B1527. SERGE LIFAR. Serge Diaghilev – His Life, His Work, His Legend – An Intimate Biography. New York, Putnam’s, 1940. 399pp. Index; Photos.
“Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise. In 1907 he presented five concerts of Russian music in Paris, and in 1908 mounted a production of BORIS GODUNOV, starring Feodor Chaliapin, at the Paris Opéra. This led to an invitation to return the following year with ballet as well as opera, and thus to the launching of his famous Ballets Russes. The company included the best young Russian dancers, among them Anna Pavlova, Adolph Bolm, Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina and Vera Karalli, and their first night on 19 May 1909 was a sensation. The artistic director for the Ballets Russes was Léon Bakst. Together they developed a more complicated form of ballet with show-elements intended to appeal to the general public, rather than solely the aristocracy. The exotic appeal of the Ballets Russes had an effect on Fauvist painters and the nascent Art Deco style.
Perhaps Diaghilev's most notable composer-collaborator, however, was Igor Stravinsky. Diaghilev heard Stravinsky's early orchestral works FIREWORKS and SCHERZO FANTASTIQUE, and was impressed enough to ask Stravinsky to arrange some pieces by Chopin for the Ballets Russes. In 1910, he commissioned his first score from Stravinsky, THE FIREBIRD. PETRUSHKA (1911) and THE RITE OF SPRING (1913) followed shortly afterwards, and the two also worked together on PULCINELLA (1920) and LES NOCES (1923).
Diaghilev was known as a hard, demanding, even frightening taskmaster. Ninette de Valois, no shrinking violet, said she was too afraid to ever look him in the face. George Balanchine said he carried around a cane during rehearsals, and banged it angrily when he was displeased. Other dancers said he would shoot them down with one look, or a cold comment. Alicia Markova, however, was very young when she joined the Ballet Russes and would later say that she had called Diaghilev ‘Sergypops’ and he'd said he would take care of her like a daughter. Diaghilev dismissed Nijinsky summarily from the Ballets Russes after the dancer's marriage in 1913. Nijinsky appeared again with the company, but the old relationship between the men was never re-established.”
- H. P. Casavant