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4.1 out of 5 stars
9
4.1 out of 5 stars


on 22 September 2011
Beautifully written and translated, Scheijen leads us through the life of this explosive and bombastic impressario who was prepared to sacrifice everything for his artistic vision. His crusade was to acquaint Russian culture with modern Western European art for their mutual benefit. He travelled widely in his youth, deliberately seeking out titans like Tolstoy and Brahms, beginning a love-affair with Venice at the age of 18years, to which he retreated most summers and where he determined to die. Failing to launch a career as musician and singer and as editor of the arts review Mir istkussva (demise 1904), he felt he was destined to promote Russian art, opera and ballet in Paris, centre of the avant-garde. His unflagging energy and organisational skills were unequalled and he cultivated the role of poseur to publicise better his promotions. Aware of his personal faults yet grossly immodest, this abrasive man would upset the artists around him but could win them back with his irresistible charm - and he knew it. He was ever devoted to his family and friends. Ballet was in the doldrums in Europe and clung on in St.Petersburg. Our debt to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes is that they reinvigorated dance and secured its future as a modern art form.He collaborated with the most progressive choreographers, dancers, designers and composers whom he impressed with his musical understanding and grasp of theatrical effects, often operating the lighting himself. His affairs with Nijinsky, Massine, Dolin and Lifar were tolerated, Diaghilev introducing them (with varying degrees of success) to the Renaissance art of Italy, which he adored. Massine and Lifar were unpromising material yet he turned them into talented dancers. In the productive years 1907-1917 Diaghilev produced ground-breaking ballets with Fokine (Firebird, Scheherazade,Petrushka, Spectre de la Rose) and with Nijinsky (Rite of Spring,L'Apres midi d'un Faun). After 1917 Diaghilev avoided war-torn Europe by staging productions in America, neutral Spain and London (often the most lucrative). Stimulated by the arrival of Russian emigres like Prokofiev, Nijinska and Balanchine more landmark ballets were created with Massine (Parade, receiving as raucous a reception as Rite, Three-Cornerd Hat, Pulcinella) ; with Nijinska (Les Noces, Les Biches) and with Balanchine (La Chatte, Apollon Musagete, Prodigal Son).Obviously, without Diaghilev's revolutionary contribution, the modern repertoire would be greatly impoverished and ballet might have expired altogether. He died of blood-poisoning and diabetes on Aug.29th,1929, nursed by Serge Lifar, leaving no money for his funeral.
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on 5 July 2010
A very disappointing book on a life which is (should be) enthralling. This new work in no way compares to the wonderful biography of Diaghilev by Richard Buckle, which carries you into an exciting and glittering world.

The writing here is not inspiring, is usually pedestrian, and sometimes lapses into distressing trans-atlantic slang ("the classiest hotel in Moscow"), which is worlds away from the fastidious and dignified man Diaghilev was. For the most part, the characters in this account fail to take on convincing life and individuality.

Readers hoping to be thrilled by this extraordinary life should look immediately to Richard Buckle's biography, to read a completely enthralling story they will probably never forget.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 July 2013
The Ballet Russe continues to fascinate us a hundred years after its first big success in the West; there are many books on its history and on the life of its extraordinary progenitor, Serge Diaghilev. This one could claim to be the most comprehensive in that it is written by a specialist in Russian art who has done much new research, we are told, in obscure archives, especially in Russia; its purpose is to set the record straight rather than to imagine the often turbulent inner lives of its chief characters - giving it a certain dryness. One could say its written with an historian's eye rather than a balletomane's; events are usually viewed from the outside, while the feelings and the inner realities of the characters are left to the reader to speculate about. For some this impersonal tone will be a strength, for others a disappointment.

Diaghilev was the prototype cultural impresario who embraced art, opera, concerts and ballet, who organised huge exhibitions, who edited an influential art journal, was a critic, even a composer - though he had no artistic talent himself. He was what we would call now a networker par excellence, bringing into his enterprises many of the major cultural players of the early twentieth century; he had an unerring eye for genius, for what was revolutionary in the arts, for what was truly theatrical, and he had organisational abilities, willpower and charm second to none. He was one of the engines of modernism: it history, with all its messy contingencies, is here mapped out chronologically, accompanied by many evocative photographs.

One could say his life fell into three parts. The first, taking him to the age of 34, was spent in Russia where he specialised in mounting huge exhibitions of Russian art (travelling to a hundred country estates to track it down), where he established himself as a controversial art critic and an editor of an art journal that was financed by the Tsar. His long love affair with his cousin Dima developed during this time. The second phase is the one he's best remembered for in the West, when he put on concerts of Russian music and opera, and then ballet, in Europe and London, when he played out his difficult five-year affair with the volatile Nijinsky, and became the cultural sensation of his time before the first world war. The third phase is more troubled: his celebrated break with Nijinsky; his struggles to keep the Ballet Russe afloat during a time of war; his increasing ill-health. Through it all, he was the dynamo, the inspiration, the circus-master, the financier, the charmer and cajoler, the society figure, the devil to some, the indispensable, exasperating, sometimes brutal friend and colleague whose vision and high standards kept everyone on their toes; he created many enemies as well as admirers.

From the gay perspective, he was a pioneer, open about his liasons in the aftermath of the Oscar Wilde affair (the two met and took a walk together arm in arm), gathering around him what Scheijen (or his translator) calls ambiguously "the 'Homosexual Clique'", ie a group of talented collaborators without whom he could not have achieved what he did. His tastes were for teenager boys and young men. Nijinsky, famously, was a passion, but there were notable successors, such as Massine, Lefar and Kochno, all of whom he 'brought on' as dancers and choreographers. And there was also Dima, with whom he broke after many years. He never lived with any of them, nor had his own house: his role as impresario always came first.

With so many extraordinary artists passing through these pages - Diaghilev seemed to know everyone worth knowing then - there's a sense that much interesting material has had to be passed over - for example, the relationship with Nijinsky is sketched in the briefest of terms - but perhaps this was inevitable given the space available to the author. Such stories demand their own treatment in more specialist accounts (eg Lucy Moore's recent biography of Nijinsky). But anyone interested in this extraordinary figure, in the history of modern ballet, in the emergence of modernism in music and the arts, in gay studies, in the development of 20th century theatre and fashion, in the cultural history of the West, should find this account absorbing, revelatory and enlightening.
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on 9 January 2014
This man was a genius of enterprise and risk-taking. The famous Ballet Russ created a possibility for many unknown artists and composers to express themselves. Diaghilev was some kind of a window of opportunity for them. When you think that Picasso became so famous because Diaghilev found him and gave him an opportunity to work for him; Igor Stravinsky was a strange-looking guy somewhere deep in Russia. Thanks to Diaghilev he is now a famous composerf.

The story is well written, it is a good reading for everybody
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on 19 November 2009
Diaghilev, an extremely complex character had a huge influence on the artistic scene of his age. This book may not add a great deal of new material to the published literature which already exists on various facets of the cultural scene in the Europe of his time, but it does pull together all these elements to give a much more complete feel for the period. Social, historic, political and artistic interests are well served by this very well researched and readable work.

KC
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on 20 February 2010
A generally enlightening account of a fascinating if not sometimes repulsive genius. Full of fascinating detail, it is let down on a couple of occasions by a few foolish inaccuracies.
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on 7 July 2016
Well written exploration of a remarkable charachter. Good insights into other aspects that would inform the balletomane.
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on 30 January 2017
inspiring book
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on 13 March 2010
This is a good read and full of information. I ended up full of admiration for Diaghilev's ability to bring people together and make something that was somehow bigger and better. But was not as engaged or moved as I was from reading about Nureyev.
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