Harvard Theatre Collection Celebrates Ballets Russes Centennial
A 1916 poster for the American tour of Diaghilev's Ballets
April 2, 2009 - In the history of the modern ballet, there are really only two eras - everything that came before Serge Diaghilev, and everything afterward. As the founder of the Ballets Russes in the early part of the 20th century, Diaghilev assembled an unparalleled group of dancers, artists, choreographers and musicians, and in just two decades fundamentally rewrote the rules of what a ballet could be.
The Harvard Theatre Collection this month celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the groundbreaking Ballets Russes with an exhibition of art, manuscripts and other materials culled from the Theater Collection's extensive Ballets Russes holdings.
The exhibition, "Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909 - 1929: Twenty Years that Changed the World of Art," opens April 15 at Pusey Library, and will include hundreds of items, from posters, original works of art, manuscripts and even original costumes from the Ballets Russes, said exhibition curator Fredric Woodbridge Wilson, curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection.
Established by Diaghilev in 1909, the Ballets Russes quickly grew into an international phenomenon, performing in Paris, Monte Carlo and London. Though his original aim was to promote Russian culture, Diaghilev's productions are today recognized as having fundamentally altered the notion of what a ballet could be through a unique combination of artists, writers, choreographers and dancers.
"One of the things Diaghilev did was to bring together a group of creative people from various disciplines," Wilson said. "The Ballets Russes included musicians, composers, choreographers, dancers, artists, and even literary people. It was largely Diaghilev's idea to make all the aspects of a ballet comparable in importance, not just the choreography. This became a meeting of the arts, and that is what is most important about it today."
"The thing that will strike people when they first visit the exhibition is how much artwork is in the exhibition," Wilson said. "It'll be a great sampling of the artwork that made the public pay attention to the Ballets Russes in the early 1900s."
The exhibition will also include about a dozen original scores, ballet manuscripts, letters from Ballets Russes founder Serge Diaghilev, several large posters advertising Ballets Russes performances, portraits of dancers, and even a rare manuscript detailing the choreography for the ballet "The Sleeping Princess."
The exhibit also serves as a complement to an April 15 - 17 symposium, which will include more than 20 speakers and two panel discussions. Participants will present lectures on subjects ranging from androgyny in the Ballets Russes to Stravinsky's involvement with the company to Diaghilev's early life. The symposium's Web page includes a full list of symposium participants, as well as information on how to register for the three-day event.