Art in Modern Ballet

Art in Modern Ballet

Art in Modern Ballet

Art in Modern Ballet

Excerpt

IN 1909, Serge de Diaghilev organized the Ballet Russe in Paris. This may be considered a key sentence for our investigation. The year marks accurately the beginning of modern design for the ballet. At this time Paris afforded the artistic climate, the potential talent and the receptive audience for the development of so daring a venture as a modem ballet. For since its inception the Ballet Russe has been a symbol of art in progress, increasingly so when it turned from imported Russian designers to the foremost easel painters of the School of Paris. Eventually the term Ballet Russe became both fashionable and explicit, until it was identified with classic theatrical dancing par excellence. Diaghilev, an inspired and inspiring man, though not a creative artist himself, set definite standards for ballet in Western Europe and henceforth dominated the ballet stage with absolute authority until his early death in 1929. In those two decades ballet design had become firmly and definitely established as a legitimate category of the arts, and since it attracted many artists of stature, it assumed a lasting significance.

The scenic practice thus brilliantly demonstrated was sound in essence and intentions, though dubious in its ultimate consequences. Originally Diaghilev conceived the coincident performance of dance, music, and painting, which is ballet, not as the chance sum of separate unequal parts, but as an indivisible, collective whole. This interpretation, for all its apparent novelty, was not a true innovation nor a radical reform. If removed from specific indications of style and taste, which date the visual evidence as a product of our century's first quarter, Diaghilev's basic conception emerges as the classic formula of choreographic, musical and plastic integration. Throughout several centuries this very principle had been an esthetic demand of the foremost ballet theorists and reformers. It is a timeless ideal. Diaghilev resumed and perfected the sound principle and broke with the anemic tradition of mediocrity as preserved and practiced in the contemporary ballet scene. For this, precisely, was the situation of the international ballet theatre at the time the Ballet Russe began to perform: The conservative Imperial Russian Ballet contributed a highly perfected dance practice which was, however, unknown outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. The customary ballet music had hardly more specific relevance or artistic value than the accompaniment of the silent films. Settings and costumes were lacking entirely in imagination and distinction; indeed no example illustrates the change between "before and after" more conclusively than a comparison between the Ballet Russe designers and their immediate predecessors.

At the time of Diaghilev's arrival, ballet had degenerated from the prodigal spectacles of royal and aristocratic sovereigns into a bourgeois institution which sub-

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