Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich

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Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich

Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich (syĭrgāˈ pävˈləvĭch dyäˈgĭlyĭf), 1872–1929, Russian ballet impresario and art critic, grad. St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, 1892. In 1898 he founded an influential journal, Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art]. He took a company of Russian dancers to Paris (1909) and, with the assistance of the painters L. N. Bakst and Aleksandr Benois and the choreographer Michel Fokine, founded Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, a troupe that was to revolutionize the world of dance. Diaghilev's productions were based on the principles of asymmetry and perpetual motion; both music and scene design became an integral part of the dance. He also elevated the status of the male dancer and emphasized the masculine in ballet, an art form traditionally dominated by and glorifying the feminine. An imposing personality, he was associated with dancers of the first rank, such as Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Anna Pavlova, Alicia Markova, and Anton Dolin. His choreographers included Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine; Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Dukas, Falla, Milhaud, and Richard Strauss wrote music that was first performed for his company's ballets, and Picasso and Derain often worked with him as scene designers. Diaghilev's company was dissolved after his death, but its influence on 20th cent. dance continued through the work of its dispersed choreographers and dancers.


See biographies by B. Kochno (1970), J. Percival (1971), A. Haskell (1977), R. Buckle (1979, repr. 1984), and S. Scheijen (2010); L. Garafola, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (1989); J. Drummond, Speaking of Diaghilev (1999); L. Garafola and N. V. N. Baer, ed., The Ballets Russes and Its World (1999); J. Pritchard, ed., Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929 (museum catalog, 2010).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich


Born Mar. 19 (31), 1872, in Novgorod Province; died Aug. 19, 1929, in Venice. Russian man of the theater.

Diaghilev graduated from the department of law of the University of St. Petersburg in 1896. (At the same time, he attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory, where he studied under N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov.) In the late 1890’s he helped found the association The World of Art (Mir iskusstva) and, together with A. N. Benois, was editor of the journal of the same name (1898/99-1904). He was the organizer of art exhibitions (for example, “Art Exhibition of Historic Russian Portraits,” St. Petersburg, 1905, and the exhibition of Russian art in the Autumnal Salon, Paris, 1906), which helped propagandize Russian fine arts. In art criticism written in the late 1890’s, he opposed academic routine and affirmed the aesthetic principle of art-for-art’s-sake, strongly denying art the right to tendentiousness and advocating the idea of art’s independence from reality.

An energetic entrepreneur, Diaghilev began organizing in 1907 annual performances of Russian artists known as the Russian Seasons Abroad. These included, in 1907, symphonic concerts bearing the title “Historic Russian Concerts,” in which N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, S. V. Rachmaninoff, A. K. Glazunov, and F. I. Chaliapin, among others, performed; in 1908, seasons of Russian opera; and in 1909, the first combined opera and ballet performances (the ballet seasons continued until 1913). For his ballet tours he invited M. Fokine, A. Pavlova, V. Nijinsky, T. P. Karsavina, E. V. Gel’tser, and other famous dancers. With this troupe he toured London, Rome, and American cities. Its performances represented a triumph for Russian ballet art and promoted the development (in some cases, revival) of ballet theaters in countries that previously had no ballet of their own or had lost the tradition (USA, Latin America). The innovative decor of the ballet and opera productions (the work of such artists as A. N. Benois, L. Bakst, A. Ia. Golovin, N. K. Roerich, and N. S. Goncharova) ranks among the most outstanding examples of international stage design. This type of decor greatly influenced stage design in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1911, Diaghilev organized the ballet company known as the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, which began performing in 1913 (it existed until 1929). Gradually the company became less important artistically. It fell increasingly under the sway of modernism and lost the continuity with the tradition of Russian ballet.


“Slozhnye voprosy.” Mir iskusstva, 1899, nos. 1–4. (Coauthored by D. V. Filosofov.)
Russkaia zhivopis’ v XVIII v. Vol. 1: D. G. Levitskii. St. Petersburg, 1902.


Stasov, V. V. “Vystavki—nishchie dukhom.” In Izbrannye sochineniia, vol. 3. Moscow, 1952. Pages 215–28, 232–43.
Lunacharskii, A. V. V mire muzyki. Moscow, 1958.
Grabar’, I. Moia zhizn’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.
Fokine, M. Protiv techeniia. Leningrad-Moscow, 1962.
Valentin Serov v vospominaniiakh, dnevnikakh i perepiske sovremennikov, vols. 1–2. Leningrad, 1971.
Grigoriev, S. The Diaghilew Ballet, 1909–1929. Harmondsworth, 1960.
Haskell, A. L., and W. Nouvel. Diaghilheff. His Artistic and Private Life. London, 1935 and 1955.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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THIS YEAR, the centennial of the founding of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, balletomanes have been treated to superb museum and art exhibits, film retrospectives, ballets, and panel discussions.
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