The Ballets Russes (French for The Russian Ballets) was a ballet company established in 1909 by the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev. It performed until his death in 1929. It was initially resident in the Théâtre Mogador and Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris and then moved to Monte Carlo. Its members originated from the Tsar's Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg, where all its dancers were associated and trained. Younger dancers were trained in the Russian tradition in Paris, with the community of exiles after the Russian Revolution. The company featured and premiered now-famous (and sometimes infamous) works by the great choreographers Marius Petipa, Michel Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska, Leonide Massine, Vaslav Nijinsky, and a young George Balanchine at the start of his career.
It created a sensation in Western Europe because of the great vitality of Russian ballet compared to French dance. The Ballets Russes became one of the most influential ballet companies of the 20th century, in part because of its ground-breaking artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. Its works were part of the avant-garde culture in Paris and France. That influence, in one form or another, has lasted to this day.
After Diaghilev's death, the company's property was claimed by creditors. The dancers were scattered. Colonel Wassily de Basil and his associate René Blum revived the company under the name Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. George Balanchine and Leonide Massine worked with them as choreographers and Tamara Toumanova as a principal dancer. De Basil and Blum argued constantly, so Blum founded another company under the name Original Ballet Russe.
During World War II the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo toured extensively in the United States, giving Americans a strong impression of what was known as "Russian Ballet." When dancers retired and left the company, they often founded dance studios in the United States or South America, or taught at other dancers' studios. With Balanchine's founding of the New York City Ballet, many former Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo dancers went to New York to teach.
The Original Ballet Russe toured mostly in Europe. Its alumni were influential in teaching classical Russian ballet technique in European and British schools.
The Serge Lifar collection of Ballets Russes costumes and other memorabilia is on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
The company invited contemporary artists to design sets and costumes, including Bakst, Benois, Braque, Gontcharova, Picasso, Chanel, Matisse, Derain, Miro, de Chirico, Dalí, Bilibin, Tchelitchev, Utrillo and Nicholas Roerich.
In another collaboration, Diaghilev and his choregraphers worked with contemporary composers, who included Debussy, Milhaud, Poulenc, Prokofiev, Ravel, Satie, Respighi, and Richard Strauss. Perhaps the most notable was Igor Stravinsky, whom Diaghilev spotted when he was virtually unknown. By hiring Stravinsky, Diaghilev helped launch his career in Europe and later the United States. Stravinsky's scores for ballets The Firebird and Rite of Spring shocked Paris audiences and the latter caused a near riot.
|Year||Title||Composer||Choreographer||Set and costume|
|1909||Le Pavillon d'Armide||Nikolai Tcherepnin||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Benois|
|1909||Prince Igor||Alexander Borodin||Michel Fokine||Nicholas Roerich|
|1909||Cléopatre||Anton Arensky||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1910||The Firebird||Igor Stravinsky||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Golovine, Léon Bakst|
|1910||Schéhérazade||Rimsky-Korsakov||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1910||Carnaval||Robert Schumann||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1911||Petrushka||Igor Stravinsky||Michel Fokine||Alexandre Benois|
|1911||Le Spectre de la Rose||Carl Maria von Weber||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1912||L'après-midi d'un faune||Claude Debussy||Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky||Léon Bakst, Odilon Redon|
|1912||Daphnis et Chloé||Maurice Ravel||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1912||Le Dieu Bleu||Reynaldo Hahn||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1912||Thamar||Mily Balakirev||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1913||Jeux||Claude Debussy||Vaslav Nijinsky||Léon Bakst|
|1913||Le sacre du printemps||Igor Stravinsky||Vaslav Nijinsky||Nicholas Roerich|
|1913||Tragédie de Salomè||Florent Schmitt||Boris Romanov||Sergey Sudeykin|
|1914||La légende de Joseph||Richard Strauss||Michel Fokine||Léon Bakst|
|1914||Le Coq d'Or||Rimsky-Korsakov||Michel Fokine||Natalia Goncharova|
|1915||Soleil de Nuit||Rimsky-Korsakov||Léonide Massine||Mikhail Larionov|
|1917||Parade||Erik Satie||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1919||La Boutique fantasque||Gioachino Rossini, Ottorino Respighi||Léonide Massine||André Derain|
|1919||El Sombrero de Tres Picos (aka Le Tricorne)||Manuel de Falla||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1920||Le chant du rossignol||Igor Stravinsky||Léonide Massine||Henri Matisse|
|1920||Pulcinella||Igor Stravinsky||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1921||Chout||Sergei Prokofiev||Mikhail Larionov||Mikhail Larionov|
|1921||Sleeping Princess||Pyotr Tchaikovsky||Marius Petipa||Léon Bakst|
|1922||Renard||Igor Stravinsky||Bronislava Nijinska||Mikhail Larionov|
|1923||Les Noces||Igor Stravinsky||Bronislava Nijinska||Natalia Goncharova|
|1924||Les Biches||Francis Poulenc||Bronislava Nijinska||Marie Laurencin|
|1924||Les Fâcheux||Georges Auric||Bronislava Nijinska||Georges Braque|
|1924||Le train bleu||Darius Milhaud||Bronislava Nijinska||Laurens (scene), Coco Chanel (costumi), Pablo Picasso (fondali)|
|1925||Les matelots||Georges Auric||Léonide Massine||Pruna|
|1926||Jack in the Box||Erik Satie||George Balanchine||André Derain|
|1927||La chatte||Henri Sauguet||George Balanchine||Naum Gabo|
|1927||Mercure||Erik Satie||Léonide Massine||Pablo Picasso|
|1927||Pas d'acier||Sergei Prokofiev||Léonide Massine||George Jaculov|
|1928||Apollon musagète||Igor Stravinsky||George Balanchine||Bauschant (scene), Coco Chanel (costumi)|
|1929||Le fils prodigue||Sergei Prokofiev||George Balanchine||Georges Rouault|