Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels Exhibit Opens At NYPL 6/26

Igor Stravinsky, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léon Bakst, Pablo Picasso, and George Balanchine are among the great collaborators who worked in Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, where they changed the face of modern ballet and influenced the course of the arts in the 20th century. Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels: The Ballets Russes and Its Aftermath, a new exhibition at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, draws on diverse materials from the Library's renowned collections to tell the remarkable story of the company and the impresario who founded it. Autograph scores by Stravinsky, costume and set designs by Léon Bakst, Nijinsky's diary, Diaghilev's notebooks, and hundreds of other treasures chart the trajectory of the legendary company, from its first stirrings within fin de siècle Russia to its astounding opening success on stage in Paris in 1909 and its 20 years of ground-breaking artistry, to its influence on the companies that followed in its footsteps.

Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels: The Ballets Russes and Its Aftermath, on view June 26 through September 12, 2009, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Ballets Russes and explores the company's historical and cultural context and international influences. At the heart of the company and the exhibition is founder and director Serge Diaghilev, the Russian aesthete whose discerning eye and deep knowledge of the arts allowed him to select the most promising young choreographers, from Michel Fokine and Vaslav Nijinsky to Leonide Massine and George Balanchine; the most talented young composers, from Igor Stravinsky to Manuel De Falla and Maurice Ravel; and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Natalia Goncharova to design the sets and costumes. This new collaborative process in ballet, stressing the importance of each contributor and offering a fusion of the arts, defined the company throughout its brief history and brought its audiences to their collective feet, sometimes in adoration and other times in anger. Another marvel of the Ballets Russes was its dancers, initially trained in the great Maryinsky Theater of St. Petersburg tradition and among the finest performers ever seen.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center is located on the Lincoln Center campus at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Admission is free and exhibition hours are: Monday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday from: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (The Library is closed on Sundays and holidays.) For further information, telephone 212,870.1630 or visit

"Through the combination of art, music, and dance material, Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels emphasizes the collaboration that was central to the Diaghilev aesthetic and artistic process," said exhibition curator Lynn Garafola. "It reveals the Russian background from which Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes sprang; its impact on companies such as the Ballets Suedois and artists such as La Argentina (Antonia Mercé), Anna Pavlova, and Mikhail Mordkin; its influence through the post-Diaghilev Ballets Russes companies, especially The Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo directed by Serge Denham, and stagings in the United States of Ballets Russes-inspired productions, such as The Rite of Spring choreographed by Leonide Massine with Martha Graham in the title role."

"‘Astonish me,' Diaghilev famously challenged the multi-talented Jean Cocteau, who was writing the libretto for the company's new ballet Parade ­- for which the poet Apollinaire coined the word surreal. And the choreographers, composers, and designers Diaghilev selected for the Ballets Russes did just that for the director and for audiences up until today," said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "We are delighted to display the Library's important and inspiring collection of Ballets Russes materials."

Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels examines the Ballets Russes through visual, documentary, and recorded materials from various divisions of The New York Public Library. Serge Diaghilev's career as the indefatigable director of the Ballets Russes, his passionate quest for new forms, commitment to developing young talent, and far-ranging influence are evoked through the Jerome Robbins Dance Division's important collections of designs, drawings, photos, souvenir programs, rare books, scrapbooks, magazines, and archival documents, including one of Diaghilev's "black books," in which he jotted notes about repertory and other matters. Several scores by Igor Stravinsky, on loan from The Juilliard School, include sketches from Petrouchka, and early versions of Firebird, Apollo, and Les Noces with handwritten corrections by the composer. This section includes costumes and designs of such artists as Pablo Picasso, Léon Bakst, Mikhail Larionov, and André Derain, who were invited by Diaghilev to work for his company.

Drawing on the rich resources of The Library's Slavic and East European Collections, which include treasures from the collections of Diaghilev's two great Imperial patrons, Grand Dukes Vladimir and Sergei, the exhibition traces Diaghilev's St.Petersburg career as an exhibition curator, author, and the founding-editor of the important art journal Mir iskusstva. The 1899-1900 Yearbook of the Imperial Theaters, edited by Diaghilev, is among the materials on display in this section.

The exhibition concludes with materials from the two successor companies, Colonel Wassily de Basil's Ballets Russes and Serge Denham's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, among the numerous ballet troupes that have been influenced by the Diaghilev company.

The films and videos in the exhibition include excerpts from documentaries about the Ballets Russes, revivals of its works by later companies, and rare footage from the Dance Division's Massine Collection of the choreographer's works of the 1930s danced by the de Basil company. An excerpt from the 1939 film Nobilissima Visione, St. Francis will be shown in the 1981 version that was restored and enhanced with added sound. The ballet, choreographed by Leonide Massine, is performed by the original cast of The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in practice dress. The cast features Leonide Massine (St. Francis), Frederic Franklin (knight and wolf), Michel Panaieff, Roland Guerard and Marcel Fenchel (St. Francis' companions). Other rare dance footage included in the exhibition are excerpts from the 1915-1916 film The Dumb Girl of Portici, starring the great Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, and the 1959 documentary The Sleeping Ballerina: The Story of Olga Spessivtzeva, the ballerina who starred as Diaghilev's Sleeping Princess before her career was tragically cut short by mental illness. The exhibition will also showcase dance footage from the BBC, including excerpts from The Royal Ballet's productions of Les Sylphides, The Firebird, Petrushka, and Les Noces; and from Channel Thirteen/WNET, including excerpts from The Joffrey Ballet's productions of Petrouchka and Parade.

In addition to the artifacts from the Library's Jerome Robbins Dance Division and The New York Public Library's Slavic and East European Collections, the exhibition will include objects from The Library's Music Division, and a small number of private and institutional lenders. The exhibition is curated by Lynn Garafola, Professor of Dance at Barnard College and author of several books, including Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Serge Diaghilev (1872 ­- 1929) and the Ballets Russes (1909 ­- 1929)
Serge Diaghilev was born into a wealthy Russian family and grew up in the city of Perm. In 1890, he was sent to study law in St. Petersburg. But his ambition was to be a composer and he also studied music until it became clear that he his talent in this area was, at best, mediocre. During his student days in the Russian capitol, he joined a small circle of friends that included Alexandre Benois and Léon Bakst. With them, he developed his knowledge of fine arts and became an art critic and historian. He curated numerous art exhibitions and was the founder-editor of Mir iskusstva (The World of Art), Russia's first modern art journal that championed symbolism, post-impressiosm, and other new movements. In 1899, he went to work as a special assistant to the director of the Imperial Theaters where he edited the Yearbook of the Imperial Theaters. He was dismissed in 1901 after refusing to continue editing the theater annual because of disagreements about the ballet Sylvia, which he had been assigned to produce.

In 1906, Diaghilev organized and brought a huge exhibition of Russian art to Paris. The following year he returned to the French capital with a concert series of Russian music. Then in 1908, he made his debut as a theater producer by taking the opera Boris Gudonov to Paris, where it was a triumph in its first engagement outside of Russia. With this success under his belt, he returned to Paris in 1909 and took the city by storm with a company of 100 ballet dancers and a repertoire of five unique ballets. The critics and audiences were wildly enthusiastic; they had never before seen dancers of this caliber or ballets of such artistic integrity. Diaghilev's career as a ballet impresario was launched and his taste, choices, and influence in the creation of ballets for his company would have a profound effect on the arts. With its amazing dancers and inventive repertoire of ballets that melded dance, drama, music, and art in new and exciting ways, the Ballets Russes was a beacon with a sensational twenty-year run.

After Diaghilev's death in 1929, his legacy was most closely identified with the companies directed by Sergei Denham and Colonel Wassily de Basil. They adopted similar names and some of the repertory and personnel associated with their great predecessor.

Even today the influence of the Ballets Russes remains powerful throughout the dance world. Over the years, dance companies absorbed different aspects of its identity-its exoticism, experimentalism, collaborative approach, modernism, nationalism, and multiple layers of Russianness. From the Paris Opéra to La Argentina's Les Ballets Espagnols, Rolf de Maré's Ballets Suédois, Ballet Theatre, Ballet Rambert, Adolph Bolm's Ballet Intime and Chicago Allied Arts, Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, Ninette de Valois's Vic-Wells Ballet, Aurelio Milloss's Budapest Opera Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the influence of Diaghilev has been as diverse as it is pervasive.

Diaghilev's Theater of Marvels: The Ballets Russes and Its Aftermath is on view fromJune 26 through September 12, 2009 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza. Exhibition hours are: Monday and Thursday from 12:00 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 6 p.m.; andSaturday from 10 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; closed Sundays and holidays. Admission is free. For exhibition information, call 212.870.1630 or visit the Library's website at



Related Stories

More Hot Stories For You

Cast Announced for THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at San Jose Stage CompanyCast Announced for THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at San Jose Stage Company
August 18, 2022

The San Jose Stage Company has announced the cast and creative team for The Play That Goes Wrong, the first production of MILESTONE: The 40th Anniversary Season. The madcap hit from Broadway and the West End, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, will be directed by Jon Tracy.

The Apollo to Hold In-Person & Online Auditions for Amateur Night in SeptemberThe Apollo to Hold In-Person & Online Auditions for Amateur Night in September
August 18, 2022

On Saturday, September 24, the Apollo will hold in-person auditions for its signature program, Amateur Night at the Apollo, the quintessential talent competition and one of the longest-running events in the world. 

AstonRep Theatre Company Announces 15th and Final Season Kicking Off in OctoberAstonRep Theatre Company Announces 15th and Final Season Kicking Off in October
August 18, 2022

AstonRep Theatre Company has announced its 15th and final season, kicking off this fall with a revival of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Buried Child directed by Ensemble Member Derek Bertelsen*. The 2022-23 season continues this winter with AstonRep’s 15th Annual Writer’s Series, featuring free readings of new works by emerging writers, presented virtually via Zoom.

FRIGID New York Announces 25th Season Celebration, Featuring Days of the Dead Festival, Gotham Storytelling Festival & MoreFRIGID New York Announces 25th Season Celebration, Featuring Days of the Dead Festival, Gotham Storytelling Festival & More
August 18, 2022

FRIGID New York will celebrate 25 years of presenting a massive quantity of stimulating downtown theater with their 2022-23 season at The Kraine Theater and UNDER St. Marks.

Scott Parkinson and Robert Stanton to Star in THE GOLD ROOM by Jacob Perkins at HEREScott Parkinson and Robert Stanton to Star in THE GOLD ROOM by Jacob Perkins at HERE
August 18, 2022

i am a slow tide, a performance and media collective founded by director Gus Heagerty, is  presenting the world premiere of The Gold Room by Jacob Perkins, which marks the playwright’s professional debut. Starring Scott Parkinson and Robert Stanton, The Gold Room is an acerbic, mind-bending fall into the genesis of queer identity.