Thursday, 30 March 2017

Leon Bakst

Leon Bakst

One of the magnets that attracted me to ballet was the work of the artists whom Sergei Diaghilev commissioned to design sets and costumes for his productions. The artist who has impressed me most is Leon Bakst. He was born in Russia in 1866 and died in France in 1924. He created the designs for some of the most lavish productions of the Ballet Russes including Michel Fokine's Scheherazade which appears above.

We are fortunate in this country to enjoy convenient access to much of Bakst's work through the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you are new to this artist a good place to start would be the Leon Bakst page on the V & A's website. This leads on to a short biography which explains his importance in the history of art generally and theatre design in particular. There is an excellent page on Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes which "revolutionized early 20th-century arts and continue to influence cultural activity today." The nature of that revolution and its continued influence is explained with some gorgeous photographs in The 20th Century Ballet Revolution.  The V & A has an extensive collection of set and costume designs, photographs, scores and other materials in its Theatre and Performance section and there is a splendid Ballet web page with links to all sorts of other articles on the subject.

To understand how all this influences the ballets that we see today it is good to read the chapter on Serge Diaghilev and The Ballets Russes on the Royal Ballet School's website which I introduced in A New Interactive Resource: Royal Ballet School's Ballet History Timeline on Saturday. Diaghilev aroused a curiosity and appetite for dance throughout Western Europe including the United Kingdom and Bakst's work contributed much to that appeal.

Though her resources were limited particularly in the early years Ninette de Valois commissioned set and theatre designs from the best available artists when she set up her own company. Sir Frederick continued that that tradition continued with Osbert Lancaster's magnificent sets for La Fille mal gardée (see Danielle Buckley's How La Fille mal gardée creates pastoral magic through 'Marmite' cartoons 7 Oct 2016 on the Royal Opera House's website) and Nicholas Georgiadis's for Romeo and Juliet. I could be wrong for I am no expert on the topic. but it seems to me that Georgiadis was strongly influenced by Bakst particularly in his use of colour.

In so far as it is possible to express in words reasons for my love of ballet one would be that ballet is a fusion of several arts - music, painting, drama as well as choreography - and that, of course, always leads me back to Bakst.

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