Who stole the Cookie? the patron of most of the arts- Sergei Diaghilev


On an egg-hunt for talent, putting all those talented eggs in one basket and calling it

‘Ballet Russe’

“I am, first, a great charlatan, though with dash, second, a great charmer, third, cheeky, fourth, a person with a lot of logic and few principles and, fifth, someone afflicted, it seems, with complete absence of talent. I think I’ve found my true vocation: to be a patron of the arts. For that I have everything I need except the money. Mais ca viendra.” – Sergei Diaghilev

One of the best documentaries that I’ve seen is ‘Ballet Russe’, which shows the ins-and-outs of the famous company and many of it’s surviving members. It is filled with interviews in between the history so it is particularly ‘watchable’ even for those who don’t care deeply about the history of ballet, and particularly, how ballet found its way over to America. The film, in comparison to other documentaries, is more fact-filled than ‘This is Spinal Tap’ and more action-packed than ‘The Office’ (not that this really says too much. A two foot Stonehenge? Come on, David St. Hubbins!) I really am a huge supporter of this film, and the innovative, ground-breaking company it focuses on.

That being said, it is a fair assessment that Diaghilev himself was a lack-luster hack, a con artist and swindler living off of the talents of others. He is the parasite of the art world, except that great talent seemed to attach itself to him. True, a person can make a living off of having a good sense of other’s contributions, such as museum curators, casting directors, and food tasters. Diaghilev was just that, someone who collected great art from various great artists and put it all together for one magnificent show. Similar to the Vaudeville variety shows, he took elements that could attract an audience for their individual contributions and strengthened interest by bringing quality and important names not only in dancers, but in choreographers, composers, and designers. The company consisted of 13 members, all at a very high standard of dance. The dancers and choreographers associated with it included George Balanchine, Mathilde Kschessinska, Michel Fokine, Vera Karalli, Tamara Karsavina, Serge Lifar, Alicia Markova, Léonide Massine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Ida Rubinstein and Lydia Lopokova. Designers included contemporary artists: Bakst, Benois, Braque, Gontcharova, Picasso, Chanel, Matisse, Derain, Miro, de Chirico,Dali, Bilibin, Tchelitchev, and Utrillo Composers included Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel, Satie, Respighi, Richard Strauss, and, most notably, Igor Stravinsky, whom Diaghilev spotted when he was virtually unknown and whose career he launched. Audiences would go to hear music from these composers, or would go to exhibitions to see artwork. It was, as Diaghilev claims of himself, logical to bring together the best minds of the time for an inclusive experience of art in one full theatrical performance. The Ballet Russe performances not only utilized the most brilliant contemporary artists of the time, but pushed contemporary and controversial issues and themes. The company was famous not only for a culmination of the best talent around but for the revolutionary spirit possessed by said artists. However, he left out several of my personal favorite arts, such as the culinary art. If we could go back in time and have George Balanchine dancing to Stravinsky in a piece by Nijinsky, clad in Chanel costume in front of a Picasso backdrop, serving homemade muffins, perhaps his company would not have died out as it did after his own death. Lack of money just goes to show any patron of art or pursuer of art that it’s always best to get yourself on ‘Oprah’s favorite things’ list. I suppose even with the collection of respected artists collaborating on selected projects, you can’t always have your cake and eat it too. I am of the opinion that should someone revitalize the Ballet Russe under its’ famous title, they should include the left out arts to continue Diaghilev’s personal mission of incorporating the many vast and various aspects of artistic work for one all-encompassing evening, and serve some Paula Dean cake for my continued amusement.


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