Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Diaghilev's Artists-Programs, Sets and Costumes

Christian Bérard (1902 – 1949)

Also known as Bébé, was a French artist, fashion illustrator and designer.  Bérard and his lover Boris Kochno, who directed the Ballets Russes, was also co-founder of the Ballet des Champs-Elysées.  

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. Bérard's most renowned achievement was probably his lustrous, magical designs for Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la BêteBérard died suddenly in 1949, on the stage of the Théâtre de Marigny.

Leon Bakst (1866-1924) 

Rosenberg Lev Samoylovich called Bakst was a painter and a stage designer of Belorussian birth. He was born in Grodno on 10 May 1866 and he died in Paris on 27 December 1924. 

He began his professional life as a copyist and illustrator of teaching materials but quickly moved on to illustration of popular magazines. His tastes were influenced and horizons enlarged when he met Alexander Benois and his circle in 1890. 

 With Benois and Serge Diaghilev he was a founder of the (Mir Iskusstva) group in 1898 and was largely responsible for the technical excellence of its influential magazine. In 1906 he became a drawing teacher at the Yelizaveta Zvantseva's private school in St Peterburg, where his pupils included Marc Chagall.

Bakst realized his greatest artistic success in the theatre. Making the debut with designs for stage productions at the Hermitage and Alexandrinsky theatres in St Peterburg (1902-1903), he was then commissioned for several works at the Maryinsky theatre (1903-1904). In 1909 he collaborated with Diaghilev in the founding of Ballets Russes, where he acted as artistic director, and his stages designs rapidly brought him international fame.

His colorful exotic costumes and decors for Diaghilev's Scheherazade (Paris, 1910) caused a sensation. Between 1909 and 1921 he designed more Diaghilev productions than any other artist; his name became inseparable from the Ballets Russes. 

Bakst was an accomplished painter, as well as designer, in the World of Art group.  His costumes for Diaghilev’s revival of Imperial Ballet, The Sleeping Princess (London, 1921) was appropriately traditional as may be seen from his Design for Columbine from the ballet (London, Theatre Museum). Other examples of his designs for Diaghilev are to be found in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.

Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973)

Parade was Picasso’s first collaboration with the Ballets Russes and in a letter sent to a friend, Jean Cocteau the librettist said “Picasso amazes me every day, to live near him is a lesson in nobility and hard work” (Rothschild 49). Picasso’s studio in Rome had a little crate that held the model of "Parade" with its trees and houses, and on a table were the painted characters: the Chinaman, Managers, American girl, and horse.

Cocteau described his friend’s unusual artistic process: “A badly drawn figure of Picasso is the result of endless well-drawn figures he erases, corrects, covers over, and which serves him as a foundation. In opposition to all schools he seems to end his work with a sketch.”   The audiences were amazed by the first ballet to have cubist costumes, sets, and choreography. 

Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962)

Natalia Goncharova was born in 1881 in Nagaevo a village near Tula, Russia. She studied sculpture at the Moscow Academy of Art, turning to painting in 1904. She was inspired by the primitive aspects of Russian folk art and attempted to emulate it in her own work while incorporating elements of fauvism and cubism.   

Goncharova was also involved with graphic design - writing and illustrating a book in Futurist style.  In 1915, she began to design ballet costumes and sets in Geneva. Her designs for the ballet Liturgy were started in 1915.

The Liturgy was commissioned by Diaghilev with Goncharova, Léonide Massine and Igor Stravinsky. She moved to Paris in 1921 where she designed a number of stage sets for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Joan Miró (1893 –1983)

Miro was a Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramist born in Barcelona.  Miró was drawn towards the arts community that was gathering in Montparnasse and in 1920 moved to Paris, France. There, under the influence of the poets and writers, he developed his unique style: organic forms and flattened picture planes drawn with a sharp line. Generally thought of as a Surrealist, André Breton, the founder of Surrealism, described him as "the most Surrealist of us all."   In 1926, he collaborated with Max Ernst on designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Salvador Dalí  (1904 –1989)

Dali was born on in the town of Figueres, in the Empordà region, close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain.  As a young student hen he made his first visit to Paris, he met Pablo Picasso, whom he revered. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from his friend Joan Miró. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró.

In the ballet community Dali is remembered designing sets for Ballet Russe’s Bacchanale in 1939, a ballet based on and set to the music of Richard Wagner's 1845 opera Tannhäuser.  Dalí provided both the set design and the libretto. After Bacchanale, Dali created set designs for Labyrinth in 1941 and The Three-Cornered Hat in 1949 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

Henri Matisse

Matisse was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France.  In 1905, Matisse and a group of artists now known as "Fauves" exhibited together in a room at the Salon d'Automne.  Matisse was recognized as a leader of the group, along with his friend and rival André Derain.   Due to the decline of the Fauvist movement, after 1906, Matisse became an active part of the great gathering of artistic talent in Montparnasse between 1906 and 1917.   Matisse’s style of art during the post-World War I period, can be compared with the neoclassicism of Picasso and Stravinsky, and the return to traditionalism of Derain.  Derain, Picasso and Stravinsky were all friends of his who he worked with on several Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo projects..

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau (1889 – 1963)

Cocteau was born in Maisons-Laffitte, a small village near Paris.  Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright and filmmaker.  At the age of fifteen, Cocteau left home. During the Great War he served in the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. This was the period in which he met the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, and numerous other writers and artists with whom he later collaborated.   The Russian ballet-master Diaghilev challenged Cocteau to write a scenario for the ballet which resulted in Parade and was produced by Diaghilev, designed by Pablo Picasso, and composed by Erik Satie in 1917.  After his friend and fellow poet Radiguet's sudden death in 1923,  he left Paris with Diaghilev for a performance of Les Noces (The Wedding) by the Ballets Russes at Monte Carlo.



André Derain (1880 – 1954)

Derain was a French painter and co-founder of Fauvism with Henri Matisse.  André Derain was born in 1880 in Île-de-France, just outside Paris. In 1898, while studying to be an engineer at the Académie Camillo, he attended painting classes under Eugène Carrière, and there met Matisse. Matisse persuaded Derain's parents to allow him to abandon his engineering career and devote himself solely to painting; subsequently Derain attended the Académie Julian.  Derain and Matisse worked together through the summer of 1905 in the Mediterranean.

Derain in 1919 he designed the ballet La Boutique Fantasque for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. A major success, it would lead to his creating many ballet designs.  He died in Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France in 1954 when he was struck by a moving vehicle.


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