Diaghilev Presents Russian Arts in Paris

After completing his secondary school studies in Perm, Russia, Serge Diaghilev traveled throughout Europe and developed his interest in visual arts. With artists Léon Bakst (1866–1924) and Alexandre Benois (1870–1960), he cofounded the journal Mir iskusstva (The World of Art) in 1898. In 1906, Diaghilev arranged an exhibition of Russian art in Paris and organized a festival of Russian music at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra the next year. In 1908, Diaghilev returned to Paris to present six performances of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov—the opera’s first performance outside Russia.

Souvenir program for 1908 performances of Boris Godunov at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (002.00.00)
Digital ID # br0002

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj0

Diaghilev and His Collaborators

Much of the success of the Ballets Russes can be attributed to Diaghilev’s unique ability to promote significant collaborations among established and up-and-coming artists, such as choreographers Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine; designers Natalia Goncharova, Juan Gris, Nikolai Roerich, and Georges Braque; and composers Manuel de Falla, Sergei Prokofiev, Erik Satie, and Maurice Ravel. This photograph shows Serge Diaghilev with two of his most important collaborators, the dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889 [1890?]–1950) and the composer Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971).

Serge Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, and Igor Stravinsky, ca. 1911. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (003.00.00)
Digital ID # br0003

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj1

Diaghilev’s Protégé Léonide Massine

Léonide Massine (1896–1979) expanded ballet’s impact by integrating extensive character and ethnic inspirations into his choreographies, which resulted in highly dramatic works. A protégé of Diaghilev, Massine was recognized for his ability as a dancer and for his choreographic creativity. He joined the Ballets Russes in 1914 as a dancer and created eighteen works for the company between 1915 and 1928.

Serge Diaghilev (left) and Léonide Massine (right), no date. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (005.00.00)
Digital ID # br0005

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj2

Diaghilev and Jean Cocteau

French writer and artist Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) fell under the spell of the Ballets Russes during the company’s early visits to Paris. He published articles, interviewed its principals, and created posters that featured the dancers Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. Between 1912 and 1927, Cocteau provided libretti or scenarios for the ballets Le Dieu Bleu, Parade, Le Train Bleu, and the opera Oedipus Rex.

Jean Cocteau (left) and Serge Diaghilev on opening night of Le Train Bleu, June 20, 1924. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00)
Digital ID # br0006

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj3

Ballets Russes Snapshots

Serge Grigoriev (1883–1968), rehearsal director for the Ballets Russes between 1909 and 1929, compiled a series of photograph albums that show the company rehearsing, performing, and relaxing. This page of snapshots, taken by Grigoriev in Monte Carlo in 1928, includes Diaghilev and his artistic collaborator Boris Kochno (1904–1990); the artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and his son Paulo (1921–1975), and Picasso’s first wife, the dancer Olga Khokhlova (1891–1955).

Boris Kochno (top left) and Serge Diaghilev; Kochno, Paulo Picasso, and Diaghilev (top right); Olga Khokhlova and Diaghilev (bottom left); Kochno, Diaghilev, and Paulo Picasso (bottom right). Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (007.00.00)
Digital ID # br0007

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj4

Inscribed Photograph of Francis Poulenc

Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) was a founding member of “Les Six,” a group of young French composers that included Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, and Germaine Tailleferre. The group sought to establish a quintessentially French style of contemporary art music by rejecting foreign influences, most notably that of the German Romantic Richard Wagner, as well as the musical impressionism of their compatriot Claude Debussy. Poulenc composed one ballet for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Les Biches, with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. Part of the inscription on this photograph states “to the admirable Nijinska who made our ‘Biches’ so beautiful, with my profound affection—Francis Poulenc, 1923.”

Francis Poulenc, ca. 1923. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (009.00.00)
Digital ID # br0009

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj5

Diaghilev and Léon Bakst

Russian scenery and costume designer, Léon Bakst was one of the principal members of Diaghilev’s original circle of artists, writers, and musicians. After the first performance of the Ballets Russes in 1909, Bakst continued to be one of Diaghilev’s primary collaborators. He created the costumes or scenery for nineteen Ballets Russes productions—more than any other artist—including Le Festin, Le Carnaval, Le Spectre de la Rose, L’Après-Midi d’un Faune, Jeux, and The Sleeping Princess.

Léon Bakst (left) and Serge Diaghilev (center) with unidentified others, ca.1910. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)
Digital ID # br0008

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj6

Back to Top

Michel Fokine’s Choreography

The 1909 and 1910 seasons of the Ballets Russes consisted of a pick-up troupe of dancers on vacation from the Russian Imperial Theater. However, the ballets were so popular with Paris audiences that Diaghilev created a permanent dance company in 1911 with Michel Fokine (1888–1942) as the principal choreographer. He produced more than twenty works for Diaghilev between 1909 and 1912 and 1914 and 1915, and his choreographies established the base for the repertory of the Ballets Russes until it dissolved in 1929. Many of his works continue to be performed today, including Les Sylphides, Schéhérazade, The Firebird, Le Spectre de la Rose, and Petrouchka.

Cast of “Polovtsian Dances” in act 2 from the opera Prince Igor, with choreography by Michel Fokine, 1923. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00)
Digital ID # br0010

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj7

Fokine’s “Polovtsian Dances”

The “Polovtsian Dances” scene from act 2 of the opera Prince Igor was so successful that the work was performed without singers in later seasons. (“Polovtsian Dances”: music by Aleksandr Borodin, completed and partly orchestrated by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Aleksandr Glazunov; sets and costumes by Nikolai Roerich; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on May 19, 1909, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.)

Bronislava Nijinska and V. Karnetzky in the “Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor, ca. 1912. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)
Digital ID # br0011

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj8

Fokine’s Cléopâtre

Based on Fokine’s 1908 ballet Une Nuit d’Égypte, the new version, which was retitled Cléopâtre, featured three of the most famous dancers to appear with the Ballets Russes: Anna Pavlova (1881–1931), Ida Rubinstein (1885–1960), and Tamara Karsavina (1885–1978). In later performances Adolph Bolm (1884–1951) danced Fokine’s role of Amoun. The work remained in the repertory of the Ballets Russes until 1929 (Cléopâtre: music by Anton Arensky, with additional music by Aleksandr Glazunov, Mikhail Glinka, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Taneyev, and Nikolai Tcherepnin; sets and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on June 2, 1909, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris.)

Adolph Bolm as Amoun in Cléopâtre, ca. 1910. Adolph Bolm Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (012.00.00)
Digital ID # br0012

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj9

One of the Most Popular Ballets, Schéhérazade

With its exotic and colorful décor and cast of harem wives and slaves, Schéhérazade was considered the epitome of Diaghilev’s Orientalism. It became one of the most popular ballets produced by the Ballets Russes and was performed more than five hundred times between 1910 and 1929. The original cast of Schéhérazade included Ida Rubinstein, Vaslav Nijinsky, Enrico Cecchetti, and Bronislava Nijinska. (Schéhérazade: music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov; libretto by Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, and Michel Fokine, after the first tale of The Thousand and One Nights; sets and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on June 4, 1910, Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.)

Adolph Bolm and Tamara Karsavina in Schéhérazade, no date. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (013.00.00)
Digital ID # br0013

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj10

Stravinsky’s First Ballets Russes Commission

Stung by criticism from the Paris critics who claimed he produced well-danced ballets with exotic décors and costumes but with no comparable innovative music component, Diaghilev turned to the young composer Igor Stravinsky. The Firebird was Stravinsky’s first commission from the Ballets Russes and proved to be the catalyst that began Stravinsky’s ascent to international acclaim. Considered to be one of Michel Fokine’s best choreographies and one of Diaghilev’s most successful collaborative efforts, The Firebird was a triumph with Paris audiences. (The Firebird: music by Igor Stravinsky; libretto by Michel Fokine; sets and costumes by Aleksandr Golovin, with additional costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on June 25, 1910, Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.)

1 of 2

  • Michel Fokine and Tamara Karsavina in The Firebird, ca. 1910. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (014.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0014

  • Souvenir program from the premiere of The Firebird, 1910. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (015.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0015

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj11

Vaslav Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose

Michael Fokine’s ballet Le Spectre de la Rose featured only two dancers. He described the intimate stage setting as “a tiny room, the two walls of which meet together in an upstage corner, leaving but little room for dancing. The difficulty lay in confining the dance to such a small space.” The dancers in the original cast were two of the most admired dancers of the early twentieth century: Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina. (Le Spectre de la Rose: music by Carl Maria von Weber, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz; sets and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on April 19, 1911, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

Vaslav Nijinsky as the Rose in Le Spectre de la Rose, 1911. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)
Digital ID # br0016

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj12

First Rehearsal of Petrouchka

In her diary, Bronislava Nijinska speaks about the first rehearsal of Petrouchka: “The musicians refused to play Stravinsky’s music, saying they considered it an insult to perform such a piece of music where each note was in discord with the laws of harmony. The conductor, Pierre Monteux, had no authority to force them to play. The presence of Igor Stravinsky did not bother them in the least. At last, Serge Diaghilev arrived. His imposing figure and the look of contempt on his face had an immediate effect on the musicians.” (Petrouchka: music by Igor Stravinsky; libretto by Stravinsky and Alexandre Benois; sets and costumes by Benois; choreography by Michael Fokine; premiere on June 13, 1911, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris).

Petrouchka with Bronislava Nijinska (left) as the Street Dancer, K. Kobelev as the Organ Grinder (center), and Ludmilla Schollar (right) as a Gypsy, ca, 1911. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)
Digital ID # br0017

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj13

Back to Top

Léonide Massine’s Ballets

Léonide Massine continued the experiments in movement initiated by Michael Fokine but integrated character and ethnic influences into his choreographies, resulting in highly dramatic ballets. Massine joined the Ballets Russes in 1914 as a dancer and was its chief choreographer between 1915 and 1920. Some of his most notable choreographic works include Contes Russes, Parade, Le Tricorne, Pulcinella, and La Boutique Fantasque. One of the Ballets Russes’s most successful productions, La Boutique Fantasque. (The Magic Toyshop), was performed more than 300 times between 1919 and 1929. (La Boutique Fantasque: music by Gioacchino Rossini, orchestrated by Ottorino Respighi; sets, costumes, and curtain by André Derain; choreography by Léonide Massine; premiere on June 5, 1919, Alhambra Theatre, London.)

Alexandra Danilova and Léonide Massine as Can-Can Dancers in La Boutique Fantasque, 1919. Alexandra Danilova Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00)
Digital ID # br0019

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj14

Rehearsal of Pulcinella, 1920

Italy was one of Diaghilev’s favorite destinations for inspiration, and the ballet Pulcinella was the second that resulted from his visits. Léonide Massine had also visited Italy, and, after reading through commedia dell’arte scripts, he based his choreography on the story of The Four Pulcinellas. The original cast included Massine and Tamara Karsavina. (Pulcinella: music by Igor Stravinsky, after Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and other composers; sets, costumes, and curtain by Henri Matisse; premiere on May 15, 1920, Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.)

Rehearsal photograph of Pulcinella from an album compiled by Serge Grigoriev, 1920. Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (020.01.00)
Digital ID # br0020

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj15

Zéphire et Flora

Based on a classical theme with costumes that were neither period nor contemporary, Zéphire et Flora was performed fewer than thirty times between its premiere in 1925 and 1929. (Zéphire et Flora: music by Vladimir Dukelsky [Vernon Duke]); sets and costumes by Georges Braque; choreography by Léonide Massine; premiere on April 28, 1925, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

Tamara Geva (far left); Lubov Tchernicheva (kneeling center); Alexandra Danilova (third from right); Felia Doubrovska (second from right), with Tatiana Chamié and Ninette de Valois in Zéphire et Flora, 1925. Alexandra Danilova Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (021.00.00)
Digital ID # br0021

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj16

Les Matelots, 1925

Les Matelots (The Sailors) was the second of three ballets composed by Georges Auric (1899–1983). (The other ballets were Les Fâcheux, 1924, and La Pastorale, 1926.) However, Auric and Diaghilev disagreed about commissioning fees, and Auric did not compose any ballets for the Ballets Russes after 1926. Described by Léonide Massine as a “light-hearted romp,” Les Matelots was extremely popular with Parisian audiences. (Les Matelots: music by Georges Auric; libretto by Boris Kochno; sets, costumes, and curtain by Pedro Pruna; scene painting by Prince Alexander Schervashidze; choreography by Léonide Massine; premiere on June 17, 1925, Théâtre de la Gaïté-Lyrique, Paris.)

Alexandra Danilova as the Young Girl and Leon Woizikovski as the First Sailor in Les Matelots, ca. 1926. Alexandra Danilova Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (022.00.00)
Digital ID # br0022

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj17

Le Chant du Rossignol

In 1920, Igor Stravinsky’s 1914 opera Le Rossignol was turned into a one-act ballet called Le Chant du Rossignol (The Song of the Nightingale), with choreography by Léonide Massine. Stravinsky agreed to do a revival of the ballet in 1925, and Diaghilev turned the choreography over to George Balanchine. The ballet never reached the success of later Balanchine works, but did establish the first collaboration between Stravinsky and Balanchine. In the years to come, their collaboration would prove to be one of the most creative partnerships ever made between a choreographer and a composer. (Le Chant du Rossignol: music by Igor Stravinsky; sets, costumes, and curtain by Henri Matisse; new choreography by George Balanchine; premiere on June 17, 1925, Théâtre de la Gaïté-Lyrique, Paris.)

Rehearsal photograph of George Balanchine's Le Chant du Rossignol, from an album compiled by Serge Grigoriev, 1925. Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (020.02.00)
Digital ID # br0023

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj18

George Balanchine and Ballets Russes

George Balanchine (1904–1983) joined Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as a dancer in 1924. Two of his greatest works, Apollo and Prodigal Son, were created during the last years of the company’s existence. Today Balanchine is regarded as one of the principal artists of modern times and the founder of classical ballet in America.

Alexandra Danilova and Serge Lifar in George Balanchine’s The Triumph of Neptune, 1926. Alexandra Danilova Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (024.00.00)
Digital ID # br0024

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj19

The Triumph of Neptune, 1926

With inspiration from English pantomime and folk songs and sets and costumes influenced by British illustrators and caricaturists George (1792 – 1878) and Robert (1789 –1856) Cruikshank, The Triumph of Neptune was popular with London audiences. Shown is Diaghilev’s notebook with notes for revisions of Balanchine’s The Triumph of Neptune (music by Lord Berners; costumes by Pedro Pruna; choreography by George Balanchine; premiere on December 3, 1926, Lyceum Theatre, London).

Serge Diaghilev’s notebook, 1926–1929. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (025.00.00)
Digital ID # br0025

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj20

Back to Top

Apollon Musagète Premieres at Library of Congress

The choreography for Apollon Musagète was originally commissioned by Library of Congress patroness Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for choreographer/dancer Adolph Bolm and composer Igor Stravinsky. The work premiered on April 27, 1928, in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. On June 12, 1928, Diaghilev’s version premiered at the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, Paris, with choreography by George Balanchine and sets and costumes by André Bauchant. Retitled Apollo, the work became one of Balanchine’s most beloved ballets and rarely has been absent from the repertory of the New York City Ballet. (Apollon Musagète: music by Igor Stravinsky; sets and costumes by André Bauchant; choreography by George Balanchine; premiere on June 12, 1928, Théâtre Sarah-Berhardt, Paris.)

Alexandra Danilova and Serge Lifar in Apollon Musagète, ca.1928. Alexandra Danilova Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)
Digital ID # br0026

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj21

The Nijinsky Children

Vaslav Nijinsky and his sister Bronislava Nijinska (1891–1972) are two of the most significant dance celebrities of the twentieth century. Born into a family of dancers, both graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg and contributed to the success of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as dancers and choreographers.

The Nijinsky children: Vaslav, Bronislava, and Stanislav, ca.1897. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00)
Digital ID # br0027

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj22

Vaslav Nijinsky, 1908

Vaslav Nijinsky joined the Ballets Russes as a dancer in 1909 and soon became an international star. Among the many artists associated with the Ballets Russes, only Nijinsky became a celebrity and a legend. As a dancer, he was admired for his outstanding ballet technique and dramatic onstage presence.

Vaslav Nijinsky in dance practice clothes, 1908. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00)
Digital ID # br0028

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj23

Bronislava Nijinska, 1908

Bronislava Nijinska was one of the most remarkable figures in the development of twentieth-century choreography. Nijinska’s work reflected a pioneering combination of classical ballet and choreographic innovation. She joined the Ballets Russes as a dancer in 1909 and was made a principal dancer the next year. Between 1921 and 1924, Nijinska was ballet mistress and chief choreographer for the Ballets Russes. During her tenure with the company she choreographed nine ballets and numerous operas for Diaghilev.

Bronislava Nijinska at her graduation from the Imperial Theater School, 1908. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (029.00.00)
Digital ID # br0029

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj24

Narcisse, 1911

A vehicle for Nijinsky’s brilliant dance technique, Narcisse was little performed after he left the company in 1917. (Narcisse: music by Nikolai Tcherepnin; libretto, sets, and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Michel Fokine; premiere on April 26, 1911, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

Vaslav Nijinsky in Narcisse, 1911. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (030.00.00)
Digital ID # br0030

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj25

Nijinsky as the Puppet Petrouchka

The puppet Petrouchka was one of Vaslav Nijinsky’s most famous roles, Bronislava Nijinska wrote of her brother’s performance at the end of Petrouchka: “With an agonizing pain and sadness in his eyes, he extends a trembling arm in farewell to the crowd, knowing that only they, the gray, common, Russian crowd, love and understand Petrouchka. The heavy wooden head hangs to one side, and the tragic eyes stare out of the grotesque, still mask of the doll’s face.”

Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrouchka, 1911. Serge Diaghilev/Serge Lifar Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (031.00.00)
Digital ID # br0031

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj26

Nijinsky’s Controversial L’Après-midi d’un Faune

Vaslav Nijinsky’s stark and erotic choreography for the ballet L’Après-midi d’un Faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) was criticized by the Parisian press as obscene. (L’Après-midi d’un Faune: music by Claude Debussy; sets and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Nijinsky; premier on May 29, 1912, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris).

Bronislava Nijinska, Olga Khohlova, and Lubov Tchernicheva in L’Après-midi d’un Faune, 1912. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (032.00.00)
Digital ID # br0032

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj27

Back to Top

Nijinsky’s Notation for L’Après-Midi d’un Faune

Dancer/actress Ida Rubinstein agreed to perform the role of the Nymph in Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un Faune but, after only one rehearsal, she was indignant about the choreography and refused to participate in the ballet. Later, Rubinstein related her reasons. “Nijinsky wanted the impossible. If I had submitted to his direction I would have dislocated every joint in my body and would have been transformed into a maimed marionette!” Shown here are some of Nijinsky’s notes for the choreography, in his own hand.

Vaslav Nijinsky’s notation for a section of L’Après-midi d’un Faune, 1912. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (033.00.00)
Digital ID # br0033

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj28

Bronislava Nijinska in L’Après-Midi d’un Faune

Bronislava Nijinska noted in her memoirs that the ten-minute ballet L’Après-Midi d’un Faune required ninety rehearsals. In the early stages of developing the ballet, Nijinsky had his sister try out some of his choreography. In 1922, Bronislava Nijinska took the unusual step of performing in the ballet not as the Nymph, but as the Faune—the role created by her brother Vaslav Nijinsky. Mikhail Larinov (1881–1964) created this drawing of Nijinska as the Faune, with Diaghilev watching.

Mikhail Larinov. Bronia dans le Faune, 1912. Pencil. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (034.00.00)
Digital ID # br0034

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj29

Score for Le Sacre du Printemps, with Nijinsky’s Choreography

In 1913, Nijinsky’s assistant, Marie Rambert (1888–1982), asked Igor Stravinsky for a copy of the piano score so that she could record Nijinsky’s choreography for Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring: music by Igor Stravinsky; sets and costumes by Nikolai Roerich; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; first performance on May 28, 1913. Théâtre Champs-Élysées, Paris). In her diary, Nijinska relates the events surrounding the appointment of Marie Rambert as an assistant to Nijinsky for Le Sacre: “After visiting the studio of [Emile] Jacques-Dalcroze, Diaghilev claimed that he was concerned that our artists would not be able to master the difficult rhythms . . . and that he had invited Dalcroze’s best pupil . . . to teach us eurhythmics. I was burning with indignation and protested loudly, ‘I cannot see what a Dalcroze pupil can teach our artists. We are already familiar with Stravinsky’s music, having danced in two ballets, Petrouchka and The Firebird, where we had no trouble with the rhythms of his complicated scores’.”

Piano score for Le Sacre du Printemps, notated by Marie Rambert, 1913. Page 2. Spivacke Fund Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress. (035.00.00)
Digital ID # br0035, br0035_01

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj30

Nijinsky in Schéhérazade

By 1913, Vaslav Nijinsky was a household name throughout Europe, and many publications were created to mark his celebrity status. In this 1913 print, Nijinsky is shown in the role of the Golden Slave with Ida Rubinstein as Zobéïde in Fokine’s Schéhérazade.

George Barbier. Vaslav Nijinsky and Ida Rubinstein in Schéhérazade from Designs on the Dances of Vaslav Nijinsky. Trans. C.W. Beaumont. London: C.W. Beaumont, 1913. Page 2. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)
Digital ID # br0036

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj31

Nijinsky’s Wedding

Vaslav Nijinsky and a young Hungarian, Romola de Pulszky (1891–1978), an ardent fan who took up ballet to be close to Nijinsky, were married while the Ballets Russes was on tour in South America. The couple did not share a common language.

Vaslav Nijinsky and Romola de Pulszky on their wedding day, Buenos Aires, September 10, 1913. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (037.00.00)
Digital ID # br0037

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj32

Nijinsky’s Strained Relationship with Diaghilev

As a result of his anger at Nijinsky’s marriage, Diaghilev dismissed Nijinsky from the Ballets Russes in late 1913. Nijinsky rejoined the company in the summer of 1917 for a tour of Spain and South America, but refused to dance unless paid—in cash—prior to each performance. This 1917 receipt notes that for $500 Nijinsky will dance Le Spectre de la Rose and Les Sylphides at the Theatre Municipal in Rio de Janeiro. Six weeks later he appeared in his last public performance in Montevideo, Uruguay. He was twenty-nine years old.

Receipt for Vaslav Nijinsky’s performances in Rio de Janeiro, August 18, 1917. Music Division, Library of Congress (038.00.00)
Digital ID # br0038

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj33

The Sleeping Princess, a Financial Disaster

Described as a “gorgeous calamity” by critics, The Sleeping Princess ran for 115 performances but nearly bankrupted Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. To finance the lavish production envisioned by Diaghilev, the Alhambra Company gave him an advance against box office receipts of nearly ₤20,000. When Diaghilev could not pay back the loan, a legal battle ensued and the sets and costumes were impounded. The Ballets Russes was barred from performing in England until late 1924. (The Sleeping Princess: music by Petr Ilich Tchaikovsky, partly reorchestrated by Igor Stravinsky; sets and costumes by Léon Bakst; choreography by Marius Petipa, with additional dances by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on November 2, 1921, Alhambra Theatre, London.)

1 of 3

  • Studio of Léon Bakst. Costume design for a courtier in The Sleeping Princess, 1921. Watercolor. Music Division, Library of Congress (039.00.00)
    Digital ID # ppmsca-19410

  • Bronislava Nijinska’s choreographic notes for The Sleeping Princess, 1921. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (040.00.00)
    Digital ID# br0040

  • Bronislava Nijinska’s choreographic notes for The Sleeping Princess, 1921. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (040.00.00)
    Digital ID# br0041

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj34

Back to Top

"Aurora’s Wedding" from The Sleeping Princess

Aurora’s Wedding (also known as Le Mariage de la Belle au Bois Dormant), a twenty-minute, one-act version of the court scenes from the ill-fated production of The Sleeping Princess. Aurora’s Wedding was performed more than 200 times until 1929. Bronislava Nijinska danced the part of the Siamese Butterfly. (Aurora’s Wedding: music by Petr Ilich Tchaikovsky, partly reorchestrated by Igor Stravinsky; sets and costumes by Alexandre Benois, with additional costumes by Natalia Goncharova; choreography by Marius Petipa, arranged and with additional dances by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on May 18,1922, Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.)

1 of 2

  • Natalia Goncharova. Costume design for the Siamese Butterfly in Aurora’s Wedding, 1922. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (041.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0041

  • “The Three Ivans” in Aurora’s Wedding, 1922. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0043

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj35

Productions of Les Noces, 1920s

For Diaghilev’s production of Les Noces (The Wedding), Nijinska insisted on simple scenery and dark colors for the costumes to emphasize the seriousness of the theme, which centers on a young peasant girl who leaves her family for the unknown world of marriage. (Les Noces: music by Igor Stravinsky; sets and costumes by Natalia Gontcharova, choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on June 13, 1923, Théâtre de la Gaïté-Lyrique, Paris.)

1 of 2

  • Rehearsal of Les Noces on the roof of the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, 1923. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0045

  • Les Noces, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, 1926. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (046.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0046

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj36

Dance Theatre of Harlem Reconstruction of Les Noces, 1989

In 1989, Bronislava Nijinska’s daughter, Irina Nijinska, supervised the reconstruction of Les Noces for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. One review noted that “66 years after its premiere, the ballet remains astonishingly experimental.” Another critic said: “Les Noces was deftly done, both in the rendition of Stravinsky’s pungent score and in the dancing.”

Dance Theatre of Harlem in a reconstruction of Les Noces, 1989. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00)
Digital ID # br0048

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj37

Stravinsky Writes to Nijinska, 1923

The large cast of forty dancers in Les Noches was complimented by Stravinsky’s complex orchestration, which included four pianos, percussion, and a chorus. In this letter to Nijinska, Stravinsky attempted to clear up some ambiguities in the score and wrote: “Sergei Pavlovich [Diaghilev] said to me that you and he are not clear on the reprise at the beginning of Les Noches. Now you listen carefully!”

Letter from Igor Stravinsky to Bronislava Nijinska, March 27, 1923. Page 2. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00)
Digital ID # br0044p1, br0044p2

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj38

Twentieth-Century Ballets Based on Eighteenth-Century Themes

Les Fâcheux (The Unfortunate) was one of several ballets and operas produced by the Ballets Russes during the 1920s that focused on themes related to eighteenth-century France. These productions were rooted in France’s post-World War I fascination with bygone monarchies and court life. (Les Fâcheux: music by Georges Auric; sets, costumes, and curtain by Georges Braque; choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on January 19, 1924, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

Les Tentations de la Bergère, ou L’Amour Vainqueur (The Temptations of the Shepherdess) was another of Diaghilev’s ballets inspired by eighteenth-century France. Unlike similar productions, which utilized twentieth-century scores, the music for Les Tentations de la Bergère was composed by Michel de Montéclair (1667–1737). (Les Tentations de la Bergère, ou L’Amour Vainqueur: music by Michel de Montéclair, arranged and orchestrated by Henri Casadesus; sets, costumes, and curtain by Juan Gris; choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on January 3, 1924, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

1 of 2

  • Unidentified dancers in Les Fâcheux, 1924. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (050.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0050

  • Juan Gris. Costume design for a shepherdess for Les Tentations de la Bergère, ou L’Amour Vainqueur, ca. 1923. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (051.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0051

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj39

Premiere of La Nuit sur le Mont Chauve, 1924

Although Natalia Goncharova created striking sets and costumes, La Nuit sur le Mont Chauve (The Night on Bald Mountain) was performed only three times and soon fell into obscurity as a ballet. (La Nuit sur le Mont Chauve: music by Modest Mussorgorsky; sets and costumes by Natalia Goncharova; choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on January 19, 1924, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

1 of 2

  • Natalia Goncharova. Costume design for La Nuit sur le Mont Chauve, ca. 1923. Watercolor. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (052.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0052

  • Unidentified dancers in La Nuit sur le Mont Chauve, 1924. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (053.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0053

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj40

Les Biches, Bronislava Nijinska’s Parody on 1920s Sexual Mores

Les Biches (The House Party) explored the sexual mores of the 1920s with a candor never before seen on a ballet stage. The flamboyant cast of characters included gigolos, a hostess, and a pair of sapphists, who probed a multitude of forbidden themes such as castration, narcissism, and voyeurism. (Les Biches: music by Francis Poulenc; sets, costumes, and curtain by Marie Laurencin; choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on January 6, 1924, Théâtre de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo.)

1 of 2

  • Vera Nemchinova as the Blue Girl in Les Biches, ca. 1924. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (054.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0054

  • Marie Laurencin. Curtain design for Les Biches, ca. 1923. Watercolor. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (055.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0055

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj41

Back to Top

Le Train Bleu, a 1920s View of the Shallowness of Modern Love

Le Train Bleu examined Bronislava Nijinska’s view of the shallowness of modern love. Its title was motivated by the train that took fashionable sun worshipers from Paris to the chic seaside resorts of southern France. The ballet’s characters included a tennis player, based on 1920s French champion Suzanne Lenglen, and a golf player said to be modeled on the Prince of Wales. Other characters in the ballet were described by the librettist Jean Cocteau as “tarts and gigolos.” (Le Train Bleu: music by Darius Milhaud; sets by Henri Laurens; costumes by Gabrielle [“Coco”] Chanel; curtain by Pablo Picasso; choreography by Bronislava Nijinska; premiere on June 20, 1924, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris.)

1 of 2

  • Original cast of Le Train Bleu, 1924. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (057.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0057

  • Leon Woizikowski, Lydia Sokolova, Bronislava Nijinska, and Anton Dolin in Le Train Bleu, 1924. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (059.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0059

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj42

The Ballets Russes on Tour

Although many of the Ballets Russes’s designers, dancers, and all of its choreographers were Russian, the company never performed in Russia. Without a permanent home, the Ballets Russes performed every year of its existence, touring throughout Europe, the United States, and South America, even through the dark years of World War I.

1 of 4

  • Poster for a June 1922 performance at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (061.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0061

  • Ballets Russes on tour in Cologne, Germany, 1924. Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (064.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0064

  • Ballets Russes dancer and choreographer Adolph Bolm’s passport, 1913–1921. Adolph Bolm Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (062.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0062

  • Ballets Russes on tour, 1929. From left to right: conductor Roger Désormière; Serge Diaghilev; dancer Serge Lifar; Diaghilev’s secretary and librettist Boris Kochno; and dancers Alexandra Danilova, Lubov Tchernicheva, and Felia Doubrovska. Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (068.00.00)
    Digital ID # br0068

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj43

The Ballets Russes Tours to South America, 1913

Members of the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev were photographed in Madeira, on their way to South America in August 1913, one month before the marriage of Vaslav Nijinsky and Romola de Pulszky. (Nijinsky and de Pulszky are standing next to each other, directly behind the boatswain.)

Members of the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev, August 28, 1913. Bronislava Nijinska Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (066.00.00)
Digital ID # br0066

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj44

The Ballets Russes on One of its Last Tours

Serge Grigoriev, Ballet Master of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1909–1929, took photographs of some of the company’s last tours before Diaghilev’s death. Top photographs from the left: Felia Doubrovska, Serge Lifar, George Balanchine, and Lubov Tchernicheva; Tchernicheva; Doubrovska, Constantin Tcherkas, and Tchernicheva. Bottom photographs are unidentified.

Ballets Russes on tour in Montreux, Switzerland, 1929. Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, Music Division, Library of Congress (067.00.00)
Digital ID # br0067

Bookmark this item: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/ballets-russes/exhibition-items.html#obj45

Back to top