Top positive review
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irresistible charm - and he knew it.
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.