Boutique Fantastique, The Three Cornered Hat, Les Presages, Jeux d'enfants, and Gaîte Parisienne.  Massine was for twenty years considered the Western world's greatest choreographer, but in later life he was overshadowed by George Balanchine.  Leonide Massine is more widely known because of his portrayal of the Ballet Master and shoemaker in the 1948 film “The Red Shoes.”

Video of Leonide Massine

Lubov Egorova (August 8, 1880 - August 18, 1972)

Lubov Egorova was born in St. Petersberg on August 8th, 1880. She graduated from the Imperial Ballet Academy in 1898, the same year as her classmate Mikhail Fokine.  After graduation she joined the Maryinsky Theatre.   After Nicolas Legat succeeded M Petipa, he used Lobov as Myrtha in Giselle. She gave her farewell performance at the Mariinsky Theatre 22 January 1917 in Swan Lake. She received great praise for the role and her performance caught the attention of Diaghilev. 

In 1918, Diaghilev brought her to Paris to dance Princess Florine in Ballets Russes "The Sleeping Beauty." There Lubov had the chance to be partnered by Vaslav Nijinsky.  She is noted to have been overwhelmed by his artistry. Then in 1921, she danced Aurora in Diaghilev’s famous Sleeping Princess production in London.  Her most important roles were the title role in Petipa's Blue Dahlia 1905, Myrtha in Giselle 1907, the title role in Raymonda 1910, Aurora in Sleeping Beauty 1911, Odette-Odile in Swan Lake 1913 and title role in Giselle 1914. She also danced Kitri in Don Quixote, the title role in Laurencia and Auspicia in Pharao’s DaughterLubov married Prince Troubetsky, becoming Princess Nikita Troubetzkoy and began teaching ballet. She was a influential teacher in Paris 1923-1968, among her pupils where Serge Lifar and Anton Dolin. In 1937, she founded a small company called Ballets de la Jeunesse.  In 1964, she was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des arts et lettres.

Mathilde Kschessinska (August 31, 1872 - December 6, 1971)

While Mathilde was not a member of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, she did dance with them in 1911-1912.  She had been invited, by Diaghilev, to dance with the comany in its 1909 premiere, but felt that the better parts were being given to Anna Pavlova, so she declined.  Instead, she headlined for the Paris Opera Ballet, one week before Diaghilev's premiere.  She had helped and mentored Anna Pavlova and felt some disloyalty. 

Mathilde was born in Ligova, Russia. She studied at the St. Petersburg with the Imperial Ballet School with Ivanov, Johansson and Cecchetti. She Graduated into the Mariinsky Theatre in 1890 and was named Prima Ballerina Assoluta in 1895.

She was a dancer of brilliant technique, dramatic gifts and great personal charm and beauty. She had close links with the Imperial family and later she married the Grand Duke Andrei, nephew of Tsar Nikolai II.  Mathilde was also known as Her Serene Highness Princess Romanova-Krasinskaya since 1921.

She was the first Russian Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and the first Russian dancer to perform the 32 fouettés in Swan Lake. Petipa created  Flora in Le Réveil de Flore (1894) and Columbine in Harlequinade (1900) for Mathilde.  Petipa also chose Mathilde for the lead roles in many of the final revivals of his older masterworks, often devising intricate choreography for her to execute — the shade of Mlada in Mlada in 1896, Queen Nisia in Le Roi Candaule in 1897, the Goddess Thetis in Les Aventures de Pélée in 1897, Aspicia in The Pharaoh's Daughter in 1898, the title role in La Esmeralda in 1899, and Nikiya in La Bayadère in 1900. The role of  Kitri, in Gorsky's 1902 production of Don Quixote was also created for her. 

After the Russian revolution she left Russia for good and settled on the French Riviera.   In 1929, she opened her own ballet school, where she taught such students as Dame Margot Fonteyn, Dame Alicia Markova, André Eglevsky, Tatiana Riabouchinska and Tamara Toumanova. She performed for the last time at the age of 64, for a charity event with The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden.

Video of Mathilde Kschessinska


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