Les Ballets Russes

Formed in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev, Les Ballets Russes revolutionised the art of dance, presenting work so ground-breaking it famously caused near-riots. One hundred years later, four exceptional artists at the vanguard of today’s choreography pay a thrilling tribute to this unique artistic venture.
To mark this special centenary Sadler’s Wells produces In the Spirit of Diaghilev,commissioning brand new works from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Javier De Frutos, Russell Maliphant and Wayne McGregor who are each creating work inspired by Diaghilev’s troupe and his pioneering spirit of collaboration.
Each choreographer, working with all or part of his own company and a host of world class designers, composers and artists from beyond the realms of dance, gives their own original response to the famous challenge that Diaghilev once issued to Jean Cocteau: “Surprise me!”.

Sadler’s Wells Artistic Director Alistair Spalding says; “With the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev altered the perceptions of who and what ballet could attract. It became a multi-dimensional art form and Diaghilev’s approach forged the way for generations of artists and producers to come. For this centenary I felt it was important for Sadler’s Wells to create new work, and to ask the question, if Diaghilev were alive today, what would he do? So I’ve asked Wayne McGregor, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Russell Maliphant and Javier de Frutos, to each create pieces inspired by some aspect of that period and most importantly Les Ballets Russes’ spirit of collaboration.”
Forming an evening of four brand new works, In the Spirit of Diaghilev includes collaborations across design, film, music and fashion.

Inspired by Shackleton's Nimrod expedition to the South Pole in 1909, the year that Les Ballets Russes was founded, Wayne McGregor creates Dyad 1909. Wayne McGregor Random Dance collaborates with acclaimed artists and filmmakers Jane and Louise Wilson, lighting designer Lucy Carter and costume designer Moritz Junge with costumes embellished by Swarovski and make-up by Kabuki. Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds will provide a newly commissioned score combining piano, strings and electronics.

The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company which performed under the directorship of Sergei Diaghilev between 1909 and 1929. Some of their places of residence included the Théâtre Mogador and the Théâtre du Châtelet, as Paris had a large Russian exile population. They performed in many countries, including England, the U.S.A. and Spain. Many of the company’s dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. Younger dancers were trained in Paris, within the community of exiles after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The company featured and premiered now-famous (and sometimes notorious) works by the great choreographers Marius Petipa, Michel Fokine, as well as new works by Bronislava Nijinska, Leonide Massine, Vaslav Nijinsky, and the young George Balanchine at the start of his career. Dancers included Anna Pavlova, Alicia Markova, and Bronislava Nijinska.
The company’s productions combined new dance, art and music. They created a huge sensation around the world, altering the course of musical history, bringing many significant visual artists into the public eye, and completely reinvigorating the art of performing dance. Les Ballets Russes was one of the most influential theatre companies of the 20th century, in part because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. Collaborators commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev at that time included composers Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy, and artists such as Picasso, Chanel, Matisse and Miró.

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