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From Russes with love: the early-20th-century gay genius of Nijinsky, Diaghilev, and the Ballets Russes comes alive in a major exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art. (art).

Sometime before the Ballets Russes' debut in Paris at the beginning of the last century, Oscar Wilde remarked, "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art." The Ballets Russes' artists did both. Gay impresario Sergey Diaghilev and his mostly Russian team gave new and long-lasting life to the stagnant ballets of the West, and part of that magic derived from Diaghilev's inspired way of integrating every aspect of his productions. The Ballets Russes' sometimes riot-inducing performances featured music by composers such as Stravinsky amid avant-garde sets and lavish costumes created by the likes of Matisse, Picasso, and De Chirico.

Thirty of those costumes, along with nearly 80 sketches and renderings of costume and set designs, are on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art from February 12 to May 4. Last exhibited in the United States in 1998, the selections are from the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn. The "merging of performing arts and fine arts" shown here, curator Katy Rothkopf says, made the Ballets Russes "revolutionary."

Also revolutionary was the company's famously radical dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, who had a five-year relationship with Diaghilev and who became "the first significant icon available to men coming to terms with their homosexuality," according to Kevin Kopelson, author of The Queer Afterlife of Vaslav Nijinsky. He is captured in the exhibition through designer Leon Bakst's rendering of Nijinsky's skintight costume from L'Apres-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun).

The costumes and renderings "will be of interest to gays and lesbians who'd like to visualize an important chapter in the history of Western sexuality," Kopelson says. "The costumes in particular were most readily appropriable by men (and women) who fantasized about being Nijinsky--even if they didn't fancy being gay."

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Author:Dehnart, Andy
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 18, 2003
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