Diaghilev’s dramatic performances transformed dance, reawakening interest in ballet across Europe and America. Celebrating the company’s key period of activity, this major exhibition reveals Diaghilev’s enduring influence on 20th-century art, design and fashion and includes more than 300 objects including giant theatre cloths, original costumes, set designs, props and posters by artists and designers including Léon Bakst, Georges Braque and Natalia Goncharova. These tell the story of a company which began in the social and political upheaval of pre-Revolutionary Russia and went on to cause a sensation with exotic performances that had never been seen before.
Serge Pavlovich Diaghilev (1872-1929), Серге́й Па́влович Дя́гилев, Serge de Diaghileff, Sergey Dyaguileff, dictator, devil, charlatan, sorcerer, charmer – all names of a single man whose unique character and driving ambition caused a ferment in European culture. Diaghilev’s greatest achievement was his dance company – the Ballets Russes. Created a century ago, the productions of the Ballets Russes revolutionised early 20th-century arts and continue to influence cultural activity today.
As an individual, Diaghilev remains elusive. He lived through the cataclysms of the First World War and the Russian Revolutions, yet seemed strangely unaffected by them. He embraced the modern and exploited the avant-garde, but was in many ways deeply conservative. He lived mostly in hotel rooms, but turned his company into an extended family.
He left few personal possessions, but offers all of us an astonishing legacy of music, dance and art.
Costume worn by Alice Nikitina as Flore in Zéphyre et Flore. Designed by Georges Braque, 1925
Until 9 January
Book by phone +44 (0)20 7907 7073 (more than 48 hours prior to visit only)
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.