Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

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Diaghilev's Ballets Russes Dancers

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885–1978)

Karsavina was a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. After graduating from the Imperial Ballet School, she was a leading ballerina of Tsar's Imperial Ballet, dancing the whole of the Marius Petipa repertory. Her most famous roles were Lise in La Fille Mal Gardée, Medora in Le Corsaire, and the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse.

 She was the first ballerina to dance in the so-called Le Corsaire Pas de Deux in 1915.  It was in late 1910 when she joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris. During her time with Diaghilev is when she danced many of her most famous roles in the ballets of Mikhail Fokine, including Petrushka, and Le Spectre de la Rose.

She was perhaps most famous for dancing the title role in Fokine's The Firebird (a role originally offered to Anna Pavlova, but Anna disliked Stravinsky's score and refused to dance to it!) with her occasional partner Vaslav Nijinsky.



Adolph Bolm (1884-1951)

Adolph Bolm was a student at the Imperial School in St. Petersburg. Adolph joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes for his 1909 Paris season as a leading dancers.  Bolm was an outstanding character dancer and scored great successes as the chief warrior in Mikhail Fokine's Polovtsian Dances and Pierrot in his Le CarnivalHe did not join the 1910 tour, but in 1911 he left the Maryinsky to become a regular member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. After the company's second half of the American tour in the Fall of 1916, he decided to stay in the United States. In 1918 he was the choreographer for the New York Metropolitan Opera and the Chicago Civic Opera in 1920. Bolm toured South America in 1928 and took up residence in Hollywood where he choreographed many movies. He was the guest choreographer for the first season of the San Francisco Ballet in 1933.  In 1940, he choreographed Peter and the Wolf for Ballet Theatre in New York City.

Lydia Sokolova (1896 – 1974)

She was Diaghilev’s first English ballerina.  Born Hilda Munnings, she trained at London’s Stedman Ballet Academy.  She joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1913 and remained there until his death in 1929.  Her most famous role was “Chosen Maiden” (photo right) from Leonide Massine’s revival of “Le Sacre de Printemps” in 1920. She also danced the lead in Massine's Le TricorneAfter Diaghilev’s death, Lydia danced with Lena, Leon and Sonia Ballet Russe company in 1935.  Later Lydia returned to England to teach, coach, work on choreography and occasionally perform. Her last performance was in 1962 when she danced in the Covent Garden Royal Ballet performance of Massine's The Good-humoured Ladies.

Mikhail Mordkin (1880-1944)

Mikhail Mordkin was one of two of the male stars of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909.  Mordkin was trained at the Bolshoi, in Moscow, graduating from the Bolshoi Ballet School in 1899.  In the same year he was appointed ballet master. He joined Diaghilev for his Paris season as a leading dancer, ranking above Nijinsky. After the first season, he remained in Paris to dance with Anna Pavlova going on to form his own company,  All Star Imperial Russian Ballet, which toured America in 1911 and 1912. Mikhail returned to the Bolshoi and was appointed its director in 1917.

He left Russia after the October Revolution, first working in Lithuania, and finally settling in the United States in 1924. He founded the Mordkin Ballet in 1926, but after a European tour the company disbanded in the same year.  From among his students in America, he formed a new Mordkin Ballet in 1937, now American Ballet Theatre. His student, Lucia Chase, helped to initially finance the company and after the first season, she took over the management from Mordkin. 

Vera Alexeyevna Karalli (1889 -1972)

Vera was born in Moscow and graduated from the Moscow Theatre School in 1906 under the direction of the prominent Russian instructor Alexander Gorsky. She performed with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the premier season in Paris in 1909, as well as 1919 and 1920. Vera was often paired with danseur Mikhail Mordkin. In the 1920s, Vera Karalli taught dance in Kaunas, Lithuania and from 1930 until 1935 she was the ballet mistress of the Romanian Opera in the capital city of Bucharest. From 1938 until 1941 Karalli lived in Paris, France. Later, she settled in Vienna, Austria and taught ballet there until her death.  

Lydia Lopokova, Baroness Keynes (1892- 1981)

Lydia was born in St. Petersburg. All of her siblings became ballet dancers, and one of them, Fyodor Lopukhov, was a chief choreographer of Mariinsky Theatre in 1922-1935 and 1951-1956.

Lydia trained at the Imperial Ballet School. She left Russia in 1910, joining the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. She stayed with the ballet  briefly, leaving for the United States after the summer tour.  She rejoined Diaghilev in 1916, dancing with the Ballets Russes, and her former partner Vaslav Nijinsky, in New York and later in London. She first came to the attention of Londoners in The Good-humoured Ladies in 1918, and followed this with a raucous performance with Léonide Massine in the Can-Can of La Boutique Fantasque.

When her marriage to the company's business manager, Randolfo Barrochi, broke down in 1919, the dancer abruptly disappeared, but she decided to rejoin the Diaghilev for the second time in 1921, when she danced the Lilac Fairy and Princess Aurora in 'The Sleeping Princess'. During these years she became a friend of Stravinsky, and of Picasso, who drew her many times.

Felia Doubrovska (1896-1984)

Felia Doubrovska was born in Russia.  She trained at the Imperial Ballet School and was accepted into the Maryinsky Ballet in 1913. She joined Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1920, creating roles in Nijinska's Les Noces in 1923, Balanchine's Apollon Musagète, and Prodigal Son in 1928 and 1929.  Felia danced with Diaghilev during the final 1929 tour. (photo left) 

Felia married acclaimed Russian dancer, Pierre Vladimiroff in 1921. They moved to the United States in 1934.  Felia was guest ballerina with Col. de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1937 and later joined the ballet at New York's Metropolitan Opera from 1938 to 1939. She retired from performing and became a distinguished teacher at the School of American Ballet, until her death at the age of 84.

 Ida Rubinstein (1885 - 1960)

Born into a wealthy Jewish family but sadly orphaned at an early age. Ida had, by the standard of Russian ballet, little formal training until she was under the private tutelage of Mikhail Fokine. In 1909, Diaghilev hired her to dacne with his Ballets Russes and she danced the title role of "Cléopâtre" in the innaugural Paris season.  The costumes were designed by Leon Bakst, and the finale inspired Kees van Dongen's Souvenir of the Russian Opera Season 1909.

Ida danced with Diaghilev's Ballet Russe again in the 1910 season, performing in Scheherazade.  The ballet is based on the story of the Thousand and One Nights, choreographed by Michel Fokine and written by him and Léon Bakst.

In 1911, she performed in Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien. Gabriele d'Annunzio wrote the part for her and it was scored by Claude Debussy. This was both a triumph for its stylized modernism and a scandal; the Archbishop of Paris requested Catholics not attend because St. Sebastian was being played by a woman and a Jew.

Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova  (1891-1954)

Olga was a Ukrainian-Russian dancer, better known as the first wife of Pablo Picasso and the mother of his son, Paulo.  Olga wanted to be a ballerina from the time she visited France and saw Madame Shroessont perform. She became a member of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.  On May 18, 1917 Olga danced in Parade, on its first night at the Théâtre du Châtelet - a ballet by Sergei Diaghilev, Erik Satie and Jean Cocteau. Pablo Picasso had designed the costumes and set for this ballet. Olga then left the group, which toured South America, to stay with Picasso in Barcelona, Spain. Later Olga and Picasso returned to Paris, where they lived together on the Rue La Boétie.

Olga married Picasso on June 18, 1918, in a Russian Orthodox church at the Rue Daru. Jean Cocteau and Max Jacob were witnesses to the marriage. In July 1919, Picasso and Olga went to London for the performance of Le Tricorne.  Picasso had designed the costumes and scenery. 

Lubov Egorova (1880 – 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 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.  Lubov went on to dance all the leading roles for Diaghilev.  She then married Prince Troubetsky, and began teaching. In 1937, she founded a small company called Ballets de la Jeunesse.


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