Ballets Russes in Australia: Our Cultural Revolution was a four-year celebration of the impact and legacy of the Ballets Russes in Australia. The project began in 2006, 70 years after the Ballets Russes first visited these shores, and culminated in 2009, the centenary of the founding of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris.
The research project manifested in performances, publications, online resources, touring displays and a weekend symposium.
The first three years
The 2006 Revolutions program celebrated the work of Mikhail Fokine, Diaghilev’s first major collaborator and choreographer of the Ballets Russes' premiere season in 1909. Also in 2006 The Dancers Company began a three-year regional Australian tour of Ballets Russes works chosen from the de Basil company repertoire.
In 2007 The Australian Ballet paid tribute to the work of Diaghilev protégées George Balanchine and Léonide Massine with performances of Apollo (Balanchine), Symphonie Fantastique and Les Présages (Massine). The works of these two choreographers traced important developments in 20th century ballet and indicated the far-reaching international impact of Diaghilev and his cohorts.
In The Australian Ballet's 2008 performances, the Ballets Russes’ international influences were further explored in two programmes. The first, Jerome Robbins – a celebration, wass a tribute to this unique, multitalented force in American theatre. Robbins joined Balanchine’s New York City Ballet in 1949 where he found a home. Like the artists of the Ballets Russes, Robbins spent his life exploring the many languages of dance and brought a new vocabulary to the world of classical ballet. He was a collaborator par excellence and a worthy successor to the Diaghilevien drive to continually renew the art form.
It is with similar drive that The Australian Ballet embarked upon the second programme, Interplay, supporting relationships and collaborations between choreographers, composers and designers from diverse backgrounds to create three innovative world-premiere works. The different creative processes and outcomes of these artists' collaborations was the focus of the Ballets Russes project in this period.
Ballets Russes Symposium
The Ballets Russes Symposium was held in Adelaide in May 2008. The three-day event featured talks from Australian and international dance experts, including Professor Lynn Garafola, Professor Stephanie Jordan and award-winning television producer Bob Lockyer, as well as panel discussions by leading Australian artists involved in the creation of ballets. Also, as part of the Symposium the Ballets Russes in Australia exhibition was seen at the Festival Theatre and Art Gallery of South Australia.
A wealth of research
While to date performances provide the obvious focal point of the project, a wealth of research and other activities have been undertaken over the past three years with many others planned for 2009. Amongst these, comprehensive timelines, performance locations and lists of personnel (dancers, musicians, designers, touring staff) are being assembled. Personal accounts of the periods are being gathered from living sources as well as from newspapers, films, personal letters, diaries and shipping lists. This work has entailed trips to public and private collections all over Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and Europe. Many exciting discoveries have been made of previously unknown material, some of which has since been acquired by the National Library of Australia and has been digitised to make it available to the general public.
One such discovery in 2006 was a series of photos by a Melbourne lawyer, Hugh P Hall. The astonishing treasure trove contained over a thousand photos of Ballets Russes performances and was intended to form a travelling exhibition to record de Basil’s company on tour in Australia. Material like this is invaluable as it helps the research team to piece together the detail and volume of previously unconnected information around each of the tours.
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.