In 1909 when the Ballets Russes was conquering Paris, Georgi Balanchivadze was a five year old child living with his family in a country house a train ride from St. Petersburg. He was to enter the Imperial Ballet School only in 1913, where in just a few years the privations of the war and the Revolution were to make the idea of leaving Russia for the artistic freedom and better life of the West irresistible for the supremely talented, but half-starved young choreographer and his friends. Engaged as choreographer for the Ballets Russes a few months after leaving the Soviet Union in 1924, George Balanchine (Diaghilev simplified his Georgian surname), first made Le Chant du Rossignol, to the Stravinsky score, for the 14-year-old Alicia Markova.
After the success of Apollo, his first neo-classical ballet in 1928, Diaghilev asked Balanchine to choreograph a score that had been commissioned from Prokofiev, Les Fils Prodigue or The Prodigal Son. Georges Rouault designed sets and costumes and Serge Lifar, who had triumphed as Apollo, danced the title role, on May 21, 1929. Balanchine made a complete change from Apollo, cool, elegant, and pure, when he took on the biblically inspired narrative of the earthy, emotionally charged Prodigal. But his innovative devices and compelling, imagery are equally inspired in both ballets. (Many great male dancers through the years have danced the challenging role of the Prodigal with success; among them are Jerome Robbins, Edward Villella and Mikhail Baryshnikov.)
Only three months after The Prodigal Son premiered in Paris, Diaghilev died in Venice, of diabetes. It was the end of a fabulous era. The influences, direct and indirect on not only ballet, but on the cultural and artistic life of the entire century are innumerable.
The following list of great twentieth century creative artists whose careers were nurtured by Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes is only partial:
Choreographers: Fokine, Nijinsky, Massine, Nijinska, Balanchine.
Composers: Stravinsky, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Prokofiev, Da Falla, Poulenc, Satie, Auric.
Designers: Benois, Bakst, Roerich, Golovine, Gontcharova, Serov, Picasso, Delauney, Matisse, Derain, Sert, Miro, Gris, Laurencin, Braque, Rouault, Utrillo, de Chirico, Cocteau.
Mark, All the best wishes to you, Adam and the company for a wonderful season. Have fun with the Ballets Russes program. Perhaps I can come. It has been fun to revisit the period! Carol
On behalf of Ballet West and myself, thank you Carol!