Tuesday, September 28, 2010


If you are anywhere near London, run, do not walk, to the V and A to see the Diaghilev exhibit. It is total immersion, without any of the sense of being overloaded that one often gets at exhibits. The colour, music, videos draw you ever more deeply in until, when you stand in front of the huge backdrop for "Firebird" extending up into the theatre-height ceiling where the flies would be, with Stravinsky's score penetrating you and impressionistic images and fluttering arms projected on the two trianguarly facing walls, you want to burst into bourrées, arabesques penchées and pirouettes. There's plenty of room; it's almost the size of a real stage. And maybe dancing in that space is what the V and A intends!

It's total ballet, from set design and execution, to Bakst's fabulous costumes and designs, to music education, to videos of the original Ballets Russes. The detail of the costumes is phenomenal, beading, lace—every appliqué sewn by hand. The conception and design, the weaving in of D. himself, his eccentric life and loves, his mad urges and personality, writings, contracts, even receipts for wigs. The fabulous creative explosion of the period is reflected, the old Russian nostalgia with the avant-guarde of Cocteau and Beardsley; the jazz age and the jaded late-1920s before it all fell apart. There is orientalism and impressionism; cubism and Picasso's huge front curtain of two women cavorting on the beach; you can almost hear P's ironic, if not vicious chuckle as you look at it. One is caught up in a living kaleidoscope of colour, fabric, motion, sound, painting, sculpture, mythology, legend. I was there for more than two hours and only left because my friend had to go home. I had no sense at all of the passage of time and want to go back for more, something that I almost never feel at an exhibit.

In the middle of it all I realised how much of an hommage to Diaghilev the films "The Red Shoes" and "Tales of Hoffmann" are. Massine, who tried to keep it all going, figures prominently in both, and while they don't reflect the essential Russian-ness of the original Ballets Russes, they have a similar sense of fantastic opulence, jewel colours, exoticism, larger-than-life figures—and beauty had not yet died.

At the end of the exhibit [which extends through a labyrinth of rooms, like going from one scene to another] near a video of the original Coq d'Or ballet, are several gowns designed by Yves St Laurent inspired by the Ballets Russes. They are breathtaking; I will spend more time with them when I return.

It is not too much to say that to participate in this exhibit is a religious experience. The Raphael cartoons and tapestries for the Sistine Chapel will just have to wait!


Blogger Bo said...


2:37 pm, September 28, 2010  

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