Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

Failed Impressions: Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in America, 1916

  • Hanna Järvinen
Extract

In 1916 the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872–1929) took the Ballets Russes out of war-torn Europe for a tour across the North American continent. The tour was scheduled to run from January to April 1916, with short seasons in New York at the beginning and the end. As it turned out, the company returned for a second tour that ran from late September to January 1917, during which time, however, Diaghilev's former lover and principal star dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky (1889–1950), replaced him as director.

In this article I discuss the cultural differences at the heart of the Ballets Russes' failure to conquer America in 1916–1917, and why that failure had to be edited out of history. Specifically, I look at three aspects of the publicity and critical reception: elitism, patriotism, and modernism. The publicists of the company both misunderstood and underestimated their audience, but in dance research, their prejudices have been taken for granted. The “eye-witness accounts” of Diaghilev's employees and the histories of the company written in the first half of the twentieth century have largely gone unquestioned since, but contemporary primary sources of the North American tours tell a different story. By contrasting the first tour with the second, which received less publicity and better reviews, I emphasize the practical experience of touring in the New World and how differently American critics evaluated the achievements of the two Russian directors of the company—Diaghilev (for the first tour) and Nijinsky (for the second).

Copyright
References
Hide All
Acocella, Joan Ross. 1984. “The Reception of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Artists and Intellectuals in Paris and London, 1909–1914.” Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University.
Amberg, George. 1949. Ballet in America: The Emergence of an American Art. New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce.
Ambrose, Kay. 1951. The Ballet-Lover's Companion: Aesthetics without Tears for the Ballet-Lover. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Armitage, Merle. 1946. Dance Memoranda. Edited by Corle, Edwin. 2nd ed.New York: Duell, Sloan, and Pearce.
Au, Susan. 1993. Ballet and Modern Dance. London: Thames and Hudson.
Bernays, Edward L. 1965. Biography of an Idea. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Bougault, Valérie. 1997. Paris Montparnasse: The Heyday of Modern Art, 1910–1940. Translated by Wyllie, Murray. Paris: Editions Pierre Terrail.
Bourman, Anatole. 1938. The Tragedy of Nijinsky. London: Robert Hale Ltd.
Bowden, Sally. 1999. “The Avant-Garde Politics of Petrouchka: Retrieving the Performance Text of 1911.” In Dancing Texts: Intertextuality in Interpretation, edited by Adshead-Lansdale, Janet, 2653. London: Dance Books.
Bowlt, John E. 1982. The Silver Age: Russian Art of the Early Twentieth Century and the ‘World of Art’ Group. Oriental Research Partners Studies in Russian Art History. Rev. ed. Newtonville, MA: Oriental Research Partners.
Braudy, Leo. 1997. The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History. New York: Vintage.
Brewster, Ben, and Jacobs, Lea. 1997. Theatre to Cinema: Stage Pictorialism and the Early Feature Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Buckle, Richard. 1993. Diaghilev. Rev. ed. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Buckle, Richard. 1998. Nijinsky, Rev. ed. London: Phoenix Giant.
Burt, Ramsay. 1998. “Re-presentations of Re-presentations: Reconstruction, Restaging, and Originality.” Dance Theatre Journal 14 (2): 3033.
Caffin, Caroline, and Caffin, Charles H.. 1912. Dancing and Dancers of Today: The Modern Revival of Dancing as an Art. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company.
Carbonneau, Susanne. 1999. “Adolph Bolm in America.” In The Ballets Russes and Its World, edited by Garafola, Lynn and Baer, Nancy van Norman, 219–44. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Carter, Alexandra. 1998. “The Case for Preservation.” Dance Theatre Journal 104 (2): 2629.
Cohen, Barbara Naomi. 1979. “Ballet Satire in the Early Broadway Revue.” Dance Scope 13 (2–3): 4450.
The Dance: Ancient and Modern. 1900. Translated by Moore, Arabella E.. Philadelphia: Press of Avil. Accessed January 13, 2008, from <http://www.archive.org/details/danceman058>.
deCordova, Richard. 2001. Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Diaghilev, Serge. 1979. “Around the World with the Russian Ballet.” Dance Magazine (September): 4854.
Dizikes, John. 1993. Opera in America: A Cultural History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Dunham, Curtis ed. 1918. Dancing with Helen Moller: Her Own Statement of Her Philosophy and Practice and Teaching Formed upon the Classic Greek Model, and Adapted to Meet the Aesthetic and Hygienic Needs of To-Day. Introduction by “Narodny, Ivan.” New York: John Lane.
Flitch, J. E. Crawford. 1912. Modern Dancing and Dancers. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott,
Fokine, Michel. 1961. Memoirs of a Ballet Master. Translated by Fokine, Vitale, edited by Chujoy, Anatole. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.
Franko, Mark. 2002. The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement and Identity in the 1903s. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Garafola, Lynn. 1988. “The Ballets Russes in America.” In The Art of Enchantment: Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909–1929, edited by Baer, Nancy van Norman, 122–37. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco/Universe Books.
Garafola, Lynn. 1992. Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. New York: Oxford University Press.
Grigoriev, Serge. 1953. The Diaghilev Ballet, 1909–1929. Translated and edited by Bowen, Vera. New York: Dance Horizons.
Haskell, Arnold. 1955. Diaghileff: His Artistic and Private Life. London: Victor Gollancz.
Huesca, Roland. 2001. Triomphes et scandales: La belle époque des Ballets russes. Paris: Hermann.
Jackson, Barry. 1991. “Diaghilev: Lighting Designer.” Dance Chronicle 14 (1): 135.
Järvinen, Hanna. 2003. “The Myth of Genius in Movement: Historical Deconstruction of the Nijinsky Legend.” Ph.D. diss., University of Turku (Finland).
Järvinen, Hanna. 2008. “‘The Russian Barnum’: Russian Opinions on Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909–1914.” Dance Research 26 (1): 1841.
Jeschke, Claudia, and Nectoux, Jean-Michel. 1990. “Afternoon of a Faun: Chronology of Performances by the Ballets Russes of Serge de Diaghilev.” In Nijinsky: Prélude à L'Après-midi d'un Faune, edited by Nectoux, Jean-Michel, 125–35. London: Thames and Hudson.
Jowitt, Deborah. 1989. Time and the Dancing Image. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kachouba, Valentina. 1979. “Interview with Frederick J. Maroth.” Transcript held at the Dance Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Kendall, Elizabeth. 1984. Where She Danced: The Birth of American Art-Dance. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kinney, Troy, and Kinney, Margaret Wise. n.d. The Dance: Its Place in Art and Life. Rev. ed. New York: F. A. Stokes [first edition 1914].
Kirstein, Lincoln. 1987. Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dance. Princeton, NJ: Dance Horizons.
Kobler, John. 1988. Otto the Magnificent. New York: Scribner and Sons.
Krauss, Rosalind E. 1988. The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lee, Carol. 2002. Ballet in Western Culture: A History of Its Origins and Evolution. New York: Routledge.
Levine, Lawrence W. 1988. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Levy, Suzane Carbonneau. 1990. “The Russians Are Coming: Russian Dancers in the United States, 1910–1933.” Ph.D. diss., New York University.
Lifar, Serge. 1945. Diaghileff: His Life, His Art, His Legend. London: Putnam.
Macdonald, Nesta, ed. 1975. Diaghilev Observed by Critics in England and the United States, 1911–1929. New York and London: Dance Horizons and Dance Books.
Malnig, Julie. 1999. “Athena Meets Venus: Visions of Women in Social Dance in the Teens and Early 1920s.” Dance Research Journal 31 (2): 3462.
Matz, Mary Jane. 1984. The Many Lives of Otto Kahn. New York: Pendragon.
McConachie, Bruce A. 1988. “New York Operagoing, 1825–50: Creating an Elite Social Ritual.” American Music 6 (2): 181–92.
Nemchinova, Vera. 1975. Interview with Joan Kramer, Carrie Nye Cavett, Benita and Dean Carey. June 20 and 21. Transcript preserved at the New York Public Library Dance Collection.
Nijinska, Bronislava. 1981/1992. Early Memoirs. Translated and edited by Nijinska, Irina and Rawlinson, Jean. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Nijinsky, Romola. 1980. Nijinsky and The Last Years of Nijinsky. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Facsimile reprint of two books, ©1934 and ©1952)
Nijinsky, Tamara. 1991. Nijinsky and Romola. London: Bachman and Turner.
Nijinsky, Vaslav. 1999. The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky [unexpurgated edition]. Translated by Fitzlyon, Kyril, edited by Acocella, Joan. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Ostwald, Peter. 1991. Vaslav Nijinsky: A Leap into Madness. London: Robson.
Parker, H. T. 1982. Motion Arrested: Dance Reviews of H. T. Parker. Edited by Holmes, Olive. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Pessen, Edward. 1971. “The Egalitarian Myth and the American Social Reality: Wealth, Mobility, and Equality in the ‘Era of the Common Man.’American Historical Review 76 (4): 9891034.
Portes, Jacques. 1988. “Mirrors or Filters: The Evolution of Europe's Image of the United States, 1910–1930.” In High Brow Meets Low Brow: American Culture as an Intellectual Concern, edited by Kroes, Rob, 7598. European Contributions to American Studies, vol. 13. Amsterdam: Free University Press.
Rath, Emil. 1914. Æsthetic Dancing. New York: A. S. Barnes.
Reynolds, Nancy, and McCormick, Malcolm. 2003. No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Schouvaloff, Alexander. 1997. The Art of Ballets Russes: The Serge Lifar Collection of Theater Designs, Costumes, and Paintings at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Sert, Misia. 1953. Misia and the Muses. With an appreciation by Cocteau, Jean. New York: John Day.
Shawn, Ted. 1920. Ruth St. Denis: Pioneer and Prophet: Being a History of Her Cycle of Oriental Dances. 2 vols. San Francisco: For John Howell by John Henry Nash.
Sinfield, Alan. 1994. The Wilde Century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Moment. London: Cassell.
Sokolova, Lydia, 1960. Dancing for Diaghilev: The Memoirs of Lydia Sokolova. Edited by Buckle, Richard. London: John Murray.
Spencer, Charles. 1974. The World of Serge Diaghilev. With contributions by Dyer, Philip and Battersby, Martin. Chicago: Henry Regnery.
St.-Johnston, Reginald. 1906. A History of Dancing. London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent and Company.
Stravinsky, I. F. 1997. Perepiska s russkimi korrespondentami: Materialy k biografii. Vol. 1, 18821912; vol. 2, 1913–1922. Edited and annotated by Varunts, V. P.. Moskva: Kompozitor.
Stravinsky, Igor. 1975. An Autobiography. London: Calder and Boyars (French edition published in 1935).
Stravinsky, Vera, and Craft, Robert. 1978. Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Thomas, Helen. 1995. Dance, Modernity and Culture: Explorations in the Sociology of Dance. London: Routledge.
Todd, Robert B. 1977. “Nijinsky in Vancouver—Sixty Years Ago.” In Vancouver Ballet Society Newsletter (January): 1516.
Tolstoy, Leo. 1956. What Is Art? and Essays on Art. Translated by Maude, Aylmer. London: Oxford University Press (Russian edition published in 1898).
Tomko, Linda J. 1999. Dancing Class: Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Divides in American Dance, 1890–1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Turnbaugh, Douglas Blair. 1992. “Le rôle d'Otto Kahn dans la libération de Nijinsky, ses représentations à New York et l'organisation de sa tournée à travers les États-Unis.” In Écrits sur Nijinsky, edited by Stanciu-Reiss, Françoise and Pourvoyeur, Jean-Michel, 145–53. Paris: Chiron.
Van Vechten, Carl. 1917. Interpreters and Interpretations. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Whitworth, Geoffrey. 1913. The Art of Nijinsky. London: Chatto and Windus.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Dance Research Journal
  • ISSN: 0149-7677
  • EISSN: 1940-509X
  • URL: /core/journals/dance-research-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed