For Art's Sake - The Story of Ballets Russes


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For Art's Sake - The Story of Ballets Russes

Dancers, musicians, writers, critics, stylists and historians paint a vivid portrait of this unique dance company and discuss the legacy of Diaghilev's genius in the creative arts.


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MUSIC PLAYS

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On May 29th, 1913,

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on the stage of the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris,

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these moments from The Rite of Spring

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were arguably the most dramatic the ballet world had ever seen.

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And its power to shock remains even today.

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It was one of the defining moments

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in the lives of three of the most brilliant and radical artists

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of the 20th century, all of them Russian.

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Dancer and choreographer, Vaslav Nijinsky,

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composer Igor Stravinsky

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and impresario, Serge Diaghilev.

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Their collaboration, as well as those of other great artists,

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composers, dancers and designers,

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made Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes

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the most influential ballet company of the 20th century.

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The effect of Diaghilev is everywhere.

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There was the most tremendous sexy excitement

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about all things Russian and artistic.

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Diaghilev was the boss of everything and everyone

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and every detail of every single thing.

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Diaghilev was a terrible man to work for

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because he was 100% the Ballets Russes.

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Diaghilev saved Western ballet.

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At the beginning of the 20th century,

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ballet had become outdated and was in need of re-energising.

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In Russia, it was largely the plaything of the Tsar

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and St Petersburg was its artistic home.

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Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty,

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with their fabulous Tchaikovsky scores, still dominated the landscape

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and very little innovative work was being made.

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One man had the vision to see how this dying art form

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could be reborn - Serge Diaghilev.

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A key player in the St Petersburg arts scene,

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he'd already presented Russian art, music and opera in Paris,

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the cultural centre of the world at this time.

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Paris genuinely was the home of the modernists.

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Gertrude Stein had moved there.

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Picasso was there. Brecht was there.

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So much modernism was happening there.

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It's the perfect place for Diaghilev getting away from Russia.

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Russia, in the 19th century,

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its culture, its second language was French.

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Everything was Paris, that was the centre of the universe,

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the way New York became after World War Two.

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That's where you went. Not to die, but to live.

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Whilst other arts were thriving in Paris,

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ballet was not taken seriously.

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Ballet in Paris had itself become desperately, desperately moribund.

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Having once been the absolute showcase of European ballet,

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it was now pretty much about just

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ballerinas and their pretty legs.

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It was against this backdrop that Diaghilev sensed an opportunity

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and in 1909 he took a small group of dancers on tour to Paris.

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The seeds of the Ballets Russes were sown.

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The venue for his first season was the Chatelet Theatre.

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Diaghilev wanted to launch his new ballet company in style,

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so he insisted it was refurbished.

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All the ballets on the opening night were choreographed by Michel Fokine,

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a protege of Diaghilev's

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who was beginning to update ballet back in Russia.

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The audience was also introduced to the sensational 19-year-old dancer,

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Vaslav Nijinsky.

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Over the next four years, he would re-write the language of ballet.

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But the real star of the first night was the exotic,

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and very Russian, Polotsvian Dances from the opera Prince Igor.

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One of Diaghilev's selling cards from the beginning

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was the idea that Russia was a source of primitivism.

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Men were hunters, hunter-gatherers, jumping like mad.

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Diaghilev brings in all the wildness of Ancient Russia, as it seemed.

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So that on opening night, in Paris in 1909,

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the greatest sensation of three sensational ballets

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was the Polotsvian dancers from Prince Igor.

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This was the greatest sensation of the entire evening.

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The Paris audience went nuts and invaded the theatre,

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so much so that they rushed through the orchestra pit onto the stage

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and, for the final ballet of the evening, Le Festin,

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Nijinsky and Karsavina found themselves warming up

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with all the Parisians on stage trying to watch.

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And they had to be finally cleared off.

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APPLAUSE

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The opening season was a triumph.

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Sadly, Diaghilev never approved of the Ballets Russes being filmed.

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So it's through revivals by today's dance companies

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that we can sense the impact they must have had.

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In the first four years alone,

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Diaghilev would produce over twenty ballets and this level of ambition

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meant he was always on the hunt for sources of income,

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spending much of his time wooing

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the grandest and most well heeled of Parisian society.

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Initially, of course, there was support from Russia.

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There were grand dukes, there were wealthy businessmen

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who were interested in putting in their money.

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He was also a very good negotiator.

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Then, of course, there are very bored and idle

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American millionairesses in Paris,

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who are crazy about being seen as up-to-date

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and are willing to put money into productions sometimes,

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but really want good seats, good boxes, and to be conspicuous.

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The Princesse de Polignac,

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who was heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune

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from the United States, she was a very good patron.

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So long as she could be in charge of pulling the puppet strings.

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Diaghilev's dealings with the rich women he pursued were helped

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by the high artistic standards of The Ballet Russes,

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as well as the quality of performers appearing on stage.

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Diaghilev was really lucky in that,

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coming up through the ranks of the Imperial Ballet,

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was an astonishing generation of dancers.

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At the top of it was Anna Pavlova,

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already a star, but she did lead his first Paris season.

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That extraordinary haunting, romantic delicacy

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that mesmerised audiences around the world.

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I did see Pavlova and I saw all of the things that she was famous for.

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And I did see the Dying Swan.

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She had these phenomenal arms, with not a bone anywhere.

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And then suddenly... and then she was, and the face,

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and the... it was uncanny, it really was.

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He doesn't promote Anna Pavlova

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and Anna Pavlova gets out of the Ballets Russes pretty early on

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because she realises she's not going to be presented as the queen bee,

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which she felt ballet was about.

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Following in Pavlova's footsteps is always daunting for a dancer

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and the iconic role of the Dying Swan

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is one of the great challenges for every ballerina.

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Elena Glurdjidze, principal ballerina with English National Ballet,

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is delighted to be given the chance to interpret the role.

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She's being coached on stage by ex-ballerina, Maina Gielgud.

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It all happens completely co-ordinated.

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'I never even could hope to do The Swan

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'because I always thought I didn't have good enough arms.'

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This is also working.

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I thought, "It's almost impossible."

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And then people were saying to me, "Oh, you've got beautiful arms."

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After 15 years dancing on stage!

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But it is difficult, because to have this smoothness

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and great movement, it's not easy.

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And you have to have this perfect poise,

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which should be very, very fast,

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but at the same time without any extra movement.

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Because you have to, almost like a sweep, without extra...

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English National Ballet asked Chanel's creative director

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Karl Lagerfeld to reinterpret the costume.

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It has to be fragile,

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but it has to be also something that can resist more than one night.

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And it must be something what gives total freedom for the movement.

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We have materials today that didn't exist then.

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But in fact, this costume is an updated version of a classic idea,

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a swan is a swan. So there is not so much you can change

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because if it looked like a chicken, it wouldn't be right!

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Ballerinas love to do it.

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They get up there and they die.

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And it's short, it can be thrown on at any time,

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and everybody is always ready to do it.

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Despite the artistic success of their opening season,

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it was a financial disaster.

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However, Diaghilev was confident

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that the positive public reaction to the Ballets Russes

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meant he could continue to raise the necessary funds

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to keep the company running.

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In 1910, they returned to Paris and premiered

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one of the most successful works in their history - Sheherazade.

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English National Ballet are performing Sheherazade

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in their Ballets Russes celebratory season.

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The range of dance styles,

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from near pantomime to great technical virtuosity,

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means it requires several weeks of rehearsal.

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You should really be leaning on him.

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A lot of the dancers in the company had never seen Sheherazade.

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They'd only read about it or seen photographs in a book.

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And I think history is very important as an artist,

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that you learn from the past and take that and create your future.

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When we first started rehearsing, the dancers

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found it a bit of of a giggle, you know, and a little bit ridiculous.

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But once they got into the spirit of it, you know, it's great fun.

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I wonder if we could make it a little bit more sensual?

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'When I was young, 18, I saw Sheherazade'

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and I always dreamed about that Sheherazade and then I saw

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the casting here, that I'm doing Ballets Russes. I was amazed, happy.

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Michel Fokine set the story to Rimsky-Korsakov's thrilling score

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and Nijinsky, who by now was acknowledged as the greatest

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male dancer in the world, performed the role of the Golden Slave.

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Marie Rambert, who had a close working relationship with Nijinsky,

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recalls the impression he made on her.

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I can say definitely that I have never seen anybody like him,

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or anybody who made that tremendous impression that he made.

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Often people say, "Did he really jump so high?"

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And I always say, "I don't know how far from the ground,

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"but I know it was near the stars."

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Because of his phenomenal technique, some audiences believed he must be

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hanging from invisible wires, because he seemed to jump so high.

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Nijinsky was not a beautiful man. Nijinsky was a strange looking guy.

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Very thick, not much of a waist.

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Enormous thighs, which is where the jump came from.

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He was apparently an absolutely thrilling performer.

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What everyone attests to is what a great actor he was

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and how he had an uncanny ability to become emblematic.

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Nijinsky's partner in Sheherazade

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was the actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein,

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whom Diaghilev cannily retained more for her exotic value

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than her limited dancing ability.

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She paraded round Paris with a python on a lead

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and drank champagne out of lilies

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and that all got the French very stirred up and excited.

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Rubinstein was often called the Queen of Gesture!

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She wasn't a ballet dancer, but she was a wonderful presence.

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She had a beautiful body.

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It was about personality and temperament,

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and money in Ida Rubinstein's case, cos she had it!

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Which made it easier for her to have works in which she could star.

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But Diaghilev saw how valuable she could be and used her.

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He could use her languor, her sexuality,

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her sheer beauty and the glamour of that face.

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Very much like the sirens of the silent screen at the same time.

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The most sexy thing anybody had seen in Paris.

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You can imagine how excited they all were.

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The music is to do with Sinbad the Sailor,

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nothing to do with the oriental orgy that we see,

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the harem drama that happens on stage.

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So it's very imaginative, almost shocking musicality,

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if you analyse it, what Fokine chose to do.

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To say, "No, this ballet's going to be about another aspect

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"of the Arabian nights than the one that Rimsky thought he was telling."

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Fokine used that to experiment

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with a very new, for him, style of language,

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which was all about the rippling, undulating dynamic of Eastern dance.

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Sheherazade's exotic Oriental design

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was by Diaghilev's long-time collaborator, Leon Bakst.

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The design was one of the Ballet Russes' most impressive

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and the ballet influenced every elegant sitting room

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in Paris for years to come.

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After seeing Sheherazade, the writer Marcel Proust

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wrote to a friend saying he had never seen anything so beautiful.

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Bakst's influence on the whole world of design, interior decorating,

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fashion, was quite extraordinary and incredibly difficult to quantify.

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But I think that we live today with his influence in our lives,

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in our sense of colour, in our sense of pattern.

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I mean, he did outrageous things with pattern.

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He would put diamond pattern against check.

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He would do sort of zigzags against solid colour.

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It was mind-bending what he did.

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Before the war, no single designer was as important as Leon Bakst.

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He seemed to exult in this combination

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of eroticism and exoticism

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that accounted for so much of the success

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of so many of the ballets.

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And, of course, in Bakst's designs, when you see these breasts

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kind of overwhelming the designs,

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that there was a real kind of physical freedom.

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They still are the costumes that Bakst did today,

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just to look at them, they haven't lost any of their relevance

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and they're just incredible.

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An endless source of inspiration

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for both fashion designers, stylists, all of us.

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For me, he is the person who remains the true spirit

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of the Diaghilev ballet

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and he was the one who really brought it, artistically,

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to the forefront of people's minds and imaginations.

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After the spectacular success of Sheherazade,

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the choreographer Michel Fokine was then given the opportunity

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to collaborate with someone who was going to shape

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not only the future of the Ballet Russes,

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but the entire musical landscape of the 20th century -

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the young Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky.

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He and Fokine started to work on a new ballet The Firebird,

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the 27-year-old Stravinsky's first ballet score.

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Once Stravinsky and Diaghilev started to work together

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they were ideally matched

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because Diaghilev always wanted something new

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and Stravinsky wanted to reinvent himself every season.

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The young Stravinsky, unknown,

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no one knew what they were going to get from him.

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He was taught by Rimsky-Korsakov and so there's a sound

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of Rimsky-Korsakov in the orchestration.

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But then he goes way off piste and does his own thing.

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Firebird has many influences but the writing is exceptionally...

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For a young composer that was the first big score,

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the master writing of the orchestra is amazing.

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After that, Stravinsky will not be better.

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He will do other things but one cannot say

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that the orchestration of Rite Of Spring is better than Firebird -

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it's not true.

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The leading role of The Firebird

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was danced by Anna Pavlova's successor

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as the prima ballerina of the Ballets Russes, Tamara Karsavina.

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I loved it, I loved the sound of it, I was fascinated.

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It was very difficult

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and I never was one to count because it distracts my attention,

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I never counted the bars.

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Stravinsky was very kind.

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He would come before the rehearsal

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and play the piano for me to explain all the different parts.

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And then it became a great help for me.

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Following the success of The Firebird,

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Stravinsky and Fokine's next collaboration Petrouchka,

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was set in an 1830's St Petersburg winter fair.

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First performed in 1911,

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Fokine created a juicy lead role for Nijinsky

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whose interpretation of the tormented puppet

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was considered to be one of the greatest roles of his career.

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With Petrouchka, it was already something much more shaking

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with the music and the kind of mixture of music 'savant',

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as say say, music of people

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who know how to write and popular music.

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Although the Fokine/Stravinsky collaboration

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had already produced two enduring ballets,

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Diaghilev, always challenging pre-conceptions,

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was anxious to try Nijinsky - now his lover - as a choreographer,

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wanting to give the ballet world

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another jolt along his modernist path.

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Diaghilev realised that at all costs he had to hang onto Stravinsky,

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but he dumped Fokine as the chief choreographer of the Ballets Russes.

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It's very hard to understand why or how

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Nijinsky became choreographer.

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In none of his works did he use conventional ballet technique.

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The movement was very strange and radical for ballet dancers,

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and so he was not popular with dancers.

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Most of them absolutely loathed his choreography.

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Hated it. Thought it made them look terrible,

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felt that it was impossible to learn,

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felt that he was making ballet ugly.

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But as for why he wanted these unballetic movements...

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He was an experimentalist.

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Why did Picasso do what he did?

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Why did Picasso put the woman's nose in her armpit?

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Designed by Leon Bakst, Nijinsky's first ballet was a simple story

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of an adolescent faun responding to a group of nymphs

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appearing out of a forest.

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The whole action was from one wing to the other.

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It was a very difficult position to hold.

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Feet both parallel were going in one direction

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and the body was facing the audience

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and the arms were facing the audience but you walked on one line.

0:25:270:25:31

But at that time one only had learned the classical technique,

0:25:310:25:36

so it's more astonishing that Nijinsky should have been able

0:25:360:25:41

to think out a new position

0:25:410:25:43

in which he wanted to do the movements and move in them.

0:25:430:25:48

Rather than being teamed up with Stravinsky immediately,

0:25:580:26:02

Diaghilev and Nijinsky

0:26:020:26:03

chose an existing and melodic score by Debussy.

0:26:030:26:06

His music was still radical but in a nice way

0:26:130:26:17

and not in the brutal way of Stravinsky.

0:26:170:26:21

And therefore it was less noticed, especially L'Apres-midi d'un Faune.

0:26:210:26:26

The work of Debussy was known for a long time already,

0:26:260:26:30

the Debussy piece was performed 1894.

0:26:300:26:33

So that was no problem at all to listen to this piece of Debussy.

0:26:330:26:37

From our perspective it seems pretty.

0:26:400:26:43

In fact, it would not have seemed pretty

0:26:430:26:46

when Debussy was doing what he was doing.

0:26:460:26:48

He was being deliberately mischievous.

0:26:480:26:51

He wanted to create an atmosphere of sensuality.

0:26:510:26:54

If you went to a concert in your best bib and tucker

0:26:540:26:57

you did not expect to your senses tingled

0:26:570:27:00

in the way Debussy had in mind.

0:27:000:27:02

Diaghilev knew what was good for business.

0:27:060:27:08

Quite often the theme was sex.

0:27:080:27:10

The big scandalous example is L'Apres-midi d'un Faune

0:27:100:27:13

where a faun wakes and for the first time discovers sensual adventure.

0:27:130:27:16

For the first time he sees nymphs,

0:27:160:27:18

can't get anywhere even with the leading nymph.

0:27:180:27:20

He has a very striking duet with her

0:27:200:27:22

but it doesn't quite lead to eroticism.

0:27:220:27:24

So when she's gone he satisfies himself with her scarf

0:27:240:27:28

and has this extraordinary gesture of fetishism

0:27:280:27:31

where he lies down on her scarf and achieves satisfaction that way.

0:27:310:27:35

End of ballet - shock, horror!

0:27:350:27:38

The business at the end, that was something else!

0:27:380:27:41

Getting up the stairs and getting out the thing

0:27:410:27:45

and lying on it, and the hands at the end.

0:27:450:27:47

It was...

0:27:470:27:49

Quite something.

0:27:490:27:50

When I saw it for the first time I thought,

0:27:500:27:53

"Oooh! This is a bit much but there you are."

0:27:530:27:56

That certainly was very shocking.

0:28:230:28:27

The ending and the scandal that that provoked

0:28:270:28:30

clouded the rest of the ballet.

0:28:300:28:33

The scandal created by Afternoon Of A Faun naturally delighted Diaghilev

0:28:370:28:42

and gave fresh impetus to their European touring schedule.

0:28:420:28:46

Barcelona was one of their stop offs and English National Ballet

0:28:460:28:50

have brought their Ballet Russes programme here.

0:28:500:28:53

Artistic director Wayne Eagling wanted to celebrate the Ballet Russes

0:28:530:28:57

in a way in which Diaghilev would have approved.

0:28:570:29:00

I wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary

0:29:000:29:03

of the Ballet Russes in Paris.

0:29:030:29:06

But also I wanted to celebrate that fact that we are

0:29:060:29:09

a direct descendant of this phenomena that Diaghilev created.

0:29:090:29:14

I wanted what Diaghilev would have done, something brand new.

0:29:140:29:18

Choreographing his own version of Afternoon Of A Faun

0:29:230:29:26

for English National Ballet,

0:29:260:29:28

was David Dawson's way of paying his homage to Nijinsky.

0:29:280:29:31

The Ballet Russes represents, to me,

0:29:310:29:35

the reason to be creative because their works live 100 years later

0:29:350:29:38

and everyone is still talking about them.

0:29:380:29:41

The beginning of Faun when you hear the first note,

0:29:430:29:46

he's busy for 100 years just dancing throughout all these shapes

0:29:460:29:50

and then, 100 years later, we hear that music again.

0:29:500:29:53

PIANO PLAYS A NOTE

0:29:530:29:54

Ding... And it's like that 100 years goes boom!

0:29:540:30:00

Raphael is an older dancer and Esteban is a younger dancer so

0:30:050:30:09

this narrative became an afternoon of a dancer's life almost.

0:30:090:30:15

The career being something you've learnt so much,

0:30:150:30:18

you have all your information,

0:30:180:30:20

and once you get to that point where you know everything,

0:30:200:30:24

your body gives up on you,

0:30:240:30:25

but passing on that information to a younger dancer and saying,

0:30:250:30:29

"Now they're your public for the next 15 years."

0:30:290:30:33

I decided to use two pianos because I wanted the music to be more sober,

0:30:400:30:45

less emotional in the sense of it being so dramatic.

0:30:450:30:49

So, colourful, more private, actually, more intimate.

0:30:490:30:53

You've got this very hot, hazy, drowsy, sexy atmosphere

0:31:320:31:38

that's about sexual fascination.

0:31:380:31:42

It feels completely 21st Century

0:31:420:31:44

and yet it's absolutely redolent with dance history.

0:31:440:31:49

Whilst Nijinsky's choreography for Afternoon Of A Faun

0:31:570:32:01

may have challenged Parisian audiences,

0:32:010:32:03

it did little to prepare them for his first collaboration with Stravinsky,

0:32:030:32:07

the now infamous Rite Of Spring.

0:32:070:32:09

It was this work, based around a pagan ritual,

0:32:090:32:13

with it's anti-ballet dance vocabulary and unimaginable music,

0:32:130:32:17

that caused the famous riot in Paris on the opening night

0:32:170:32:21

at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in 1913.

0:32:210:32:24

As the ballet took shape, Diaghilev, nervous of what his two star talents

0:32:240:32:29

might come up with, was anxious to hear Stravinsky's music.

0:32:290:32:33

'I started to play him these chords, 59 times the same chord.

0:32:350:32:41

'Diaghilev was a little bit surprised.'

0:32:410:32:46

He didn't want to offend me.

0:32:460:32:49

He asked me only one thing which was very offending.

0:32:490:32:54

He asked me, "Will this last a very long time this way?"

0:32:540:32:58

And I said, "To the end, my dear."

0:32:580:33:02

And he was silent because he understood

0:33:040:33:09

that the answer was serious.

0:33:090:33:12

Clearly Diaghilev had second thoughts

0:33:180:33:20

about the Rite Of Spring, about its complexity.

0:33:200:33:23

Even he, I think, must have been shocked when he began hearing

0:33:230:33:27

some of Stravinsky's musical sketches.

0:33:270:33:30

One of the remarkable things about The Rite Of Spring

0:33:330:33:36

is that it's still shocking

0:33:360:33:37

now, nearly 100 years later.

0:33:370:33:39

Now, there are very few things that ever occur in art or any other field

0:33:390:33:43

which are still shocking 100 years later.

0:33:430:33:46

Lady Chatterley's Lover, to the modern reader... Big deal.

0:33:460:33:49

But the Rite Of Spring, when you hear it, is still very challenging.

0:33:490:33:53

The irregularity of the rhythms, especially of some dance,

0:33:530:33:58

not always, but of some dances, with four, five, three, two beats.

0:33:580:34:04

That's really very... At this time it was absolutely new.

0:34:040:34:09

Stravinsky's score was so complex

0:34:110:34:13

and the dancers were having such difficulties

0:34:130:34:16

interpreting Nijinsky's choreography that they clearly needed help.

0:34:160:34:20

Diaghilev hired Marie Rambert, who not only performed in the ballet,

0:34:220:34:26

but because of her highly developed musicality

0:34:260:34:29

helped the dancers with the unusual music and movement.

0:34:290:34:32

Up to then,

0:34:320:34:34

the ballet used to dance mostly, in general, say in Moscow

0:34:340:34:38

they danced to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov.

0:34:380:34:43

Ech-ta-ta, ech-ta-ta, ech-ta-ta. Ech-ta...

0:34:430:34:45

It wasn't even called Ech-ta-ta. That is quite obvious rhythms.

0:34:450:34:50

And here came the score of Sacre

0:34:500:34:52

where you had to count two against three or three against four.

0:34:520:34:57

And then suddenly a crochet equalled a quaver.

0:34:570:35:00

They took her as an assistant for Nijinsky

0:35:080:35:10

to help him analyse the score of Stravinsky

0:35:100:35:13

and to organise rehearsals.

0:35:130:35:15

But she became something other.

0:35:150:35:18

She really became his comrade in arms.

0:35:180:35:21

She understood the resistance of the dancers.

0:35:210:35:24

She tried to tease them out of their resistance because they loved her.

0:35:240:35:30

It was at this time that Madame Rambert saved our lives,

0:35:300:35:34

at least she saved the lives of many people.

0:35:340:35:37

We used to run around with little pieces of paper

0:35:370:35:40

with all the accents written down and stamping round and stamp again.

0:35:400:35:44

And she was always there to interpret.

0:35:440:35:48

Nijinsky said, "This can't be quicker, this can't be slower.

0:35:480:35:52

"I know what the dancers can do,"

0:35:520:35:54

There was an epic battle between them.

0:35:540:35:56

Stravinsky sat at the piano and tried to make an orchestra,

0:35:560:36:00

he stamped with his feet and banged with his hands on the piano here

0:36:000:36:05

and there and shouted and sang and so on. I can't remember who won!

0:36:050:36:09

Le Sacre Du Printemps is really going into anthropology,

0:36:230:36:26

it's as if Nijinsky and Stravinsky are saying,

0:36:260:36:28

"You thought the Polovetsian dances was primitive,

0:36:280:36:31

"we'll show you real primitives

0:36:310:36:33

"and we'll go back before there was society."

0:36:330:36:36

He was not using relying upon what the dancers knew.

0:36:560:36:59

In other words, what they did in the studio

0:36:590:37:02

or what they'd done in Fokine ballets or Petipa ballets.

0:37:020:37:06

So he had to fight the habits of the body.

0:37:060:37:10

His dancers' feet weren't pointed or turned out,

0:37:180:37:21

they were pigeon-toed, flexed feet.

0:37:210:37:23

There was no attempt to make graceful and beautiful lines.

0:37:230:37:27

Everything was stark and fraught and primitive.

0:37:270:37:30

As the ballet progressed,

0:37:550:37:57

the first night audience started to voice their displeasure.

0:37:570:38:01

Although there are conflicting accounts of the scale of the riot,

0:38:010:38:04

the aggressive atmosphere created by constant heckling

0:38:040:38:08

made it extremely challenging for the dancers on stage.

0:38:080:38:11

Diaghilev in advance said "Whatever happens

0:38:150:38:18

"the conductor must go on playing and we go on dancing."

0:38:180:38:21

It was terribly difficult to hear the orchestra

0:38:210:38:25

because of all that noise in the audience.

0:38:250:38:27

Nijinsky stood in the wings counting out - one, two, three,

0:38:270:38:31

one, two, one, two, three, one, two, one, two, three.

0:38:310:38:35

She had to stand for perhaps 17 and a half bars

0:38:430:38:46

or 13 and a quarter bars on the spot

0:38:460:38:49

with her feet turned in, hands under her chin and trembling like that.

0:38:490:38:54

So somebody in the audience, from the gallery, shouted, "Un Doctor!"

0:38:540:39:01

And somebody else shouted, "Un Dentiste!"

0:39:010:39:04

Somebody else shouted, "Deux Dentiste!"

0:39:040:39:06

Of course lots of people laughed, others shrieked.

0:39:060:39:10

The pandemonium was absolutely terrible.

0:39:100:39:13

People like to think that the premiere was a spontaneous riot -

0:39:250:39:29

it wasn't at all!

0:39:290:39:30

Diaghilev spent five weeks hard

0:39:300:39:32

preparing the Parisians to hate this work.

0:39:320:39:35

And though there are various stories of how he reacted,

0:39:350:39:38

some of them say he wept and recited Pushkin in tragedy

0:39:380:39:42

when Le Sacre Du Printemps seemed to be a fiasco.

0:39:420:39:45

Stravinsky said not at all,

0:39:450:39:47

"He took us out for a good dinner, Nijinsky and me,

0:39:470:39:50

"and said, 'Just what I wanted.'"

0:39:500:39:52

The drama of The Rite of Spring

0:39:560:39:57

was quickly followed by upheaval in Diaghilev's personal life.

0:39:570:40:02

In 1913 his lover Nijinsky married Hungarian socialite,

0:40:020:40:06

Romola de Pulszky after a whirlwind shipboard romance

0:40:060:40:10

on route to perform in South America.

0:40:100:40:13

She was known as a company groupie

0:40:130:40:14

and booked a cabin on the ship that was carrying them.

0:40:140:40:17

Diaghilev, superstitious about travelling on water,

0:40:170:40:22

had decided fatefully not to make the journey.

0:40:220:40:26

Although his relationship with Nijinsky had been cooling,

0:40:260:40:30

Diaghilev flew into a rage on hearing the news

0:40:300:40:33

and a short time later impulsively fired Nijinsky

0:40:330:40:36

from the Ballet Russes.

0:40:360:40:38

Nijinsky wrote to Stravinsky and said, "I can't believe that Serge

0:40:380:40:43

"wants to get rid of me.

0:40:430:40:46

"If that is true then I have lost everything."

0:40:460:40:49

I believe that he didn't know and he did lost everything.

0:40:490:40:53

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes struggled to keep going.

0:40:590:41:05

Although they continued to tour Europe and danced

0:41:050:41:08

all over North and South America, these were difficult years.

0:41:080:41:12

The artistic highlight was the ballet Parade which premiered in Paris in 1917.

0:41:130:41:19

It was choreographed by Leonid Massine, a young character dancer

0:41:190:41:25

brought in by Diaghilev as a replacement for Nijinsky.

0:41:250:41:29

Now also Diaghilev's lover, he was no match for Nijinsky as a dancer

0:41:290:41:34

but was emerging as a genuine choreographic talent.

0:41:340:41:37

The libretto was by the French avant-garde artist Jean Cocteau and the score by Erik Satie.

0:41:420:41:49

Parade was also Pablo Picasso's first design for Diaghilev.

0:41:490:41:53

He knows about Diaghilev through Cocteau.

0:41:530:41:57

They met in Rome in 1917 to work on Parade.

0:41:570:42:02

But at that time he had never made something like that, that's for sure.

0:42:020:42:06

He's happy to attach himself to the Diaghilev ballet and make four works

0:42:060:42:11

over four years, and this becomes a great vehicle for him.

0:42:110:42:14

It's not just that he uses it, he can make radical cubist designs

0:42:140:42:19

for Parade that changed everybody's idea of what is possible in costuming in dance theatre.

0:42:190:42:25

Nobody else has done anything quite so wacky since.

0:42:250:42:29

But he, like Stravinsky, is taking ideas both of modernist art

0:42:290:42:34

and classical art from what he can see in the ballet.

0:42:340:42:37

It was publicised as the world's first cubist ballet.

0:42:370:42:40

It was this total cubist collage of images, which the dancers could barely walk in.

0:42:400:42:45

Picasso was already an established artist and he used his authority

0:42:480:42:52

to steer the production into uncharted territory.

0:42:520:42:56

What he said went. He said, "I want to have these impossible to dance in,

0:42:580:43:02

"enormous skyscraper costumes of the American manager and the European manager.

0:43:020:43:07

"And then we'll have some very modernistic costumes, which are the two acrobats painted

0:43:070:43:14

"with these blue arabesques."

0:43:140:43:16

And then there was the Chinese conjuror

0:43:160:43:19

which of course was the part that Massine took.

0:43:190:43:21

It must have been very much a mish-mash.

0:43:210:43:24

It wasn't only the design of Parade that pushed the boundaries of the ballet, the music was also radical.

0:43:300:43:37

The composer Erik Satie was encouraged by Cocteau

0:43:370:43:40

to use naturalistic sounds that echoed the cubist theme.

0:43:400:43:44

He brought in sounds that were not musical and put them in, like typewriters.

0:43:490:43:55

This idea of sampling sounds

0:43:550:43:57

from other parts that aren't musical and putting them into the music

0:43:570:44:00

and giving them rhythm, that idea - which turned into sampling - is something that we

0:44:000:44:05

in the modern world live with, it's an absolutely normal part of all popular and classical music.

0:44:050:44:11

The overambitious Parade was a flop with audiences but Diaghilev was soon

0:44:120:44:18

busily pursuing his ambition to persuade another big name artist to design a ballet,

0:44:180:44:23

Henri Matisse.

0:44:230:44:25

If you got the call to design a ballet for Diaghilev, you were thrilled to do it.

0:44:280:44:34

It wasn't that you would be paid a great deal of money but there was a real desire

0:44:340:44:40

to be associated with the Diaghilev ballets.

0:44:400:44:44

However, Matisse proved to be a tougher proposition than most.

0:44:440:44:47

In typically bullish fashion, Diaghilev lured Matisse to London to work on the designs for the next

0:44:470:44:53

Massine/Stravinsky collaboration, Le Chant du Rossignol - The Song Of The Nightingale.

0:44:530:44:59

He was literally kidnapped. They were putting you up at the Savoy and you stay until the decor's done.

0:44:590:45:04

Later, when he looked back on it,

0:45:040:45:06

Matisse could remember vividly those feelings of rancour and fury and rage

0:45:060:45:11

and the wish to beat his head against the wall and the floor.

0:45:110:45:14

But he also recognised that Diaghilev had made him do something that he never would've dreamed of.

0:45:140:45:20

1921 proved to be a difficult year for Diaghilev.

0:45:220:45:26

With echoes of Nijinsky's sacking,

0:45:260:45:28

he fired Massine after the young dancer and choreographer had fallen

0:45:280:45:32

in love with one of the company's dancers.

0:45:320:45:34

Into the void stepped 17-year-old Boris Kochno, who, not as a dancer or a choreographer,

0:45:340:45:41

but as his personal secretary, was to become central to Diaghilev's life.

0:45:410:45:46

In the same year the company suffered one of its biggest artistic

0:45:460:45:50

and financial failures with a lavish production of The Sleeping Princess.

0:45:500:45:56

The fall out left Diaghilev diving into cabs to dodge creditors.

0:45:560:46:02

But with a new year came a new opportunity.

0:46:020:46:06

Monte Carlo had always been a favourite touring date for the company

0:46:060:46:10

and in 1922 Diaghilev sensed an opportunity to establish himself

0:46:100:46:14

there following the death of Albert Prince of Monaco.

0:46:140:46:18

One of his long time backers, the Princess de Polignac, the Singer sewing machine heiress,

0:46:180:46:24

was related to the new Prince Louis II and Diaghilev secured

0:46:240:46:28

financial backing to locate his company in Monte Carlo for six months of the year.

0:46:280:46:33

He now focussed his efforts on getting Stravinsky to finish his score for the ballet Les Noces

0:46:330:46:39

on which the composer had been working on and off for almost eight years.

0:46:390:46:43

Stravinsky wrote it on a long period of time.

0:46:510:46:54

Much longer than anything else he wrote

0:46:540:46:58

and this instrumental combination he used

0:46:580:47:03

was so, um, exceptional,

0:47:030:47:06

that I can understand that he hesitated quite a lot before choosing the final combination.

0:47:060:47:13

Stravinsky had conceived it really right after the Rite Of Spring

0:47:280:47:34

and it was initially to have a huge orchestra like The Rite Of Spring.

0:47:340:47:39

It was about another Russian ritual, a peasant wedding.

0:47:390:47:44

It went through numerous changes and every time it

0:47:440:47:47

went through another change the orchestration would change.

0:47:470:47:50

It ends up having four pianos and percussion and voice.

0:47:500:47:56

What he's doing with the music is he's taking sounds, percussion sounds,

0:48:020:48:06

and pianos, jingly-jangly sounds,

0:48:060:48:09

and bringing in voices like they're instruments.

0:48:090:48:12

So they're declaiming and sometimes speaking, sometimes doing rhythm.

0:48:120:48:16

Almost like rap.

0:48:160:48:17

Stravinsky's music may have been radical, but Diaghilev wanted a design to reflect the simple theme

0:48:170:48:24

and appointed the Russian artist Natalia Gontcherova.

0:48:240:48:27

The choreography was by Nijinsky's sister, Bronislava Nijinska,

0:48:270:48:31

a talented choreographer in her own right.

0:48:310:48:34

Diaghilev wanted it to be very Russian, very Russian peasant wedding, and so Gontcherova.

0:48:340:48:41

And Gontcherova did these first designs.

0:48:410:48:45

Incredibly colourful.

0:48:450:48:48

Nijinsky looked at them and sort of said, "Nyet, nyet, nyet"

0:48:480:48:52

So Gontcherova went back again and did another series of designs,

0:48:520:48:58

which were more muted and not nearly so colourful.

0:48:580:49:03

And so the dancers ended up wearing long brown dresses and they had these

0:49:030:49:08

extraordinary wigs with very long plaits.

0:49:080:49:11

So here you have one of those collaborations

0:49:190:49:22

that wasn't perhaps that successful a collaboration,

0:49:220:49:27

but turned out to produce a wonderful work.

0:49:270:49:29

One of the great works of the Diaghilev period.

0:49:290:49:32

Nijinska decided she wanted to stage this formal vision of a peasant community,

0:49:320:49:38

but she also wanted to elongate them like icons.

0:49:380:49:41

So to give them that elongation, she put all the women on to point.

0:49:410:49:44

It's a very stylised form a point work.

0:49:440:49:46

Their legs are parallel, not turned out as in conventional ballet.

0:49:460:49:51

And the movements of the feet have a kind of hobbled quality, without any

0:49:510:49:55

of the expansiveness that we associate with ballet.

0:49:550:49:59

A very cramped type of movement, which says so much about the peasant community.

0:49:590:50:04

As we've seen, Diaghilev's genius was not only in searching out

0:50:460:50:50

the hottest talent to work for his company,

0:50:500:50:52

but also in keeping the money flowing.

0:50:520:50:55

There were groups of supporters in Paris like Misia Sert,

0:50:550:51:00

the Princesse de Polignac, who were very, very close to Diaghilev.

0:51:000:51:04

Through Misia Sert he meets Gabrielle Chanel,

0:51:040:51:07

who puts up the money for the revival of the Rite of Spring.

0:51:070:51:12

Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, overheard one

0:51:120:51:15

of those fraught financial conversations that Diaghilev must have had a thousand times.

0:51:150:51:20

Diaghilev was close to tears.

0:51:200:51:23

Chanel didn't open her mouth. She left Misia at her house,

0:51:230:51:28

went to to her house and there made a cheque,

0:51:280:51:32

took an envelope with a cheque inside,

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went to the hotel of Diaghilev and said to the porter,

0:51:360:51:40

"Would you please give that to Mr Diaghilev when you see him?"

0:51:400:51:43

And the porter says, "Could I have your name?"

0:51:430:51:46

"No, no, it's no use. I don't have to give my name.

0:51:460:51:50

"Just give the envelope."

0:51:500:51:52

It was the money to do the whole chorus, the whole ballet.

0:51:520:51:56

When she met him through Misia Sert and her husband,

0:51:560:52:01

they were on the border of bankruptcy,

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but that was nothing new for them. It happened very often.

0:52:030:52:07

Coco Chanel links to Diaghilev's ballets Russes were not only as a benefactor.

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In 1924 she designed the chic costumes for the ballet

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Le Train Bleu, named after the luxurious train

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that took people from Paris to Deauville on the Normandy coast.

0:52:200:52:23

Diaghilev was anxious for a vehicle to show off his new star,

0:52:230:52:28

Anton Dolin, a prodigiously talented young English dancer with whom he's fallen in love.

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Jean Cocteau produced a libretto that highlighted Dolin's physical prowess.

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In 1924, Chanel designed costumes for a ballet called the famous Train Bleu.

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If you look at photos from people on the beach, they have this kind of beachwear.

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I think she was perfectly right for her times for it is better

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than to be ahead of the time because it then you are nowhere.

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You have to be of the moment and Chanel was a woman of the moment.

0:52:590:53:02

You could pull some of those pieces today out of the archive and wear them with a great pair

0:53:020:53:08

of Givenchy boots or something and they would look really relevant and contemporary.

0:53:080:53:13

The idea of using the theatre or the red carpet of the world

0:53:130:53:17

of film to promote your work, and Chanel maybe was ahead of her time,

0:53:170:53:20

or maybe we don't realise how clever she was because she was probably one of the first

0:53:200:53:25

to be doing that.

0:53:250:53:26

In the same year the young Russian dancer and budding choreographer

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George Balanchine arrived in Paris with three other members

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of a small dance troupe after abandoning Soviet Russia.

0:53:340:53:38

Diaghilev was in need always of fresh dancers and because of the revolution

0:53:390:53:45

they were not a lot of dancers coming out of Russia at that point.

0:53:450:53:50

So he heard four dancers, you know, one of them choreographs, that sounded good to him.

0:53:500:53:54

Diaghilev realises, sees the talent, feels the talent

0:53:540:53:59

and basically allows Balanchine an apprenticeship that was extraordinary.

0:53:590:54:05

Balanchine said, "I had two educations.

0:54:050:54:07

"One was really my dance education that I got in Russia

0:54:070:54:11

"and then there was my artistic education, almost all of which I got from Diaghilev."

0:54:110:54:15

He took me to museums and sometimes would leave me hungry, while he and his friends went out to lunch

0:54:150:54:20

and would leave me in front of this painting by Veronese or whatever

0:54:200:54:24

and say, "What did you think?", when they came back after a good lunch.

0:54:240:54:28

Balanchine had simply been left in the museum to look at this painting.

0:54:280:54:32

But that way, of course, bit by bit, you learn.

0:54:320:54:34

Diaghilev trusts him with bigger and bigger projects

0:54:370:54:41

and then Diaghilev discovers Lifar, whom he's madly in love with

0:54:410:54:45

and who is his new star, cos he created stars, and he started having Balanchine create ballets for Lifar.

0:54:450:54:53

The first of Balanchine's ballets for Lifar was Apollo in which he danced with Alexandra Danilova.

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Apollo redefined ballet's choreographic language for the 20th century.

0:55:000:55:05

The pas de deux, for instance in Apollo, is terribly inventive.

0:55:050:55:09

When you look at that ballerina swimming on the back of her prince, of her god, how wonderful!

0:55:090:55:17

I mean how inventive.

0:55:170:55:19

It was the ballet that taught him to take away rather than to add,

0:55:360:55:40

to have one thing, one tone, one vocabulary

0:55:400:55:44

that suited the music because with Balanchine music always came first

0:55:440:55:50

and he knew it was a key work and everybody knew Apollo was great.

0:55:500:55:56

Apollo premiered in Paris in 1928 with another striking score by Stravinsky.

0:55:560:56:04

Although Balanchine got the most extraordinary opportunities from Diaghlev,

0:56:190:56:26

absolutely career-forming opportunities,

0:56:260:56:30

and created some very, very important ballets, notably Apollo for Diaghilev,

0:56:300:56:37

there was a sense in which Balanchine was always his own man.

0:56:370:56:42

Balanchine was to be the last of Diaghilev's great discoveries.

0:56:460:56:50

Diaghilev's punishing lifestyle and his diabetes eventually caught up with him

0:56:540:56:59

and his early death in Venice aged 57 on the 19th August 1929 brought Ballets Russes to a grinding halt.

0:56:590:57:07

Within weeks the company started to disband and without Diaghilev drive it simply ran out of steam.

0:57:080:57:15

The strength of Diaghilev's legacy is hard to overstate

0:57:180:57:23

and the lineage of many of today's dance companies can be directly linked to those 20 glorious years.

0:57:230:57:29

For a lot of people working in the theatre and the wider arts,

0:57:290:57:32

Diaghilev is kind of the gold standard, you know?

0:57:320:57:35

He's the legend that we all speak about with hushed tones.

0:57:350:57:40

The emphasis on creativity, that dance is not something that is just mired in a convention

0:57:400:57:46

or in tradition, but that the tradition can indeed keep reinventing itself.

0:57:460:57:51

He stands there as a vision of what a man could accomplish in art who was not himself an artist.

0:57:530:58:00

From an art form ridiculed at the start of the 20th century,

0:58:000:58:04

Serge Diaghilev's ballets Russes transformed ballet.

0:58:040:58:08

Collaborations between artists working in different disciplines

0:58:080:58:12

is the norm now in contemporary dance.

0:58:120:58:14

Artists working alongside choreographers, composers collaborating with designers,

0:58:140:58:19

dancers performing with musicians - all this creative cross-fertilisation

0:58:190:58:23

inspired by Diaghilev's revolution, has underpinned ballet to create what is now a thriving art form.

0:58:230:58:31

100 years later, we see how dance, music and art continues

0:58:310:58:35

to be indebted to the taste and tenacity of this great impresario.

0:58:350:58:40

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:500:58:52

Email [email protected]

0:58:520:58:54

Celebrating the achievements of Ballets Russes under Diaghilev's guidance and their continuing influence on dance, art and music today.

The English National Ballet perform extracts from two Ballets Russes' masterpieces, Les Sylphides and Scheherazade, as well as a new version by David Dawson of the iconic Nijinsky ballet Afternoon Of A Faun.

Karl Lagerfeld talks about the influence of Coco Chanel and the design legacy of the Ballets Russes. The music from the period is discussed by great French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who is joined by prolific English composer and broadcaster Howard Goodall.

Ninety-five-year-old Frederick Franklin recounts what it was like to see the scandalous ending of Nijinsky's Afternoon Of A Faun, while dancers, musicians, writers, critics, stylists and historians paint a vivid portrait of this unique dance company and discuss the legacy of Diaghilev's genius on the creative arts.