|Diaghilev with his nanny, painted by Leon Bakst|
The legendary ballet impresario founded the Ballets Russes, a collaborative effort of the most talented artists, composers and dancers of the early 20th century. His orientation was fairly well known, as was his relationship with the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. He moved dance away from the formal classicism of the 19th century to a modern freedom, and in doing so liberated the male dancer from his role as tripod for the ballerina to become a focus in his own right.
A stellar pantheon of collaborators included Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Michel Fokine, Leon Bakst, George Balanchine, Igor Stravinsky, Matisse, Marie Laurencin, Georges Braque, and Coco Chanel, as well as his lovers Boris Kochno, Léonide Massine, and Serge Lifar.
|Igor Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Serge Lifar|
Doing away with the lugubrious romantic works of the previous century like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, Diaghilev created a repertoire of works that were not only more natural and modern, but also experimental and controversial exploring gender identity, homosexuality, and incest.
Picasso created cubist sets for Parade. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring caused riots with its challenging rhythms. Nijinsky’s masturbatory performance in L'après-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun) caused a scandal, as did his choreography for Jeux, a dance depicting a tennis game, that was a thinly veiled depiction of a three-way.
The Ballets Russes, ironically enough, never performed in Russia. They toured the globe attracting both the newly forming café society as well as the intellectual and bohemian crowd of the day. And of course, interspersed in all that strata were large numbers of gay men and women. The Ballets Russes became a symbol of the avant garde and international chic.