Though few outside the ballet world know his name, Serge Diaghilev revolutionized dance and music with the Ballet Russes in the teens and Roaring ’20s in Paris. One radically modern performance featuring Igor Stravinsky’s composition, “The Rite of Spring,” famously caused a near-riot in the theater. A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art explores his collaborations with some of the greatest artists of the early 20th century — including musicians and dancers, but artists of all kinds, including Matisse, Picasso and even Coco Chanel.


  • Sarah Kennel Associate Curator, Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art
  • Simon Morrison Professor of Music, Princeton University

The Golden Age Of The Ballets Russes


  • 12:23:15

    MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS NewsHour," sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. The legendary Ballet Russes was a dance company in early 20th Paris whose performances thrilled and sometimes scandalized audiences. One show famously caused a near riot by audience members during the premier of the radically modern Stravinsky composition, "The Rite of Spring." Its founder, Sergei Diaghilev, also fostered some of the most influential artistic collaborations of the 20th century.

  • 12:23:43

    MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIGeorge Balanchine, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky and even Coco Chanel all worked on productions for the Ballet Russes. An exhibition at the National Gallery of Art explores the Ballet Russes and its wide-ranging influence on the world of art. Joining us to talk about it is Sarah Kennel, the associate curator of the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art. She curated the exhibition "And the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music." That's on display through Sept. 2. Hi, Sarah.

  • 12:24:15

    MS. SARAH KENNELHi. Thanks for being here.

  • 12:24:17

    BELLANTONIThank you. Joining us from Princeton, N.J. is professor of music at Princeton University Simon Morrison. Hi, Simon.

  • 12:24:25

    PROF. SIMON MORRISONHey. How are you?

  • 12:24:26

    BELLANTONIGood. How are you?

  • 12:24:27

    MORRISONFine. Thank you.

  • 12:24:27

    BELLANTONIGreat. The driving force, Sarah, behind the Ballet Russes was its founder, Sergei Diaghilev. Sorry if pronounced that wrong. But few outside of ballet circles know his name. Tell us a little bit about him.

  • 12:24:39

    KENNELWell, Diaghilev really was one of the first great cultural entrepreneurs, in a way. He was born in Russia in 1872 in Perm City near the Urals, and he grew up -- had a very cultured and wealthy lifestyle. But his family, which had made money from a vodka monopoly, lost their fortune, and suddenly he was kind of cast onto his own. He was always interested in the arts but went to law school, really with no intention of becoming an artist.

  • 12:25:08

    KENNELHe dabbled at composition. But his teacher told him essentially he had no talent. He began curating exhibitions of art in Russia and also working with the Imperial Theater. He really was a visionary, though, kind of poised between east and west, wanting to bring new influences into Russian art. And he did this in part by bringing great Russian -- contemporary Russian artists to Paris for the first time and also publishing an art journal in which contemporary art, Russian art and European art, were seen side by side.

  • 12:25:43

    KENNELSo, really, we see even before he founds the Ballet Russes, he's fascinated with this idea of bringing different cultures together and with modern art. He forms a ballet company, essentially after two seasons of producing opera in Paris, bringing the Russian opera to Paris. At one point, his funding gets cut off, though, and so he decides to continue producing theatrical productions but just with dancers because, in a way, it was much less expensive.

  • 12:26:11

    BELLANTONIThat's very interesting. And sticking with you, Sarah, Diaghilev founded the legendary company, as you mentioned. Tell us a little bit more about why it was so innovative. What did this evoke in people that were watching?

  • 12:26:22

    KENNELWell, he really revolutionized ballet by kind of bringing together three principle elements that had been somewhat separated by the end of the 19th century. One, it was really bringing together the choreography, the music and the dancing, but also by bringing a new spirit into all of these, this idea of unification that the choreography would be designed with the art in mind, with the set design.

  • 12:26:49

    KENNELAnd the designers were thinking about the impact of movement on their costumes. And the musicians were thinking about how all of these worked together. And then, of course, he tapped artist through themselves were infused with this new spirit of change. His early designers, Leon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, really wanted to kind of draw upon these new artistic movements, symbolism.

  • 12:27:12

    KENNELAnd eventually, Diaghilev would look towards really contemporary artists, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse. His dancers and choreographers wanted to break free from the conventions of ballet and experiment with new forms of movement, essentially with the birth of modern dance. And the musicians themselves were also experimenting with new forms.

  • 12:27:32

    BELLANTONIAnd bringing in Simon Morrison, you're professor of music at Princeton University. How did Diaghilev understand his audience, and why was that so important?

  • 12:27:41

    MORRISONI think the basic thing that he understood about the Parisian audience is was the fact that they had a specific image of Russia as being exotic, which is an image that still persists and that even Russians indulge in, as well as being wild, to some degree savage. And what he wanted to do for the purposes of attaining commercial success and some notoriety was actually to give Parisian audiences the rush of their imaginations.

  • 12:28:09

    MORRISONAnd so the first productions of the Ballet Russes, specifically in terms of the music, were very much sort of super exotifications and stylizations of folklore, folk sounds and subject matter. And basically, again, he, you know, wanted to give the audiences what they wanted. And what they wanted was their fantasies about Russia incarnated.

  • 12:28:31

    MORRISONAnd at a certain point, he had two decisions to make. He could continue to stage this sort of exaggerated rituals but to make them more and more effective jarring violence. He needed to ask the artists that he was commissioning these projects from to really turn the representation of this Russia into a kind of enactment. And that, to some degree, explains why "The Rite Of Spring" in its original production was so shocking.

  • 12:29:01

    MORRISONBut then over time, because he was somebody who really got himself into position of needing to continue to startle audiences, he found that he had to innovate and astonish and innovate and astonish and naturally branch out into other types of representations. So the subject matter moved way from Russia over the course of time to France, to England and to other parts of the world. So he really diversified as part of this constant need and urge to innovate.

  • 12:29:29

    BELLANTONIAnd we're actually going to get a chance to hear the differences between some of those musical works and how they influenced people. Sarah, you want to weigh in on that, his taste and audience?

  • 12:29:39

    KENNELWell, I think that Simon really got it right. When Diaghilev first produced his opera in Paris and then eventually the ballets, it was all about Russian exoticism. And we see this in many of the costumes and costume designs for performances like "Scheherazade," which is set in a sort of a mythic harem. And here, of course, the exoticism of Russia and the exoticism of the Middle East are conflated. But we have these luxurious costumes and silks, and the dancing was incredibly sensual, beautiful but also highly sexualized.

  • 12:30:12

    KENNELAnd it was this combination of thrilling dance and very vibrant costumes with these jewel tones and, of course, Rimsky-Korsakov's music that caused a sensation. But at a certain point, audiences expected something new. And so -- and Diaghilev really had a nose for talent. And, you know, some people complained, in fact, that he was throwing, you know, overboard these talents who had been with him for long time in favor of the constant novelty.

  • 12:30:43

    KENNELThis is a problem, of course, with being an artist and with being an avant-garde that you are vaunted for your ability to break free from tradition and to produce new forms. But, of course, that's also what people expect from you. And at what point have you exhausted a particular avenue? How do you keep innovating?

  • 12:31:01

    KENNELSometimes the drive to innovate led to great success, and we have not just "The Rite of Spring" but the move into cubism and futurism on stage. Diaghilev's experiments with even kind of surrealism and other things were total flops. So I think that's the story for, you know, most great artists over -- who are working over a period of 20 years.

  • 12:31:28

    BELLANTONIAnd on our website,, you could see a slideshow of some of these costumes and sets. And, in fact, since we've come on the air, we have breaking news that the exhibition is actually continuing through Oct. 6. So, Sarah, it's pretty popular then, that's why it's gotten extended?

  • 12:31:42

    KENNELYes. Well, we had hoped we would be able to extend it, and we're thrilled that our lenders have agreed to let the works be on view for a long time. It's a very complicated show to install. And so -- and it's been very popular. So we're really happy.

  • 12:31:58

    BELLANTONIYou can join our conversation. Tell us, are you a fan of modern dance or ballet? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Send email to Get in touch on our Facebook page or always tweet to @kojoshow. In fact, we have an email from Lisa in Arlington telling us, "I studied modern dance when I was younger. Do the Ballet Russes influence other forms of dance beyond ballet like modern dance?"

  • 12:32:25

    KENNELYes. I mean, there are many different strands of modern dance. But I think that what the Ballet Russes did is that, of course, it drew from modern dance. One of the great choreographers, Michel Fokine himself was interested in the dance of Isadora Duncan, whom he had seen perform in St. Petersburg. And there are so many different choreographers who emerged out of the Ballet Russes who are foundational for ballet in America. We think of Balanchine, but also Massine, Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska and Nijinsky.

  • 12:32:58

    KENNELBut I think that that influenced not just kind of mixing form, a lot of ballets that were produced were not ever on pointe. They were not classical in many ways. Nijinsky's ballets were famous for, in a way, rejecting the virtuosity of dance, of pirouettes and leaps and jumps, in favor of a kind of powerful expression. And the lesson that movement could be stripped down and more powerful than, you know, high kicks and turns is something that, you know, it changed ballet, but it also changed modern dance.

  • 12:33:37

    BELLANTONITell us a little bit more about Nijinsky.

  • 12:33:39

    KENNELWell, he was one of the superstars -- even before he joined the Ballet Russes, he was a superstar in Russia as a very young man. And he was one of the first dancers to dance, you know, with Diaghilev. He was also Diaghilev's lover. In 1912, he premiered his first choreographic work, "The Afternoon of a Faun," and this again marks shifts in the Ballet Russes the first couple of seasons.

  • 12:34:07

    KENNELMichel Fokine had been the main choreographer, and he was really interested in transforming ballet and bringing to it a new life and expressivity, thinking about dance, not just using the hands and the feet but the entire body. And Nijinsky took that one step further. In "The Afternoon of a Faun," he created a very restrained and almost static tableaux, one that we can think of in terms of contemporary art of obstruction and stylization.

  • 12:34:37

    KENNELAnd gone were all of the jumps and the leaps and the kicks in favor of something that was very difficult and powerful and one that, you know, audiences at that time were not really sure whether it was really dance. And there was a big debate over whether Nijinsky's movement is very grounded, slow, swiveling and staccato movement harmonized with the Debussy's flowing score when against that, and I'm sure Simon can talk about that.

  • 12:35:07

    BELLANTONIYeah. So, Simon Morrison from Princeton University, I am curious about that. But also, you know, he had such a passion for music, and music was a huge part of the Ballet Russes performances. Can you talk a little bit about his passion?

  • 12:35:22

    MORRISONThe impact of the music or his passion for music?

  • 12:35:24

    BELLANTONIBoth, yeah.

  • 12:35:25

    MORRISONYeah. I would say that's modernism in music, the entire 20th century music that the Ballet Russes ultimately because of the composers involved with the most important organization. We can't think about 20th century music past after Diaghilev, during Diaghilev, without actually thinking about how important he was in terms of taking chances on young composers.

  • 12:35:48

    MORRISONStravinsky obviously, because he lived so long and went through so many styles as to changes and traveled so far from a village in nowhere Russia to Paris and then ultimately Los Angeles, he is the dominant figure in 20th century music. But if it weren't for Diaghilev and Diaghilev taking a chance on him as a young student composer and if it weren't for a series of lucky breaks, Stravinsky would not necessarily have gotten out of Russia and might not necessarily have become famous.

  • 12:36:15

    MORRISONHe got the commission to do "Firebird," his first major score and the first major success of the Ballet Russes, as the sort of fourth or fifth in line for that. So it was really, you know, a sort of chance-based operation. Musically, the innovations, you know, there are so many, it's hard to pinpoint, but to be simple, I would say that, you know, Stravinsky was one of the first composers to actually make noise.

  • 12:36:40

    MORRISONYou know, aestheticized noise make them part of a work to take that chance and brought modern composition could be to include all sorts of sounds that kind of come from the outside world as a real blizzard of sounds, noises that dominate "Petrushka," which is the masterpiece from 1911. "The Rite of Spring," which is the most famous work of 20th century music and which a colleague of mine, Richard Taruskin, rather coarsely defined as the bull that inseminated the entire modernist movement, that composition does not have, from start to finish, one stable consonant sound.

  • 12:37:16

    MORRISONIt is violence encoded into music, and it was meant to provoke, it was meant to jar, it was meant to unsettle, and it had that effect. Stravinsky, like Diaghilev himself, felt the need to constantly innovate it. And one of the things he did at the most radical extreme of his own career was his radical innovation was actually to go back to something very traditional, to go back to Mozart or Bach.

  • 12:37:43

    MORRISONAnd so, he switched from being this au fond terrible, neo-nationalist all noise all the time, all-shock effect all the time. Composers, they were actually going back to tradition and actually saying, you know what, this music which is violent and really is a good translation of a violent ritual into sound, I'm going to reject that idea, go back to the past and actually declare -- and he did this, declared that actually music has no power to represent anything beyond itself whatsoever. So that was one of his radical moves.

  • 12:38:13

    BELLANTONIAnd we're going to hear that music in just a moment. But, Sarah, set the stage for us. People rioted in the theater. Talk about that performance.

  • 12:38:21

    KENNELWell, it's May 29, 1913. It's in Paris. You're are at the brand new Theatre des Champs-Elysees, which had just opened, and it was one of the first poured concrete buildings in Paris. And even the design and the sculptural decoration of the building kind of provoked reaction. Was it too modern? Was it not classical enough? There was a heat wave. The audience was expecting something new.

  • 12:38:47

    KENNELDiaghilev had very candidly kind of seeded the press ahead of time, peppered, you know, interviews about Nijinsky's newest creation. And I believe the first ballet that opened the evening was "Les Sylphides" or something very kind of gentle and beautiful and expected. And then "The Rite of Spring," the curtain goes up, and we see dancers in the strange, ethnic costumes, something that wouldn't shock us today.

  • 12:39:14

    KENNELBut they were pretty unfamiliar to audiences based on -- supposedly based on a kind of early Slavic design, wearing these heavy wool outfits. And they're crouched, and they're stomping, and their feet are turned in, and they're jumping up and down, but they're not bending their feet when they land, so they make a big thump. And the thumping is echoed in the music, which is completely unlike any kind of ballet music.

  • 12:39:37

    KENNELAnd in a way, it was the antitheses of dance. It was quite painful to watch for many people. And, you know, people just -- they thought they were being insulted, and there were fights breaking out in the audience, you know, supporters and detractors. And the myth is that yelling was so loud that Nijinsky -- the dancers couldn't hear the music, and Nijinsky was sort of yelling out the counts in the back. You know, they somehow made it through. But it was quite an evening, and I wish I had been there.

  • 12:40:08

    BELLANTONIWell, let's try to experience it ourselves. Let's listen to "The Rite of Spring."

  • 12:41:07

    BELLANTONISo you really get that sense of that really contrasting sound there. So, Simon, why is that music so radical?

  • 12:41:15

    MORRISONIt was radical because not all the music is very dissonant. But one of the things that Stravinsky learned from his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, was that good Russian folk music actually moved a lot off of regular beat count. So what you have here is a lot of displaced accents. So you have that, dot, dot, dot, dot, ba, ba, and so the movement is off the beat constantly. And that really destabilized not only the score, but destabilized what the dancers were doing. And so the effect was to have a choreography which was very much out of sync with music.

  • 12:41:48

    MORRISONSo you have this constantly shifting sound, sort of ground moving beneath your feet all the time. And then if you imagine that sort of in and out of sync quality with the dance, that would have been a really, you know, a bizarre -- it would have made a very bizarre impression. The other simple thing that I'll say about the score is Stravinsky is working with unusual scales. He's working with bits and pieces of what's not on the octatonic scale.

  • 12:42:12

    MORRISONBut he's also taking part of the orchestra and giving it one rhythmic pattern and one tempo, and then he's contrasting that with another layer of the orchestra which moves against that. So you have this sort of polyrhythm. And then he does the same thing on a harmonic level. So one chord, which would have been consonant, you know, decent for the ear to take in, is juxtaposed with another chord from altogether a radical different key. And the result is a real dissonant misalignment of the sound.

  • 12:42:39

    MORRISONSo the texture is out, the rhythms are out, the harmonies are out. And the impressions, specifically, if you think about the fact that this orchestra would not have been very well rehearsed, that conducting practices in 1913 would have been far more volatile in the sense of a lot more flexibility in terms of tempo. The result would have really -- I think, the impression would have been very, very chaotic if, in fact, the audience could hear much of the music that pummels in the hall.

  • 12:43:03

    BELLANTONIRight. Well, you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in for Kojo. We will continue our conversation about the influential Ballet Russes movement. Stay with us.

  • 12:45:02

    BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the PBS NewsHour, sitting in for Kojo. I'm talking with National Gallery of Art curator Sarah Kennel and Princeton music professor Simon Morrison. Weigh in to our conversation about the Ballet Russes movement. Have you ever walked out of a performance or concert? What feelings did that music give you? If you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. You can send a tweet to @kojoshow. Get in touch on our Facebook page or, of course, send us an email to

  • 12:45:30

    BELLANTONIAnd we have an email from Patricia, who says, "I recall a Ballet Russes exhibition in London in the 1950s when I was growing up there and a young ballet student. It was a revelation for me. My ballet teachers were former dancers with the Ballet Russes and were living in London. Others were in Paris, and I do plan to attend the National Gallery exhibition," which, as we've mentioned, is going on through Oct. 6 at the National Gallery of Art. So, Sarah, does it surprise you that people are still so moved by this?

  • 12:45:57

    KENNELWell, I think that it's been interesting to welcome people to the gallery from all different generations. We have a lot of people who've come, who I've met, who said that their first ballet performances ever - that they've ever seen were from the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, which was the successor company to the Ballet Russes. And then if we look at the history of ballet teaching in America, so many of the teachers were either Ballet Russes dancers or Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo dancers or some version of that genealogy.

  • 12:46:28

    KENNELMany of the performances that people come to see at ballet today were performed by the Ballet Russes: "Les Sylphides" or "Petrushka" or "The Firebird." So it really is all around us. I think that the exhibition that our listener referenced to might have been the famous 1954 exhibition that was done by Richard Buckle in London. And he was really one of the first historians to kind of recognize also the value that the material culture that was left and the Ballet Russes had.

  • 12:47:04

    KENNELThat the costumes and the stage designs and the curtains and the drawings, that all of this was incredibly powerful and valuable for the history of dance. And he had a very theatrical way of presenting them, too. And that's something that we've kind of -- was driven for in our production of the exhibition at the National Gallery as well.

  • 12:47:26

    BELLANTONIYeah, absolutely. So we have an email from Tom, who's asking us if you can recommend a book or books to learn more about the Ballet Russes in Paris with that history and that part of it.

  • 12:47:36

    KENNELWell, there are actually a lot of great Ballet Russes books. I probably should suggest the exhibition catalog, which has a lot of essays on different aspects of the Ballet Russes. I think one of the go-to works on the Ballet Russes is the book by Lynn Garafola. She is a dance historian at Barnard and really has done just tremendous work. There's also a lot of books on the history of ballet that have come out that touched on the Ballet Russes in different ways.

  • 12:48:07

    KENNELJennifer Homans has written a great book. So, you know, one of the problems and challenges and the exciting things about working in the Ballet Russes, of course, is that there are many different ways to slice that cake. You can look at it through the history of music, through the history of art, through the history of dance, through general cultural history. So the bibliography is actually pretty long.

  • 12:48:28

    BELLANTONIAnd the influence that it had on George Balanchine, talk a little bit about that.

  • 12:48:33

    KENNELWell, Balanchine joined the company in the mid '20s. He had actually been dancing in the Soviet Union and essentially defected, which is, of course, a story that, you know, we're familiar with with Baryshnikov and beyond. And he staged several ballets and choreographed, I think, a total of nine ballets for the company, two of which remain in repertory, "Apollo" and "The Prodigal Son," both incredible works.

  • 12:49:02

    KENNELWhen Simon was talking about Stravinsky's kind of move away from his radical really, you know, neo-nationalist days to kind of a more, you know, new form of classism, what we call neo-classism, that's something that Balanchine is associated with. So one of the things he brought to the Ballet Russes was kind of a return to classical technique.

  • 12:49:23

    KENNELBut when paired down really exploring the power of line and abstraction in the body, kind of moving away from narrative and from maybe some of the folk elements and the spectacular elements of some of the productions and focusing very much on the marriage of music and movement. So again, he's -- for America, he's, of course, the most important choreographer in the Ballet Russes.

  • 12:49:49

    BELLANTONIAnd Ramin (sp?) in Rockville, Md., has a question about the history of ballet. Thanks for calling.

  • 12:49:55

    RAMINYeah. Hi. They're not just a ballet. It's what empowers in ballet. I mean, be it classical or modern, you see all the components that, you know, carry across. What lineage or lineage exists from France's history leads you what we call ballet?

  • 12:50:16

    BELLANTONITo -- what brought us to ballet? What became ballet?

  • 12:50:20

    KENNELWell, I think, you know, ballet has a history actually in court dances and sort of many people would position ballet in, perhaps, the court of Louis XIV. I'm not a sort of a dance history, so that's not my specialty. But, you know, in fact, it was kind of -- it was military moves and sort of military displays that became codified.

  • 12:50:43

    KENNELBut, of course, ballet was also danced by men then, and it became an art form slowly in Europe over the centuries. And the ballet that the Ballet Russes emerged out of was really a kind of a 19th-century ballet that, you know, had its roots in several centuries of dancing in Italy and in France mostly.

  • 12:51:08

    BELLANTONIAnd for ballet fans out there, we just found out that the Kirov Academy of Ballet will be performing at the National Gallery of Art on Saturday, this Saturday, July 13 at 3:30 p.m. That's free and open to the public. By the way, you can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 and tell us your experience of dance.

  • 12:51:25

    BELLANTONIAnd returning to the music, Simon Morrison, you're a professor of music at Princeton University. Let's talk about another collaboration. This was a performance involving Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie, a 13-minute long ballet called "Parade," and the sad music that was maybe even more radical than "The Rite of Spring" we heard earlier. Tell us a little bit about that and then we'll take a listen.

  • 12:51:48

    MORRISONSure. When I was probing -- doing some initial research on the Ballet Russes, I met a dance historian. A critic in Moscow actually proposed that a lot of the Ballet Russes productions concerned depression. And I couldn't accept this idea until I actually experience the "Parade," which is more radical in many respects than the Stravinsky projects because what you have here -- if I can be blunt and provocative -- is non-music accompanying non-dance in front of a non-decor.

  • 12:52:18

    MORRISONI mean, it was very much a nihilistic project about a failed performance, which you had on stage where these, you know, acrobats, circus performers and the silent film star going through some routines. This is the "Parade." These are the buskers. And there's a tent on stage, and they're trying to get people to buy tickets for the real show in a tent. And that fails. And there's a sort of audience on stage as well as the real audience, us.

  • 12:52:43

    MORRISONAnd this performance get more and more hysterical as the work, you know, as their performances failed to attract people into the big tent, into the real show. And ultimately, at the end, in the original scenario, they just start to cry. And we never get to hear what the big show is or see it. And what Satie did musically is he actually created a score which is -- has, at the beginning, a chorale and a few kind of stuff he learned as a good dutiful boy up in conservatory and rejected.

  • 12:53:14

    MORRISONAnd this music is broken and resumes and breaks down again, the curtain goes up. And what he gives us is bits and pieces of banal, deliberately very banal sounds, bit and pieces of melodic fragments that aren't very appealing at all. It's tuneful, it's consonant, but after a while because it's banal and insistent, it becomes gradiently dissonant in terms of, like, its impact on us. And you have the score here which is so nihilistic and so much about a breakdown in communication between higher art and audiences that it's fair to say that Satie invented elevator music. I mean, you...

  • 12:53:50

    BELLANTONIWell, let's listen to it and give that a go.

  • 12:54:25

    BELLANTONIThat was "Parade" from 1917. You can join our conversation, send an email to 800-433-8850, give us a call. So we have an email from someone in Washington, D.C., who saw the exhibit, which, of course, is at the National Gallery of Art through Oct. 6, and said, "It's incredible. I encourage everyone to visit." And we'll return to that question in a moment. And Marianna on the line from Washington, D.C., also saw the exhibit. Let's talk about it.

  • 12:54:52

    MARIANNAYeah. It's fabulous truly. It's the greatest I've seen at the National Gallery and yet the movies that accompany it, especially that very long one, oh, at least a month ago. What I was curious about is I saw the movie of "Petrushka" and "L'apres-midi d'un faune." And I wonder if the faun was Nijinsky in this case.

  • 12:55:13

    KENNELActually, it's Nureyev. One of the sad things about the films we have in the exhibition, with the exception of one, is that they are not of the original Ballet Russes Company. Diaghilev did not allow the company to be filmed in part to protect his box office holdings. So the only accident film right now that's known of the Ballet Russes, the original company, is a short clip that was made outdoors at a rehearsal in 1928 of "Les Sylphides." So I while I would love for somebody to discover one day footage of Nijinsky dancing, anything, so far, it hasn't happened.

  • 12:55:54

    BELLANTONILike the buried treasure. That's very interesting. And that, in fact, was our emailed question as well. So, Sarah, tell us a little bit more about sort of how the exhibit is different from what was originally organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. How was the show different?

  • 12:56:10

    KENNELWell, I think that, you know, every Ballet Russes show is going to be different based on the kind of the audiences that are coming, the questions of space, but also the story that the institution wants to tell. And the Victoria and Albert Museum has really one of the finest ballet, perhaps the finest Ballet Russes collection in the world. It's also got a whole department of theater and dance.

  • 12:56:36

    KENNELThe National Gallery is more of a visual arts institution. So we took the show that they produced in 2010 and try to make it more in line with our mission, which is telling the history of art. So we focus really on those moments where the Ballet Russes and the avant-garde and the visual arts came together. So it's -- and it's a hard balance because we wanted to sort of respect the whole history and evoke the ways in which music and dance and choreography and everything, design, came together.

  • 12:57:14

    KENNELBut at the same time, we also were sort of careful to highlight the role of the visual arts and think about the Ballet Russes as going in tandem with the particular movements with cubism and futurism and, you know, the surrealism. We've added also a number of works of art from different collections that either -- that relate to the Ballet Russes in some way: great painting of Nijinsky, a work by the cubist artist Fernand Leger that was inspired anyway by the Ballet Russes.

  • 12:57:48

    KENNELAnd I think finally, we also felt that a lot of American audiences didn't know the history of the Ballet Russes. And it could be completely overwhelming. So we've chosen maybe a more traditional walkthrough 20 years of history. It's more chronological and thematic. And it's a little bit smaller in terms of the number of ballets that we touched upon.

  • 12:58:08

    BELLANTONIThat is at the National Gallery of Art through Oct. 6. Thank you so much, Sarah Kennel, you're curator at the National Gallery of Art, and Princeton music professor Simon Morrison. I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.

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