Russian Ballet History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes 1909-1929

Leonide Massine Dies 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 in Don Quixote and Swan Lake.  Diaghilev persuaded him to leave the Bolshoi and join his company. Massine joined the 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. He had even been offered the role of Romeo in Shakespeare's play at the Maly Theatre in Moscow.

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 Highlights.Massine 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.”

Rimsky-Korsakov Birthday March 18

 Rimsky-KorsakA teenage man with a full but neatly trimmed moustache, wearing a dark naval uniformov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five. He was born in Tikhvin near St. Petersburg, Russia. At the age of 12, Nikolai joined the Imperial Russian Navy. He studied at the School for Mathematical and Navigational Sciences in Saint Petersburg and, at 18, took his final examination in April 1862.

While at school, Rimsky-Korsakov took piano lessons from a man named Ulikh. Ulikh perceived that Nikolai had serious musical talent, and recommended another teacher, Feodor A. Kanille. In November 1861, Kanille introduced the 18-year-old Rimsky-Korsakov to Mily Balakirev. Balakirev in turn introduced him to César Cui, and Modest Mussorgsky; all three of these men were already known as composers, despite only being in their 20s. By the time Rimsky-Korsakov sailed on a two-year-and-eight-month cruise aboard the clipper Almaz in late 1862, he had completed and orchestrated three movements of the symphony.

Nikolai's love of the sea might have influenced him to write two of his best-known orchestral works, the musical tableau Sadko and Scheherazade. Scheherazade Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. Scheherazade is considered Rimsky-Korsakov's most popular work. The music was used in a ballet by Michel Fokine which premiered on June 4, 1910 in Paris at the Opera Garnier.

Some of Rimsky-Korsakov's famed students included Glazunov, Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

Serge Sudeikin's Birthday March 19, 1882

Sudeikin was a a Russian artist and set-designer associated with the Ballets Russes and the Metropolitan Opera. He designed the sets and costumes for Diaghilev's production of La tragédie de Salomé by Florent Schmitt in 1913, and assisted in the execution of Nicholas Roerich's designs for Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring the same year.

By the time of the October Revolution, Sudeikin was among the foremost theatrical designers in Russia. In 1913 he had eloped to Paris with the dancer Vera de Bosset, whom he subsequently married, and who in the 1920s left him to become the mistress and ultimately second wife of Stravinsky.


Diaghilev's Birthday-March 19, 1872

Serge Diaghilev was born March 19, 1872 and died August 19, 1929. As a law student he came to St. Petersburg where 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 Chaliapin.

In 1909 he brought to Paris a season of opera and ballet and, with the best dancers from the Maryinsky, he scored a great success. Repeat visits in the following years resulted in the formation of the Ballets Russes in 1911 as an independent private company, which he directed until his death in 1929.  He never returned to Russia after the 1917 revolution. In fact, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes never performed in Russia.  Prior to 1909 most ballet companies were a part of an opera company or were 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 didn't had an easy time getting enough money to get the this project to Paris. Once he accomplished the first season in Paris he had to do this during the dancers yearly time off. He had to get them back to St. Petrersburg before their season started.

Diaghilev collaborated with the most famous artists, composers and dancers of the period. Artists like Alexandre Benois, Leon Bakst, Nicolas Roerich, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse. He got composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussey and Erik Satie to name a few, to compose new music for the ballet. He encouraged Mikhail Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Leonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine to choreograph new ballets for the company.

Diaghilev never went to sleep without thinking of some way to get enough money to spawn a new ballet. After his death in 1929 the company that he had worked so hard to create disbanded. It took until 1933 before another company could get the funding and leadership to start a new season, using many of the dancers that had been with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Alenxander Glaznov Died March 21, 1936 in Paris

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.


Minkus Birthday March 23, 1826

Ludwig Minkus was an Austrian composer of ballet music, a violin virtuoso and a teacher. Minkus is most noted for the music he composed while serving as Ballet Composer of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres in Russia, where he wrote for the original works and revivals of the renowned Ballet Masters Arthur Saint-Léon and Marius Petipa. Among the composer's most celebrated compositions for these Ballet Masters were La Source (1866; composed jointly with Léo Delibes), Don Quixote in 1869; and La Bayadère in 1877.

During his career, Minkus wrote a substantial amount of supplemental material for insertion into already existing ballets. Among these pieces, Minkus is most noted for the Grand Pas classique, Pas de trois and Mazurka des enfants written for Marius Petipa's 1881 revival of the ballet Paquita.

Today, Minkus's ballet music is some of the most popular and performed in all of ballet, and is a most integral part of the traditional classical ballet repertory.




Irina Baronova & Igor Youskevitch's Birthdays-March 13

Irina Baronova was born in St. Petersburg on March 13, 1919.   Irina Baronova was one of the three famous "Baby Ballerinas" along with Tatiana Riabouchinska and Tamara Toumanova. She moved to Paris during childhood. There she studied with Olga Preobrajenska and made her debut with the Paris Opera in 1930. George Balanchine noticed Irina as he watched classes and engaged her at age 13 for the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in 1932.

She created roles in Leonide Massine's Les Présages, Jeux d'enfants, Beau Danube, and Bronislava Nijinska's Les Cent Baisers. In 1940, she joined Ballet Theatre, now ABT, as prima ballerina.   Irina also appeared in films and musicals, was a guest artist with the Original Ballet Russe and was an active member of the Royal Academy of Dancing.

Igor Youskevitch, was one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century, starring in American Ballet Theatre and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  Igor was the son of a judge in a small Ukrainian community near Kiev. After escaping the Bolshevik Revolution in 1920, his family settled in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He graduated from the Russian-Serbian high school in 1930, and attended Belgrade Royal University for one year.

Igor started dancing at a late age, but because of his strength and agility he was chosen by ballerina Xenia Grunt to be her partner. After a year of intensive training with Grunt he made his debut with her in Paris in 1932. He remained in Paris and continued his studies with Olga Preobrajenska for the next two years.

In 1934 Youskevitch joined Bronislava Nijinska's Les Ballets de Paris, and in 1935 he became a member of Leon Woicikowsky's ballet.  Colonel de Basil sponsored Woicikowsky's tour of Australia starring Igor Youskevitch and André Eglevsky in 1937. While with the Woicikowsky's Ballet Youskevitch met Anna Scarpova, a dancer with the company, and they were married in 1938.  That same year, Youskevitch and Scarpova became members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  He remained there until he volunteered to served in the U.S. Navy in 1944.

In 1946, he joined Leonide Massine's Ballet Russe Highlights, and that fall he became a premier danseur of Ballet Theatre, now American Ballet Theatre. While with ABT he and Alicia Alonso (created roles in George Balanchine's Theme and Variations in 1947. As a team they became world renowned, and in 1948 he was guest artist with Alonso's Cuban Ballet. Youskevitch created a role in Antony Tudor's Shadow of the Wind in 1948 and he danced in Gene Kelly's movie Invitation to the Dance in 1952.

After leaving ABT in 1955, Igor returned with Alonso to star for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Igor Youskevitch won the Dance Magazine Award in 1958, In 1960 he rejoined Ballet Theatre as a Guest Artist on their first visit to the Soviet Union.  He retired from the stage in 1962, but not from dance. Youskevitch was on the faculty of the University of Texas in Austin from 1971 to 1982. He co-founded the New York International Ballet Competition in 1985, and he remained its Artistic Director until his death. He was awarded the Capezio Dance Award in 1991 and passed away in 1994.

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