Earlier this month, I posted about the ongoing exhibition [June 26-September 13] at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts - "Diaghilev's Theater Of Marvels: The Ballets Russes and Its Aftermath." On this rainy Saturday, my dance class cancelled and my mood foul, I decided the calm of the exhibition would be a fabulous distraction. It proved more than such - Upon entering, I walked into the ultimate Ballet Russe lovefest, and I ate up.
At the Ballets Russes, everything is beautiful. Everything is a work of art. Pablo Picasso, Natalia Goncharova and Boris Anisfeld's costume design drawings exemplify the avant-garde and cubist art of the time with defined shapes and bold colors. Even the programs and flyers on display are art, showing us that Diaghilev considered no aspect of the production unimportant. Glass cases house rare items that give exhibition goers an insider's perspective, including objects such as: Michel Fokine's "Guestbook" with autographs, inscriptions and artworks by friends and colleagues; Leon Bakst's sketchbook; Diaghilev's "Exercise Book" with cast lists, financial records, etc; Vaslav Nijinsky's diary; and some of Stravinsky's handwritten scores.
Even the costumes from "Le Spectre de la Rose" are on display. (I never knew a unitard could be so exquisitely detailed.) Picasso's costumes for "Le Tricorne" are as imaginative as his paintings, with triangles, circles and amorphous designs in red, blue and green fabrics. However, perhaps the most interesting object in the exhibition was Andre Breton and Louis Aragon's "Protestation" - a leaflet that protested the collaboration of surrealist painters Max Ernst and Joan Miro in Diaghilev's production of "Romeo and Juliet" . "Romeo and Juliet" was supposed to include a set by Christopher Wood, but at the last minute, Diaghilev replaced his designs with adaptations of semi-abstract paintings by Ernst and Miro. In "Protestation," Breton and Aragon essentially accuse and criticize the two artists for 'selling out.' Oh, the drama!
Other highlights included larger than life reproductions of Picasso's costume designs, a pair of Anna Pavlova's pointe shoes, Nicholas Roerich's costumes for "The Rite of Spring" (as reproduced under the supervision of Sally Ann Parsons for the Joffrey Ballet's reconstruction in 1987), and at the back of the exhibition, a wall of six television screens each playing a different ballet.
Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels is by no means meant only for dance enthusiasts. What I took away from the exhibition was a sense of Diaghilev's genius in bringing together many of the great artists, dancers and musicians of his time, not to mention an uplifted and inspired spirit as I walked back out into the rain.
Editor's Note: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is located at Lincoln Center. For details online, click here or by phone: (212) 870-1630. The exhibition runs through September 12th.