(Anna Sorokina’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 8/24; Photos above, credit: E. O. Hoppé; A.Botkin; The New York Public Library.)

The world glory of the Russian ballet started with these performances by Serge Diaghilev’s dancers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, impresario Serge Diaghilev organized regular tours of Russian artists abroad. The first performances were held in 1907-1908 in Paris under the title of ‘Saisons Russe’ (Russian Seasons) and included the operas ‘Boris Godunov’, ‘Prince Igor’, ‘The Maid of Pskov’ and ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’. In 1909, Diaghilev also included a ballet program in Saisons Russe, in which the dancers of the Mariinsky and Bolshoi Theaters starred. 

Poster for the Saison Russe at the Théâtre du Châtelet, 1909.

The following year, he decided to show only ballet performances and, in 1911, the impresario turned the seasonal tours into the itinerant ‘Ballets Russes’ company, based in Monte Carlo.

Ballets Russes in Seville, Spain, 1916.

The most important of Diaghilev’s achievements was the discovery of new musical names. Among his troupe were the most famous dancers of Imperial Russia: Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky, Yekaterina Geltzer. Michael Fokine accompanied the troupe as a choreographer. The costumes were created by Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois and the composer for early programs was Igor Stravinsky.

Ballets Russes during the rehearsal: at the piano on the right is composer Igor Stravinsky, and standing is Michael Fokine. In the center is ballerina Tamara Karsavina.

The season of 1909 opened in the Parisian Théâtre du Châtelet with the five performances by Fokine: ‘Le Pavillon d’Armide’ (The Pavilion of Armide) with Pavlova and Nijinsky, ‘Polovtsian Dances’ (a scene from ‘Prince Igor’), dance suite ‘Le Festin’ (The Feast), romantic ballet ‘La Sylphide’ (The Sylph), and ‘Cléopâtre’ (Cleopatra) ballet. All the premieres were welcomed by the audience with great enthusiasm and Russian ballet became a world known brand. 

Serge Diaghilev and friends. // Ballets Russes in London.

The 1910 and 1911 seasons were also held in Berlin and Brussels. It started with Fokine’s new ballets: ‘Carnaval’, which the maestro considered his best work, ‘L’Oiseau de feu’ (The Firebird) with Tamara Karsavina, Scheherazade, Giselle, and ‘Les Orientales’ (dances from various ballets).

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