Museum says unearths "only" film of Ballets Russes

Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:02am EST
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A dance enthusiast has discovered what London's Victoria & Albert Museum said on Monday was the only known film footage of a Diaghilev Ballets Russes dance performance.

The silent, black and white film is just over a minute long with 30 seconds of dance, and is believed to have been made without the permission of artistic director Sergei Diaghilev, who controlled every aspect of the famous company's performances and strictly disallowed filming.

Ballets Russes was a traveling dance troupe active in the 1910s and 1920s under the leadership of Diaghilev, and helped launch the reputations of the likes of Vaslav Nijinsky.

Susan Eastwood, a member of the London Ballet Circle, visited the V & A's recent exhibition on the dance troupe, found the unaccredited footage on the British Pathe archive and alerted exhibition co-curator Jane Pritchard.

Pritchard wrote in her blog last week: "And yes, I think she is right ... I think we now have to say there is a tiny fragment of film of the actual Ballets Russes."

Pritchard wrote that the footage was apparently taken at the June, 1928 Fete des Narcisses in Montreux, Switzerland, and that it was Serge Lifar dancing the lead role.

"I have often commented that if the Fete des Narcisses was happening now everyone would be filming it surreptitiously and if only someone had sneaked a movie camera in.

"The film is poor quality (obviously filmed from at a distance and almost certainly without permission of Diaghilev); very brief. But now I have to say Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was filmed!"

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)