Tatiana Riabouchinska, Nana Gollner, Anna Volkova (from left) and Michel Panaieff in the Original Ballet Russe production of Les Sylphides. Photograph courtesy of Anna Volkova
Ballets Russes in Australia: Our Cultural Revolution
The legendary Ballets Russes
Between 1936 and 1940 the Australian public was introduced to a brilliant and exotic company of dancers, productions, stage designs, costumes and music, the likes of which had never been seen or heard here before. The Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev’s dazzling company of artists (presented in Australia by his successor, Colonel Wassily de Basil) revitalised the art form of ballet and had a profound impact on Australian cultural life. Australians of all backgrounds were captivated by the dancers, who in turn came away with fond memories of Australia and its people. Some dancers elected to remain here during the tours, and thanks to them The Australian Ballet is able to trace a direct link to the Ballets Russes.
In 2006, The Australian Ballet embarked on a four-year celebration as the cornerstone to the research project Ballets Russes in Australia: Our Cultural Revolution. The project focuses on the impact and legacy of visits to Australia by the Ballets Russes between 1936 and 1940, and culminates in 2009, the centenary of the founding of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris.
The celebration pays tribute to the work and legacy of Diaghilev and de Basil, discovering and further developing the impact of the Ballets Russes companies on Australia through performances, publications, online resources and touring displays. The performance homage to the Ballets Russes began in 2006 with the Mikhail Fokine trilogy Revolutions, continuing in 2007 with Destiny, showcasing two of Léonide Massine’s symphonic ballets, and 2008 with Interplay, which harnessed the collaborative spirit of the Ballets Russes by pairing three international choreographers with three Australian composers to create world premiere works. In 2008 a weekend-long Ballets Russes Symposium was also held in Adelaide.
More in store for 2009
History abounds in the first Ballets Russes inspired programme for 2009, Firebird and other legends, with a 21st century reinvention of a 99-year-old classic. In one of the most keenly anticipated ballets, Graeme Murphy will recreate Firebird, taking his inspiration from Fokine’s original version, L'Oiseau de feu, created on Tamara Karsavina and premiered during Diaghilev’s second Ballet Russe season in Paris. Alongside this new work features another Fokine legend: Petrouchka, in its original incarnation and not performed by The Australian Ballet since 1970. Both ballets maintain Stravinsky’s striking scores and are joined by a return of the serene Les Sylphides.
Further evidence of our Ballets Russes heritage will be seen in Concord, which channels the energy of Diaghilev in two new works created on the company by two of the worlds most exciting and sought-after choreographers: Alexei Ratmansky and Wayne McGregor.
A final confirmation of the existence of the Ballets Russes in Australia can be found in Graeme Murphy’s Nutcracker – The Story of Clara, told through the eyes of a long-retired Russian ballerina settled in Australia after the Ballets Russes left the antipodean shores.
Read more about the Ballets Russes seasons and other project activities to date.
The Project partners
Ballets Russes in Australia: Our Cultural Revolution is a collaborative project between The Australian Ballet, the National Library of Australia and The University of Adelaide, made possible by a generous Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council.
Ballets Russes resources
Learn more about the Ballets Russes project with special publications, photo galleries, audio interviews and more on the Ballets Russes resources page.
Find out about Australian Ballets Russes collections, the latest discoveries, news, current events and activities from the official Ballets Russes website.