Show puts Diaghilev among greats of modern art

Fri Sep 24, 2010 10:49am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Russian dance impresario Sergei Diaghilev once sat down to dinner with Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Igor Stravinsky.

For many, his name is the least familiar amid the roll-call of early 20th century artistic greats, but a major exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum seeks to explain why Diaghilev deserved his seat at the table.

"It is curious organizing an exhibition when you know that your central figure is much less well known than many of the people around him," said Jane Pritchard, curator of the show which opens on Saturday.

"Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929" is made up of three sections which provide the backdrop for the famous dance company to burst on to the European cultural scene, explain how it operated and showcase a wide range of costumes and designs used by the troupe.

It opens with an introduction to Diaghilev, who was born in Russia in 1872 and rose in the world of the art through his friendship with artists, involvement in periodicals and organization of exhibitions.

But sensing his best opportunities lay abroad, he left his homeland for Paris where he and his ballet company would soon be at the cutting edge of dance, music, costume and design.

"I think he found there was an eager audience in France," Pritchard said, explaining why Diaghilev moved overseas.

"He felt he could make his mark there, and his early success meant that there was no going back," she told Reuters. "He really created a ballet company that was 'Russia for export'."   Continued...