TURN the clock back 100 years and there’s never been a era like it – The Wright Brothers had taken to the air, Louis Bleriot had flown the Channel, Charlie Chaplin was on the silver screen, and greats like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Henri Mattise were re-shaping the art world.
Igor Stravinsky had scandalised society with his Rites of Spring and reflecting it all – and causing uproar along the way – was Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes.
And almost unbelievably there’s a chance to catch a glimpse of this era at a unique and must-see exhibition at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery.
Featuring never before seen costumes, programmes and artwork from Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes loaned by a Worcestershire private collector, it’s combined with the Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition ‘Matisse: Drawing with Scissors’ featuring 35 lithographic reproductions of famous cut-outs including the iconic image Blue Nudes.
Here are the names who shaped much of the art world we know today – renowned Russian artist Anna Pavlova danced withe Ballet Russes, Nijinsky was not on Diaghilev’s principal male dancer, but lover too.
British dancers Alicia Markova, Ninette de Valois and Anton Dolin all performed with the Ballet Russes.
Dolin and Markova later went to form the London Festival Ballet, now the English National Ballet, while Dame Annette de Valois helped form the Vic-Wells Ballet, later renamed the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, sister company of Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet which became Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Not only that but the last male principal Diaghilev signed before his death in 1929 was a Rupert Doone from Redditch – right here in Worcestershire.
“Ballet Russes were based in Paris but toured all over the world,” said exhibition curator Philippa Tinsley.
“They only performed once in Birmingham, in 1928, and we don’t know but it’s reasonable to assume that Diaghilev came across Rupert Doone during that visit. He must have been very talented.
“I get the impression that life with the Ballet Russes was a madcap and financially insecure existence, but they were right at the forefront of pushing the boundaries.”
A poster advertising that Birmingham performance forms part of the exhibition, as does a selection of costumes, programmes, one featuring art by Picasso who along with a number of other famous names from the early 20th Century designed both costumes and sets for Ballet Russes.
There are some real insights into what made the company such a success – including what male ballet dancers padded their jockstraps out with!
It truly is a fascinating exhibition and combined with the Matisse makes a great excuse to visit the city.
The show runs until April 27 and is free to enter – not only that but they’ve also refurbished the museum cafe to celebrate.