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Ballets Russes collections in the spotlight.

A National Library of Australia exhibition due to open on 9 April 2009 will celebrate the centenary of Serge Diaghilev's uniquely creative Ballets Russes (1909-1929) and the visits to Australia and New Zealand by three Ballets Russes companies under the artistic leadership of Colonel Wassily de Basil between 1936 and 1940.

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These companies, which trace their lineage back to Diaghilev's company, were inheritors of much of the Diaghilev repertoire as well as creating their own new productions. Their other inheritance was a number of key players from the Diaghilev era. With the Australia tours came Serge Grigoriev, whose title with Diaghilev and de Basil was regisseur generale, in today's terms, repertoire and rehearsal director. A vivid drawing of him by dancer Edouard Borovansky features in the exhibition. Grigoriev's wife, Lubov Tchernicheva, came too. An aristocratic beauty, aged 45, she played the tragic young Francesca da Rimini in David Lichine's ballet based on the story from Dante's Inferno.

Tchernicheva shared her knowledge with young dancers, notably the non-Russian speaking members, who were struggling to settle into the companies' volatile atmosphere. Among them was Valrene Tweedie, who auditioned for and joined the last company in 1940 to work in the Americas for some 10 years. Another, Patricia Mary Cape, an onstage extra, travelled with the company from London to Australia in 1938. Her small snapshots of that journey, are a 'little treasure' in our Pictures collections of Ballets Russes images. You can see a gallery of them on the Ballets Russes website at www.nla.gov.au/balletsrusses/convent-garden-russian-ballet-dancers.html

The exhibition draws on the Library's comprehensive Ballets Russes collection--the nation's largest--and material from the other Ballets Russes project partners and other Australian collecting institutions. These include the National Gallery of Victoria, the Barr Smith Library Special Collections at the University of Adelaide, and a number of private loans, including one by Danish company dancer, Birger Bartholin. He rescued the ballet from embarrassment, when it was discovered that Nathalie Gontcharova's backdrop for The Firebird, was sent to the wrong country. Bartholin called on his Australian artist friends, including leading furniture designer Fred Ward and gave them a gouache cartoon he quickly made of the backdrop, and they painted it overnight!

Iconic images by Max Dupain and documentary images by Hugh P Hall, along with fine art works by Australian artists--Len Annois, Daryl Lindsay, Francis Lymburner and Enid Dickson - and dancer-choreographer Dorothy Stevenson tell the story of the Ballets Russes in Australia. Similarly, local photographs taken by dancers and their admirers throughout the tours, show the dancers off stage and off duty.

Designs created in the wake of the tours for the Kirsova, Borovansky and The Australian Ballets by William Constable and Kenneth Rowell--from the Barr Smith's Keith Glennon Collection--provide an insight into the direct influence of the Ballets Russes designers Bakst, Benois, Gontcharova and Masson on Australia artists.

Three costumes for The Australian Ballet pay tribute to Diaghilev and de Basil's companies' productions of Aurora's Wedding, a grand pageant filled with wonderful dances which represents the end of The Sleeping Beauty, and the close of the Visitors Centre exhibition.

Lee Christofis Curator of Dance
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Author:Christofis, Lee
Publication:National Library of Australia Gateways
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2009
Words:526
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