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The Ballet Russes

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Ballet dancer Tamara Karsavina in Firebird. Ca 1912.
Ballet dancer Tamara Karsavina in Firebird. Ca 1912. © E.O. Hoppé/CORBIS

The Ballets Russes was one of the most influential theatre companies of the 20th century. First conceived by Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian art critic and ballet impresario...

Who? The Ballets Russes was one of the most fantastical and influential theatre companies of the 20th century. First conceived by Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian art critic and ballet impresario, the company went on to introduce a remarkable freedom into the arts, influencing not only ballet and theatre, but also fashion, visual arts, and interior design.

What? Assouline's upcoming special edition is a celebration of the explosion of creativity in Western Europe, that was created by Diaghilev's company and their roll call of collaborators. Creatives and visionaries from the arts such as Igor Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, and Pablo Picasso were involved in shaping the Ballet Russes' unique style and mesmeric appearance, and the book serves to document this, the "most illustrious page in the history of ballet".

Why? Delving deep, beyond the legend, into the true history of the ballet company, the book offers a unique insight into the creative process of the Ballets Russes from 1911-1914, with particular emphasis on the character of Diaghilev himself, described by Erin O’Connor as "a figurehead for us all, a man who could talk the talk and walk the walk". The interrelationship between the Ballet Russes and the fashion of their day is also explored, and it clear they played a transcendent role in affecting the attitudes of contemporary audiences towards what ballet dancers should look like. The extraordinary dresses and colour schemes upset all preconceived ideas concerning ballet dancing and pantomime, with Chanel herself designing costumes for several ballets, and taking some inspiration for herself, represented in the brand's iconic signature two-tone ballet shoes.

Ballet Russes is published by Assouline, and is due for release in November 2011.

Text by Dimitra Sotirchos

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