Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

As usual I have far too many unrealistic resolutions, one of which is to take further advantage of exhibitions etc. in London. So far (one weekend in) it seems to be going well.
Running from September until the end of this month at the V and A is the Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes. This is how i chose to spend my morning of the bank holiday Monday yesterday. Unfortunately, the usually dodgable 'No Photography' rule was rather strictly enforced and my grainy BlackBerry shots are nothing special of which to speak. I've used the ones from the V and A website instead. Thank you very much.
Diaghiliev (1872 - 1929) it seems was a bit of a character. Some of the first material to see on entering the exhibition are quotes from his contemporaries noting his qualities as a human being. Most along the lines that he is brilliant but 'terrible'. It appears that he was a difficult person to work with. He had many areas of expertise, philosophy, sorcery apparently and most famously a business and incredible creative for his dance company.
The exhibition is laid out chronologically, beginning with 'The first seasons'. This first room was the one i spent the majority of my time in (perhaps because at this point i was unaware of the five following rooms). I'm a sucker for hand stitching, and the costumes, created by the Russian-born Leon Bankst are phenomenal. There are lots of cultural influences. Some of the incredibly detailed handmade costumes looked nearly African with bright colours and what could be batik markings. Bankst also shows his sketching and painting ability with beautifully detailed costume designs and Egyptian and Arabic paintings using similar colour palettes. i don't really think Bankst had enough credit shown to him in the exhibition. Artist, set and costume designer - frankly sounds like a lot of work.
Another room which I loved was that containing the construction method and finished product of the backcloth for The Firebird; a 1913 production from the Ballets Russes.
It's huge, and looks a wee bit cramped in the triangular room the V and A have given it. The construction diagrams in the preceding room are just as fascinating. It's created in columns, first on large, scaled down but intricate and accurate drawings. The colours again remind me of spices and Arabic culture with the bright golden onion domes, reds, oranges and browns. These are translated magnificently onto the huge backcloth in the next room.
This image is from Little Design Book.

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