The early decades of the 20th century witnessed an explosion of experimentation, innovation, and interpenetration in the arts throughout Europe. The battle-cry "Make it new!" reverberated across all the arts, enriching every individual field - painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, and literature. As Roger Shattuck perceptively notes in The Banquet Years, "To a greater extent than at any time since the Renaissance, painters, writers, and musicians lived and worked together and tried their hands at each other's arts in an atmosphere of perpetual collaboration" (23). In this extremely fertile period for the arts, the air was thick with new beliefs, subjects, and techniques which were discussed, experimented with, and ultimately adopted, altered, or rejected. Rather than suffering "The Anxiety of Influence," artists at this time experienced what might be called "The Synergism of Influence." While Paris was the undisputed center of such artistic collaboration, this phenomenon occurred as well in London and other major European cities. For example, from 1918 onward, London's Bloomsbury group passionately attended performances of the newest and most avant-garde productions of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, seeing in their Modernist elements "the design, rhythm, and texture [they] sought in literature no less than painting" (Garafola 334-35).
In the midst of this creative ferment, there occurred an event which could be said to have revolutionized the notion of the avant-garde itself. One night in 1912 while crossing the Place de la Concorde in Paris after a performance of the Ballets Russes, its director Sergei Diaghilev commanded the young Jean Cocteau, "Astonish me!" Five years later, he astonished not only Diaghilev but the entire artistic world. On 18 May 1917 at the Theatre du Chatelet, the Ballets Russes presented the premiere of the ballet Parade, a collaborative creation with scenario by Cocteau, music by Erik Satie, set, curtain, and costumes by Pablo Picasso, choreography by Leonide Massine, and programme notes by Guillaume Apollinaire [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Innovative and shocking in a multiplicity of ways - various labels included electroshock, a revolution, a comet, an earthquake (Kahane 96-97) - it caused a furor; indeed, the first-night audience responded with an uproar, some cheering, but most booing and hissing. Because of its notoriety, the performance of Parade for the first time in England during the 1919 autumn season of the Ballets Russes at London's Empire Theatre, with the premiere taking place on November 14, was a major cultural event, as were its Paris revivals in December 1920 at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees and in May 1921 at the Gaite-Lyrique. In these instances, the response, while sometimes bewildered, was excited rather than outraged.
Among those excited by the ballet, I wish to argue, was T.S. Eliot; more specifically, I wish to demonstrate the extent to which the revolutionary aspects of his own masterpiece of this time - The Waste Land - owe much to the inspiration of this avant-garde ballet. For if the hallmarks of Eliot's poem are its fusion of tradition and experimentation, the everyday and the extraordinary, these too are the features of Parade, which in itself demonstrated the interpenetration of contemporary developments in the arts to a far greater extent than earlier productions of the Ballets Russes. Critics have, of course, long recognized a connection between The Waste Land and the Ballets Russes' 1921 revival of Le Sacre du Printemps, but the impact of Parade on the poem has been totally overlooked. Although a possible reason for this neglect may be the absence of direct leads - i.e., concrete evidence that Eliot attended a performance of this ballet - the more likely explanation may have to do with the way that this once infamous work has tended generally to be forgotten, its significance at the time paling perhaps as a result of the subsequent brilliant careers of its various collaborators.
At the same time, there is a great amount of circumstantial evidence that Eliot did know of and likely saw a performance of Parade, and thus, after first describing the origins and general features of the ballet, I will look at Eliot's familiarity with both ballet and music-hall culture. Following this, and constituting what will ultimately be the major proof, I will detail the many striking ways that the content, structure, characters, music and sound effects, curtain and set, and choreography of Parade have correspondences in The Waste Land. In this way, I hope to suggest that, while Eliot's poem is revolutionary, it is also very much a compendium and record of the tremendous synergism which characterized the arts in the early decades of the 20th century.
The conception and creation of Parade demonstrate particularly well the extensive collaboration among varied artists in the early years of the 20th century. The ballet was the idea of Jean Cocteau, who served also as the catalyst in getting the collaborators together. Having met both Satie and Picasso in the autumn of 1915, he determined to secure them to work on the ballet which he hoped he could convince Diaghilev to stage. So taken was he with Picasso and his peers that he immersed himself in the Cubist milieu in Paris centered in Montparnasse and the Butte Montmartre. As Richard Buckle points out, the Cubists "were a world apart from the Russian Ballet and its admirers; and Cocteau was...the link between them" (312). Diaghilev had heard and been impressed by Satie in the summer of 1914, but did not meet Picasso until May 1916 when he was taken to the artist's studio overlooking the cemetery of Montparnasse. At this meeting the two different worlds of the Ballets Russes and the Cubists came together, and in late August of 1916 Picasso agreed to join Cocteau, Satie, and the choreographer Massine to create Parade for Diaghilev's company (Buckle 312, 318). In February 1917, all the collaborators except Satie gathered in Rome to begin work on the ballet, scheduled for performance in Paris in mid-May.
Their goals were to create a work based on ordinary, contemporary life, specifically the low-brow world of popular entertainment seen in the music hall, the street fair, and the circus; to incorporate new technological inventions, such as the typewriter, the airplane, and the skyscraper; and to use techniques from the avant-garde developments in all the arts - in short, to create something entirely innovative and modern. As Massine notes, "[Parade was] an attempt to translate [popular art] into a totally new form...[and thus] we utilized certain elements of contemporary show-business - ragtime music, jazz, the cinema, billboard advertising, circus and music-hall techniques....[W]e were mainly concerned with creating something new and representative of our own age" (105). Parade thus constituted a radical departure from the ballets previously performed by Diaghilev's company which had been based on stories and characters from the past or from fantasy and had been Russian or Oriental in nature; here in contrast was, according to Cocteau's biographer Steegmuller, "a true theatrical innovation, the first totally modern ballet, the first balletistic 'metaphor of the everyday; in Lincoln Kirstein's phrase" (189-90).
The plot, created by Cocteau, is a "parade" or preview of the acts of a troupe of performers on a Parisian boulevard designed to entice the audience to come in to see the entire show. Reflecting actual acts performed in 1917 in Parisian music-halls and circuses such as the Cirque Medrano as well as contemporary American silent films, they include the feats of a Chinese conjuror, a little American girl, and two acrobats, which are introduced by two managers and a cheval-jupon (a horse played by two men). The finale is "a rapid ragtime dance in which the whole cast [makes] a last desperate attempt to lure the audience in to see their show" (Massine 105). The plot thus captures various elements of everyday, present life, making use of popular entertainment such as the music hall and fairground, material previously considered unsuitable for the elite world of the …