The Ballets Russes  was a ballet company consisting of Russian ballet dancers and opera singers (1908-1929) organized by Diaghilev abroad (in Paris since 1908, in London since 1912, and in other countries in 1915). The main activity was the ballet art.  Operas were staged seldom and mainly before 1914. The Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet was based in the Monte Carlo Opera House, Monaco.

The Ballet Russes company consisted of dancers recruited from the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, and the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow. Diaghilev’s invitation was accepted by А.Pavlova,  М.Fokin,  T.Karsavina, I. Rubinstein, V.Nijinsky, М.Kshesinskaya, S.Lifar, L.Myasin,  V.Karally,   М.Моrdkin and others. The Diaghilev’s Ballet was artistically decorated by A.Benois, L.Bakst, N.Rerikh, N. Goncharova, М.Dobuzhinsky and others. Also, the ballet performances were decorated by А.Deren, P.Picasso, J.Miro and M.Ernst.

Anna Pavlova and Vaclav Nijinsky in a scene from the ballet «The Armida Pavilion»

The theater curtain of the «Russian Seasons»

Vera and Mikhail Fokin

in the ballet «Scheherazade

In 1906, Diaghilev organized an exhibition of contemporary painters in Paris shown at the Fall Salon. Many of the painters participated later in the Ballets Russes. The exhibition was a great success. The paintings were later exhibited in Berlin and Venice. The Ballets Russes came into being in Paris in 1907 and started with concerts where N. Rimsky-Korsakov, S. Rakhmaninov, A. Glazunov and F. Shalyapin took part. In 1908-1909, the operas Boris Godunov, (Musorgsky), Pskovityanka (Rimsky-Korsakov),  King Igor (Borodin) and others were performed.  In 1909, the Chatelet Theater beside operas saw the following ballets staged by M. Fokin: the Armida’s Pavilion, the Polovetsky Dances, the Silphids (Chopeniana) by Chopin, the Cleopatra (the Egyptian Nights) by Arensky and the Feast divertimento by Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and Musorgsky. The Ballets Russes turned out to be a real triumph. The public and critics enthused over the skills of the Russian dancers, emphasizing those of Nijinsky, Pavlova and Karsavina, unique decorations and costumes  created by Rerikh, Bakst and Benois, music composed by Rimsky-Korsakov, Musorgsky, Glinka, Borodin and other composers. 

«Firebird» costume sketch

Author Leon Bakst

«Russian Seasons» 

Chatelet Theater. Paris

During the second season of the Ballets Russes (Paris, Berlin and Brussel) the following new Fokin’s ballet productions were performed: the Carnival (painter Bakst), Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade (painter Bakst, the curtain was painted as per Serov’s sketches), the Firebird (painters Golovin and Bakst), and the Giselle (Petipa’s version, painter Benois) and Les Orientales (choreographical miniatures including fragments from the Cleopatra, parts from the music by Arensky, Glazunov and other, the Siamese Dance (Sinding) and the Kobold (Grieg) staged by Fokin for Nijinsky.  

In 1911, Diaghilev decided to found a permanent troupe; he finally organized it in 1913 and named it Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. M. Fokin was the ballet master. E. Chekketti was the tutor. The leading dancers were Т. Karsavina and V. Nijinsky. B. Nijinskaya and A. Bolm left the Mariinsky Theater for Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. Corps-de-ballet included dancers from theaters of Warsaw and Paris, and in summer – Moscow and Petersburg theaters.

 The ballet season of 1911 commenced with performances in Monte Carlo and was continued in Paris, Rome and London. Fokin staged new ballets: the Spirit of Rose by Weber, the Narcisse by Cherepnin and the Underwater Kingdom from the Sadko opera by Rimsky-Korsakov, and a shortened version of the Swan Lake with participation of Kshesinskaya and Nijinsky. And the climax was the Petrushka by Stravinsky.

Vaslav Nijinsky

in the ballet «Petrushka»

«Russian Seasons»  in Seville, 1916

«Russian Seasons» 

At the beginning of World War I, Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet stopped performing for some time. The ballet season of 1915-1916 took place in Spain, Switzerland and the USA. Having come back to Europe, Diaghilev founded a new ballet troupe. He chose dancers from West Europe as the leading dancers. In 1917 the troupe performed in Europe and South America. L. Myasin, B. Nijinskaya and G. Balanchin worked there during the period of 1917-1929. After Diaghilev’s repose his Russian Ballet troupe was dismissed in 1929. A total of over 60 ballets were staged during the Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes but the most prominent performances were seen during the first years of the Ballets Russes in Paris.

A huge impression from exotic Diaghilev’s ballets brought to life new styles in fashion, love for the oriental and slavic culture. Diaghilev’s ballets rose interest in the traditional Russian costumes and set a new fashion trend. The wife of King George VI was wearing a wedding dress in the Russian folk tradition. Paul Poiret, a French couturier in 1910-1914 created a collection of dresses with Russian traditional costumes. In  1920, Coco Chanel also created a collection with Russian elements.

The Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet troupe was an epoch in the history of ballet. It existed at the background of entirely degrading choreographic art. The Russian ballet remained the only  treasurer of the dancing culture and mastership. Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet was in the center of artistic life of the West during twenty years and encouraged a revival of ballet. Ballet even appeared in the countries which had not have this kind of art before. The reforming activity of choreographers and painters from Diaghilev’s group had a great influence on the following development of ballet all over the world having changed the attitude to ballet in general.

Many composers found interest in Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet and created many great ballet scores.   The gap with the traditional Russian culture appeared before the War, and in the 1920’s it resulted in a loss of national character. So, the ballets become a phenomenon of the western culture.

"Russian Ballet" on tour in America. Chicago

Dancers Serge Lifar, Georges Balanchine and ballerina Tamara Zheverzheeva

"Russian Ballet"

behind the scenes