Saturday, 4 July, 2015
'Nijinsky and the Yellow Piano'
Nijinsky, Serge Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
The Ecumenical Church Hall, Wesley St, Rodley, Leeds LS13 1LJ
The day began with a presentation by Committee member and tutor Janet Hull introducing work by four of her first year students from the Scarborough College course on Historical and Performance Costume for Stage and Screen who were at the meeting to show their excellent costumes to all present.
The remainder of the day was devoted to The Ballets Russes. Before lunch, our main speaker, former Senior Lecturer in Art and design at Dewsbury College Robert Donald told the story of Sergei Diaghilev, how he was born in Born in 1872, in Perm in mid Russia and how he moved to St Petersburg when the family business failed. He had a desire to revitalise Russian culture in traditional art, folk costumes, music, embroidery, etc. and realised how important colour was in these. He also had an interest in the new Western Art as typified by the Impressionists and in 1899, Diaghilev launched the Russian magazine "World of Art". He travelled widely around Russia and collected a wide range of Russian portraits which were exhibited to great acclaim. This exhibition he took to Paris in 1907 and was able to project Russian art and culture to the Western World.
There he became involved with the world of music and theatre, particularly opera and ballet. He ran a production of Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov. He met many wealthy and influential persons including Stravinsky and became a friend of designer Leon Bakst. Traditional 19C ballet was all about the women dancers dressed in mainly white and Diaghilev wanted to change this and promote male dancers and colourful sets and costumes. He was able to attract top names in the world of ballet including Pavlova and Nijinsky when he set up the Ballets Russes in 1909. Their ballets shocked the audiences with new music, spectacular new styles of dance, colourful sets and costumes which showed much flesh! The morning session concluded with a viewing of a DVD of Scheherazade made by the Liepa, Bolshoi Ballet made in 2002, using costumes and sets based closely on the original productions.
Following an excellent lunch, Robert Donald returned to the subject of the Ballet Russes and went on to show with many illustrations how they had influenced women's fashion at the time and how this legacy still exists to this day. They promoted much greater use of colour, bold designs with large figurative patterns and helped to free women from restrictive corsetry. The dress designs of Paul Poiret owed much, for example, to the harem styles of the costumes by Leon Bakst in Scheherazade. Poiret with his daughter Martine also moved into interior design which mirrored his ideas in dress with emphasis on colour and bold patterns.