The Washington Monument is now draped in scaffolding. We had an earthquake several months ago and the monument was damaged. It looks like and interesting art object.
On my way to the museum I passed by a street filled with food vendors. They were selling kabob, falafel, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, Italian sandwiches, frozen yogurt, ice cream. People were spread out on the lawn picnicking.
I went to see “Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute” at the National Gallery of Art. It was one room of drawings and etchings. It took me 15 minutes to see it all. The only one I really liked was the Madonna.
I wandered around a bit after that and stumbled upon “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music”. It was a large exhibit with costumes, set designs, and film. I am a big fan of ballet and I was easily sucked in.
I discovered Sergei Diaghilev was an expat. He was born into nobility. His family owned an estate outside of Perm, Russia, and had the monopoly on distilling vodka in the region. He grew up and was edcuated in St. Petersburg. When he was 18 his father went bankrupt and Sergei was forced to earn his living. He was heavily involved in the arts and put on an exhibit of paintings and portraits in 1905, sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II. In 1907 he took an exhibit of Russian art to Paris and in 1908 he introduced Paris to several Russian operas. He was invited to return the following year and added ballet to the performances. When in 1909 the Tsar withdrew his financial support, Diaghilev carried on but dropped the operas. Ballet was much cheaper. Things were heating up in Russia and the future was uncertain. By 1911 Diaghilev had formed his own dance company drawing from dancers in exile. He returned to Russia briefly in 1914 but it was the last time he set foot in his homeland. Paris was his new home.
In Paris he formed the Ballet Russes. It was to become the most influnial ballet company in the West. He gathered around him the most talented and avant garde artists he could find. His set designers included Picasso and Matisse. Picasso married one of the Ballet Russe dancers, Olga Khokhlova.
His choreographers started with Vaslav Nijinsky and ended with George Balanchine. Diaghilev was in love with Nijinsky and they were involved until Nijinsky shocked everybody by getting married while on tour in South America. Diaghilev was very hurt and fired him on the spot. Nijinsky was later diagnosed with schitzophrenia thus ending his career. Balanchine was working at the Marinsky Theater in 1924 when he defected while on a tour of Germany with the Soviet State Dancers. Diaghilev invited him to join the Ballet Russes as a choreographer. He later became one the greatest American choreographers.
Igor Stravinsky was hired to compose music for the ballets. He composed the music for The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Right of Spring. In the last one the rhythm was revolutionary and it caused a riotous reaction from the audience when it was first performed in Paris in 1913.
In 1924, Coco Chanel desgined the clothes for the ballet “Blue Train”, which was all about frolicking on the French Riviera. The backdrop on the set was Picasso’s painting of two voluptuous women running, creating a contrast to the adrogenous women dancing in Chanel outfits.
Diaghilev’s life was cut short by diabetes. He died at the age of 57 in Venice. The Paris, London, and New York ballet companies all emerged from the Ballet Russe dancers and choreographers. Some believe these ballet companies never would have existed if it weren’t for Diaghilev.
Most of the items in the exhibit live at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but can be seen in Washington, DC until September 2.