Russia in Reform: Will the Duma Do it?

March 15 & 16 1917 marked a monumental day for the Russian people, the decision to abdicate the crown was made by Tsar Nikolai the second. Nikolai handed the crown to his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich whom reflecting the feelings of the nation passed on all power to the Provisional Government more popularly referred to as the Duma.

In the Duma’s address to the Russian populace they start with a declaration of victory over the “dark forces of the old regime” informing the people that they now have the power to re-organize the executive power of the nation. They then transition in to a list of the new cabinet positions created and who have been appointed to them at their political alignment. These men were chosen based off of their past political and public service so the public had relations with these men so they could understand that decisions will be made by the citizens. The next step for reassuring the public were the list of principles which this new government and its members will hold themselves to. The list contains the basis for a more liberal society with items such as: forgiveness for previous victims of the law, basic freedoms, equality between all citizens, suffrage, a more public police. The most questionable law being the lack of restrictions on active duty soldiers, which most likely is in response to the war Russia was fighting at the time. The Duma concludes that this war will not delay these reforms which Russia needed.

When thinking in terms to how the Duma addresses its people is this piece successful? Could they have added anything else? What’s your interpretation for the last principle regarding active duty soldiers?

Original Proposal and Bibliography (Part 5 of 5)



Over the course of the semester I am conducting research on the dispersion of Russian culture from 1909-1929 through the Ballet Russes and the immediate years following its’ dissolution and dispersion of members. Immediately following the dissolution of the Ballet Russes, the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo was formed by former members who continued on the practices in a smaller capacity. By examining the spheres of popular culture and fashion (both social and theatrical), I will determine how culture changed and evolved over time. Historical occurrences will be taken into account only to the extent of providing context for the spread of Russian culture.

The majority of cultural research that I have gathered thus far relates to costumes and clothing. The expression of culture through clothing is of particular interest to me, especially because prior to the Ballet Russes ballet costumes were extremely rigid, and rarely varied from the traditional tutu. With the increase of fluid motion in Ballet Russes’ choreography styles began to transition into more freely flowing garments. This new fluidity allowed greater expression and emotion through movement. Men’s roles also evolved with the Ballet Russes along with their garments. Traditionally men were viewed as an assistant to the ballerina, but then they took on a more active presence on stage and their clothing followed suit.

Value and Originality:

While scholarship on the dispersion of Russian culture via the Ballet Russes already exists, I will be focusing on the sphere of fashions and costumes to convey the pertinent information. The Ballet Russes were a visual spectacle, and yet there is nearly no existing footage of a performance; a lone thirty-second clip of an outdoor rehearsal. This clip was filmed without the consent of Diaghilev, the creater of the Ballet Russes. The lengths to which Diaghilev went to ensure high box office sales were to the point where choreography and details gained from physically experiencing his spectacular performances have been lost over time due to a lack of video documentation. Many photographs of costumes and set designs were taken during the time of the Ballet Russes, but the fluidity and motion, for which the ballet was renown, was kept within the company. This reliance on costumes to envision the Ballet Russes performances particularly interests me, because so much is left to interpretation and lost to history. I believe that my research will be unique in that I am examining the relationship between popular culture fashion and theatrical fashion, because a symbiotic relationship existed between the two factors.

Through research I hope to discover to what extent social and theatrical clothing were related, and which had greater influence over the other. In the instance of the production Le Train Bleu, the famous designer Coco Chanel designed the costumes for the athletic beach inspired ballet. For this particular production it is clear that modern fashion was the inspiration, but the source of inspiration is not always so obvious. In many of the Ballet Russes productions cultural Russian garb was reproduced for the stage, which causes the question to arise whether these styles became en vogue once again do to their reoccurrence. To aid in my quest for answers to these questions Robert Hansen and Roger Leong in Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballet Russes and From Russia With Love, respectively detail the costume designs used in their books and their origins of design and fabrication.


At this point in research I have struggled in finding primary resources, however I have found many secondary sources. The main primary resource that I have come across is embedded within a secondary source, the DVD Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. In the film is a short clip of a Ballet Russes performance. This is an extremely vital piece of information as it is the only existing video footage of the Ballet Russes. Original sketches and set designs are also primary sources, which I am referencing, the main lacking primary resources are written works.


Aldrich, Elizabeth. “Serge Diaghilev and His World Examined.” Library Of Congress                     Information Bulletin 68, no. 7/8 July 2009, 131-132.

Anderson, Jack. The One and Only: The Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. New York: Dance           Horizons, 1981.

The time period after the death of Diaghilev was one in which the former members of The Ballet Russes split off individually to begin their own chapters of ballet. The author illustrates the various was in which the ballet adapts once it splits off, but recognizes that as a whole the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo did not make any great moves of it’s own. For my purposes I will use the continuation of the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo as proof of the worldwide appeal and desire to adopt this new style of ballet into each culture. Using photographs and primary sources such as local newspapers Anderson supports his claims throughout the book.

Anderson, Jack. “The Enduring Relevance of Léonide Massine.” Experiment: A Journal Of         Russian Culture 17, no. 1 (January 2011): 256-263.

Bakst, Léon. Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and                 Graphic Works. Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan. Harmondsworth, Middlesex,                   England: Viking, 1987.

Barnes, Clive. “Cincinnati Ballet.” Dance Magazine 17, no. 2, February 2003.

Caddy, Davinia. The Ballet Russes and Beyond: Music and Dance in Belle-Epoque Paris.           Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

France is arguably the most influenced country by the Ballet Russes, as the group originated to perform to the high society in France. Evidence is presented in this novel, which reveals how the French style of dance evolved due to the influence of the Ballet Ruses. Caddy’s thesis builds on historically linking events through history into one smooth streamlined timeline. In my paper I will be able to link the influence of the ballet Russes to shifts in tone and style in French theatrical realms, displaying the universality of dance and music.

Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. Produced by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, on           the occasion of the exhibition Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, 1909-1929: When Art         Danced with Music. 2013, DVD.

This film was created in conjunction with an exhibit by the same name at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC as an overview of the History of the Ballet Russes. Using interviews of former dancers, historians and a composer, the viewer is able to gain a broad view of the history and impact of the Ballet Russes. The DVD inserts multiple clips of ballet performances, including the only existing film fragment of a Ballet Russes performance. As an extremely visual spectacle of art, this video aids in my understanding of the movement and practice of the ballet in order to understand what it would have been like to witness a live performance in full. The interviews placed throughout the film provide diverse perspectives on the actions taken by Diaghilev during his time running the ballet.

Garafola, Lynn. “Dance, film, and the Ballets Russes.” Dance Research: The Journal Of               The Society For Dance Research 16, no. 1 (Summer 1998): 3-25.

Garafola, Lynn. Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

In the interest of dissecting the result of the Ballet Ruses and the world, it must first be understood how the group came to be and how the creative decisions came about. The company never actually performed in Russia, it’s roots were in trying to get Parisians to gain a favorable impression of Russia in order for the Tsar to receive a loan form France. With a background in imperialist Russia the direction in which the troupe developed can be contextually analyzed. Garafola employs photographs and primary and secondary sources to trace the development of the company. For my paper it is necessary to be able to trace historical events to their impacts on and development of production themes and adjustments.

George, Adrian. “The Art of Dance.” Dance Theatre Journal 18, no. 2 (2002): 20-24.

Haldey, Olga. “Savva Mamontov, Serge Diaghilev, and a Rocky Path to Modernism.” The           Journal of Musicology 22 no. 4 (2005): 559-603.

Hansen, Robert C. Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballet Russes. Ann Arbor,                       Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985.

By chronologically investigating the performances of the Ballet Ruses, Hansen is able to smoothly trace influence from its originating performance and costume designs. With the research method chosen by Hansen, he can attribute each identified trend to the current creative director at the time. Taking into account photographs of costumes and performances and multiple secondary and primary sources Hansen comes to the conclusion that it was the combined effort of the Ballet Russes, which ultimately led to its wide success. To prove the significance of this establishment of the Ballet Russes Company I must be able to attribute variances in style and choices to the management at the time, and I am able to do this with the aid of the detailed case study of costumes.

Jackson, Barry. “Diaghilev: Lighting Designer.” Dance Chronicle 14, no. 1 (1991): 1-33.

Kennedy, Janet. “Pride and Prejudice: Serge Diaghilev, the Ballet Russes, and the French           Public.” In Art, Culture, and National Identity in Fin-de-siècle Europe, ed. Michelle               Facos and Sharon L. Hirsh, 90-118. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.

Leong, Roger. From Russia With Love: Costumes for the Ballet Russes 1909-1933.                    Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1998.

Similarly to the above DVD, this book focuses on the costume design and symbolism and significance they had. As this book was published in Australia, the main thesis is concerned with displaying how Australian ballet and dance were forever influenced by the Ballet Russes. I will use this resource in order to bring visual representation to my research.

Massie, Suzanne. Land of the Firebird. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

In this highly specific case study of The Firebird, every aspect is detailed and investigated. Specifically interesting to me is the success garnered by the performance because of its heavily Russian theme and   perceived exoticness. Parisian crowds were in awe of the rich Russian sound in combination with the highly emotive dancers, which were a complete departure from traditional practices of the day. I will use this source to enforce the influence of the Ballet Russes and also to link performance success with Russian cultural ties.

Ostlere, Hilary. “Saluting the theatrical Diaghilev.” Dance Magazine 72, February 1998.

Potter, Michelle. “Designed for Dance: The Costumes of Léon Bakst and the Art of Isadora         Duncan.” Dance Chronicle, 1990.

Pritchard, Jane. Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When art danced with                 music. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2013.

Ruane, Christine. The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry,             1700-1917. New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009.

The heyday of the Ballet Russes coincided with multiple historical events and changes in society, which were reflected in the clothing and costumes worn for Ballet Russes productions. The belief that “Russian art should make its own contribution to European art… defined a new artistic movement on the Russian art scene”. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 171.))  In striving to make it’s own mark on the industry, the Ballet Ruses ushered on a wave of modernity, which is observable thought shifts in clothing. By analyzing the photographs and sketches of the ballet costumes I will be able to assess the connection between modernity and Russian folk roots in the popular spread of the art.

Winestein, Anna. “Quiet Revolutionaries: The ‘Mir Iskusstva’ Movement and Russian                   Design.” Journal of Design History 21, no. 4 (2008): 315-333.

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Images of the Ballet Russes (part 4 of 5)

Irina photos of Baskt with other BR members in Lausanne

Photograph. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 217))

Irina photos of Baskt with other BR members Milan

Photograph. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 217))

Irina Scheherazade scene woman

Scene from Scheherazade. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 17))

Irina Firebird photo pair

Scene from the Firebird. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 21))

Irina FIrebird pair sketch woman

Sketch of the FIrebird costme by Bakst. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 65))

Ruane photo modern gowns 2

Modern womens fashions of the early 1900s inspired by Scheherazade. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 179))

Irina Afternoon of a faun blue ribbon Nijinski

Bakst’s sketch for Afternoon of a Faun costume for Nijinski. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 60))

Aus Firebird sketch (has costume pair)

Costume sketch for the Firebird. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 35))

Aus Firebird costume (w: accompanying sketch)

Costume for the Firebird. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 34))

Pable Picasso (wearing a berat) pictured with scene painters for Parade. Curtesy of wikicommons.

Pablo Picasso (wearing a beret) pictured with scene painters for Parade. Courtesy of wikicommons. ((available at,_Paris,_1917,_Lachmann_photographer.jpg))

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The loss of Gesamtkunstwerk (part 3 of 5)

The great impresario of the Ballet Russes, Serge Diaghilev, not only created a prominent art movement, but he also contributed to the downfall of its historic remembrance. By strictly controlling the viewing of Ballet Russes productions and prohibiting video recordings, many documents were not properly archived or were simply never recorded. This means that while the most famous performances have been continued into modern times, many popular performances of the day, which fell out of the repertoire, now exist only in fragments. ((Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo (New York: Dance Horizons, 1981), 263)) Thus while the legacy continues to inspire new artists, their magic is dissipating, hampering future art enthusiasts from experiencing the full works, the complete gesamtkunstwerk of the Ballet Russes. ((Adrian George, “The Art of Dance”, Dance Theatre Journal 18, no. 2 (2002): 20.))

In many aspects of the Ballet Russes Diaghilev was forward thinking and cognizant of evolving media forms and platforms, however he ignored the largest growing media of video recordings almost completely. Diaghilev stated that he banned video recordings of his productions in order to “protect theatrical box office earnings”, however a single thirty-second clip rehearsal of Les Sylphides has evaded the redaction of Diaghilev. ((Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, produced by the National Gallery of Art (2013), DVD.)) It is unclear how the illegal recording was produced; all that is gained from the short clip are women rehearsing outside in the Swiss resort of Montreux. ((Ibid)) While Diaghilev encouraged and surrounded himself with artists of diverse backgrounds and talents, the one neglected art form was video. Diaghilev was not usually obstinate when considering new technologies on the rise, even the relatively new practice of specific lighting of performances captured Diaghilev’s attention, as he personally choreographed the lighting for the majority of productions, it was the specific art form that seemed to bother him, however the lighting of performances remains to be incomplete because interpretations of documentation (when it exists) vary for every historian. ((Barry Jackson, “Diaghilev: Lighting Designer”, Dance Chronicle 14, no. 1 (1991): 3, 12))

Cast of Les Sylphides in London 1911, curtesy of wikicommons.

Cast of Les Sylphides in London 1911, courtesy of wikicommons. ((available at

Without film documentation, each aspect of the Ballet Russes can be reexamined separately, but in separating the components each contribution looses some of its significance. One of the long time choreographers of the Ballet Russes, Leonide Massine, actively archived his work for future use, but even these efforts are only partially recovered. ((Anderson, 263)) It is possible for diligent choreographers and dancers to collaborate in the modern day and piece together parts of formerly popular librettos, as when the three lone recoverable sections of Seventh Symphony were revived in 2004. ((Ibid)) Diaghilev was not against taking inspiration from film, as in Parade produced in 1917. ((Robert C. Hansen, Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballet Russes (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985), 59)) Abstract costumes in the cubist style of two managers along with a Chinese Conjurer dance along side an American girl inspired by Hollywood actresses of the day, while sounds of modernization blare in the background; typewriters, horns and contrasting sounds mimic an industrial city center. ((Ibid.; Lynn Garafola, “Dance, film, and the Ballet Russes”, Dance Research: The Journal Of The Society For Dance Research 16, no. 1 (Summer 1998): 15))


The French and the New York Manager from Parade, courtesy of wikicommons. ((available at,_Op%C3%A9ra)_(4555465155).jpg))


Leonide Massine as the Chinese Conjurer of Parade, courtesy of wikicommons. ((available at,_Op%C3%A9ra)_(4564734593).jpg))

While Diaghilev attempted to protect he artistic creations produced by the Ballet Russes, he ultimately hindered the longevity of performances by excluding video or archival recording of productions. The most visually alluring aspect of the Ballet Russes was the costumes and their interplay of motion with the music, but this combination cannot be observed for all productions anymore because choreography has been lost and hinders recreations of the masterpieces. Due to the lack of many complete remaining works of the Ballet Russes, modern ballet companies have developed to carry on traditions of Diaghilev, and explore their own methods of art expression, including direct descendants The American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet Company are direct descendants of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. ((Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, produced by the National Gallery of Art (2013), DVD.))

Given the result of eschewing new technology, would Diaghilev reconsider his decision if he could have seen into the future? It is likely he would not. Revolutionary artists understand that great art combines talent and vision, but is a product of its time and place, and that art is something vital which everyone has the potential to actualize. How we perceive the world affects everything we do; art is a way of seeing and being – impacting not only our senses but our conception of reality. Art as inspiration, not imitation – finding one’s voice –is an endeavor that Diaghilev would applaud. Everyone has their seed of creativity to discover and develop in their own way.

Irina photos of Baskt with other BR members Venice

Photograph in Venice, 1912. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 217))

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Leon Bakst and Scheherazade (Part 2 of 5)

The opening seasons of the Ballet Russes in Paris was a unique explosion and intermingling of culture, merging east and west into an entirely new modern style. At the head of this movement was Leon Bakst, who was the chief designer for the Ballet Russes from 1909 to 1913. Bakst became synonymous with the Ballet Russes in these opening seasons, as he introduced Europe to the mysterious Russian culture and color palette. Through Bakst’s artistic vision, the Ballet Russes ushered in a new modern era of design by infusing ‘oriental’ aspects into then drab and bland fashions of the day in Paris, which have held lasting influences permeating multiple spheres of society, chiefly every day and high fashion.

Self portrait of Leon Bakst 1893. Originally from Irina Pruzhan.

Self portrait of Leon Bakst 1893. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 125))

In designing for the Ballet Russes Leon Bakst kept in mind Serge Diaghilev’s goal of the German term gesamtkunstwerk, or the total work of art in order to display Russians ability to be refined and cultured and dispel the stereotype of Russians as uncultured barbarians. ((Adrian George, “The Art of Dance”, Dance Theatre Journal 18, no. 2 (2002): 20.; Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 180.)) In order to achieve this total work of art Bakst was heavily involved through the entire creative process of the ballets which he was involved with, from the conception of costume movement through choreography to the coordination between the costumes movement against scene backdrops. In the opening seasons of the Ballet Russes in Paris, Diaghilev was under immense pressure to succeed and prove his place among Parisian society, and he put much of his faith in Bakst. A few years before Bakst began designing for the Ballet Russes, his 1908 work ‘Acacia Branch Above the Sea’ astonished viewers with it unexpected composition and color scheme, deftly combining vibrant blues, greens, yellows and pinks. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 14)) When designing ballets Bakst was able to retain this spontaneity and allowed these ideas form years prior to influence the color theory for his Oriental ballet designs. Of the three oriental themed ballets Bakst produced, Cleopatre, Scheherazade and Narcisse, by far the most notable was Scheherazade.

Irina, Acacia Branch Above the Sea 1908, inspired Scheherazade later

Acacia Branch Above the Sea, 1908. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 158))

Irina Scheherazade set design

Set Design for Scheherazade. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 24))


A box office sensation of the ballet’s second Paris season, Scheherazade brought life to the artistically stagnant Paris art scene. When the curtain first rose on the set for Scheherazade in 1910, audiences were so enthralled with the color contrasts that the theater burst into applause, anticipating the spectacle to come. ((Robert C. Hansen, Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballet Russes (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985), 25.; Suzanne Massie, Land of the Firebird (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980), 437.)) Prior to the travels of the Ballet Russes, Russian culture was stereotyped as barbaric and backwards, nonetheless the public changed their opinion once they set eyes on Diaghilev’s total work of art. ((George, 20.)) One critic called this performance “Bakst’s debauch of color”, and Scheherazade truly was the Parisians first foray into Eastern art and color theories because Parisians had become accustomed to muted colors on the stage and in fashion houses. ((Massie, 437, Bakst, 176))

Europe had been infatuated with the mysterious East, and the Parisian audience at long last got a taste of the ‘exotic’, readily embracing the colors, designs and attitudes of the Orient. Parisian couturier House of Worth exemplifies trends before the influences of the Ballet Russes were materialized in the corseted dress below, creating an hourglass figure, constructed with muted and pale colors of beige, pink and grey. This dress is reminiscent of imperial court clothing, and the backlash to the extreme structure came in the form of reinterpretations of Bakst’s costumes in clothing. The slim silhouette rose in popularity along with brighter colors, usually as embroidery, and comfort in less restrictive materials. ((Bakst, 178)) As the predominance of Bakst inspired clothing rose, popularity of Scheherazade parties among women became fashionable, where they would wear harem pants, turbans and other loosely fitting clothing, creating a new and modern social scene ((Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, produced by the National Gallery of Art (2013), DVD.))


Ruane lady gown slim silhouette

A woman in evening attire in 1915. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 180))

Ruane photo modern gowns

Before and after the influence of the Ballet Russes on Parisian style. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 178))








Scheherazade truly was a seminal production of the Ballet Russes, marking a defining moment in the creation and development of modernity. ((Bakst, 177)) As one British photographer recorded, seemingly overnight Parisians shed the restraining corsets, lace, feathers, and pastel shades in favor of vivid colors, harem skirts, beads, fringe, and voluptuousness silhouettes. ((Ibid., 178)) In his costume designs Bakst intended for his costumes to be “inseparable from the dance”, this interdependence and emphasis on motion and comfort for the dancers also served to free modern women from the constraints of heavy and drab clothing. ((Michelle Potter, “Designed for Dance: The Costumes of Léon Bakst and the Art of Isadora Duncan,” Dance Chronicle, 1990, 168)) Though to a lesser degree men also experienced liberation from former dress constraints and greater allowances in expression through clothing. ((Ruane, 178))

The unintended fashion revolution initiated by Bakst’s costumes gave way to an altered body image through the fusion of the East brought to the West by Diaghlev. The “modernist body” image created space for the Parisian couturiers to expand upon the ballet costumes to daily attire. ((Ibid., 179)) Bakst had suddenly become the authority on modern fashion, with the top couturiers of the day drawing inspiration from Bakst’s designs along with inter design following suit with oriental furniture, textiles, and designs coming into fashion. ((Bakst, 25)) Historically, ballet costumes restricted dancers’ movements with tight tutus, slippers and fabrics with exotic motifs, but displaced on similarly constructed garments. ((Roger Leong, From Russia With Love: Costumes for the Ballet Russes 1909-1933 (Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1998), 40)) In his desire to bring greater historical accuracy in costume design, Bakst also provide dancers with more natural body motions and freedom of expression of sexuality and androgyny. ((Ibid.))

Vaslav Nijinski as the GOlden Slave in Scheherazade, Curtesy of Leong, 57.

Vaslav Nijinski as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. ((Roger Leong, From Russia With Love: Costumes for the Ballet Russes 1909-1933 (Australia: National Gallery of Australia, 1998), 57))

Vaslav Nijinski and Isadora Duncan challenged androgyny and sexuality of stage fashion in Europe, eliciting emotional expression in their audiences. Nijinski was an exceptional dancer who gracefully explored the boundaries of masculinity in his dance roles, displaying Bakst’s creations to wide audiences. The inspiration of Isadora Duncan led Bakst to develop the famous costumes for Nijinski as his muse. ((Potter, 158)) As an advocate for freedom of motion to increase choreographic integrity, Isadora performed in sheer and un-constricted costumes to allow form and rhythm to correspond. ((Ibid., 166)) In designing stage wear, Bakst often put music as a later consideration, but through the inspiration of Duncan Bakst gained an awareness of movement in relation to the libretto ((Leong, 36)) The new freedom of women’s clothing brought on through Duncan’s guidance was a welcome change because it gave women greater opportunities to directly participate in the artistic movement while challenging social norms. ((Ibid., 158)) Parisian society at the time was receptive to radical ballets like Scheherazade because society was anxious for a catalyst of change. At the time the nouveaux riches and déclassé aristocrats were challenging the cultural hegemony of the ruling elites in France, as the Ballet Russes simultaneously challenged decades of prescribed dance form and theater. ((Ruane, 177)) As described by Ruane, the “emotional content of the ballet converged with the emotional needs of the audiences”; this connection intertwined the Ballet Russes and France from that point forward in the journey to modernization. ((Ibid.))


Ruane Scheherazade Ble Sultan

The Blue Sultan from Scheherazade. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 174))

Potter: sketch of Isadora Duncan

Isadora Duncan sketch by Bakst. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 160))









Although one of the original factors that brought the Ballet Ruses to Paris was the goal of strengthening Russian and French relationships in the hopes of gaining financial aid, the company also carried other aspirations. In the early 1900s France was one of the leading powers of the world, while Russia was in economic turmoil. The Ballet Russes personified the Russian peoples’ desire to become a successful Asian colonial power and eventually compete with Britain and France. ((Ibid.)) By modernizing and absorbing France’s way of life and presenting the Eastern Russian culture as legitimate interpreters of the western traditions, French culture also became imbued with new perspectives on culture. ((Ibid.)). Fashion was one sphere in which the Russians had the upper hand of influence in the early 1900s, as the Scheherazade design became a fashion craze. The larger implications of this impression spread Russian culture as a modern authority on expression of sensuality of music through color and design choices throughout Europe, allowing Russian designers to be accepted into high couturier circles of fashion. ((Ibid., 180, Bakst, 24)) the new definition of modern fashion sensibilities developed from a synthesis of East and West; firmly rooting and defining modernity in the growing global economy and flow of fashion and ideas.

Ruane beach cartoon

Newspaper satire of the European’s adaptation of Russian fashion. ((Christine Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700-1917 (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2009), 176))

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Part 5 (bibliography):

Ballet Russes: The Early Years (Part 1 of 5)


Emerging from Tsarist Russia and the turbulent early years of the twentieth century, the Ballet Russes was a hugely influential and revolutionary era in the arts that altered the interactions of art, music and dance for generations to follow. The ballet troupe lasted from 1909 to 1929 when the impresario Serge Diaghilev unexpectedly died. In order to fully grasp the movement created by Diaghilev it is essential to have a clear understanding of its origins and the motivations behind what became such a diverse array of talents. This combination gave rise to the colorful and impactful first modern ballet company of the twentieth century: the Ballet Russes. ((Robert C. Hansen, Scenic and Costume Design for the Ballet Russes (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985), 1-2.))

Many factors lead to the rise of the Ballet Russes and Russian society at the time to allow its acceptance of an artistic movement. The abolition of serfdom in the 1860’s led to the rise of the bourgeoisie, and the so-called “silver age” in Russia when nationalism and internationalism sentiments were cultivated through the arts. ((Ibid., 1.)) The two historical capitols of Russia, Moscow and Saint Petersburg, developed and influenced separately because of their geography. While the historical Russian capitol, Moscow, was then viewed as antiquated, its distance from the controlling influence of the tsar’s imperial courts of Saint Petersburg allowed for greater freedom in the development of nationalism and the avant-garde movement. ((Ibid)) Petersburg was known in Russia at the time as the window to the west and a European city because it was modeled after Versailles, and thus became a center for international arts and ideas. ((Ibid., 2.)) As the imperial courts and the tsar resided in Petersburg, the imperial artists directly monitored the development of arts and artistic movements with little variation.

Originally in Petersburg to pursue a law degree, Serge Diaghilev began integrating himself into the artistic community. Diaghilev would singlehandedly become the most influential artistic director in Russia through his eventual orchestrate the direction of the Ballet Russes. At school, Diaghilev joined a band of art lovers comprised of Alexandre Benois, Walter Nouvel, Dima Filosofov, Constantine Somov and Leon Bakst. ((Anna Winestein, “Quiet Revolutionaries: The ‘Mir Iskusstva’ Movement and Russian Design,” Journal of Design History 21, no. 4 (2008): 315.)) Calling themselves the Nevsky Pickwickians, their mission was to discuss the arts and “ideas for an artistic society” which they strove to synthesize. ((Ibid., 316.)) The Pickwickians were one among multiple social artistic circles; another of the time was the Mamontov art circle. ((Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 151.))


Diaghilev, Courtesy of wikicommons. ((available at

Although Diaghilev is often credited with the creation of diverse artistic groups in Russia, Savva Ivanovich Mamontov, one of Russia’s original premiere patrons of the arts in the late 1800s played a hugely influential role. Mamontov was able to support artistic endeavors through his wealth accumulated in investment in the Russian railroads. ((Lynn Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes,150; Hansen, 4.)) Centered in his estate at Abramtzevo, Mamontov’s Art circle created the first private opera company. ((Hansen, 4.)) The synthesis of artists, costume designers and performers was the first such merger of art forms never before achieved in Russia or in the Western world. ((Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, 151)) Although the creation of the Mamontov Art circle was revolutionary, the results achieved were scattered and criticized because they suffered from a lack of cohesion among the disparate elements, and eventually this was the downfall of the private opera company. ((Ibid))


Savva Mamontov, Curtesy of wikicommons.

Savva Mamontov, Courtesy of wikicommons ((available at






Diaghilev was aware of Mamontov’s artistic experiments at Abramtzevo, and first became acquainted with Mamontov at an art exhibition which he had organized in Saint Petersburg. Diaghilev and the Pickwickians were so taken by the unique combinations of Mamontov, that the group quickly thereafter formalized their admiration of art in the formation of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art), an arts magazine evaluating everything from music, art, and performances. Hence, the magazine transitioned their social society into a “semi-professional, public enterprise” with the financial support of Mamontov and other art enthusiasts. ((Ibid)) Under Diaghilev’s leadership and direction Mir Iskusstva flourished, due to the aversion of sectarian causes, and rediscovery of Russia’s artistic heritage. ((Hansen, 9-10.))

Among Diaghilev’s innovations was to promote the finest associations of artists, choreographers and composers. Cut off from Russia after the war and Soviet revolution, he orchestrated ground-breaking artistic collaborations among young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers, all at the forefront of their several fields. ((Garafola, Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, 199)) This included Paris-based artists Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico and Chanel to design for his productions. ((Hansen, 1-15)) Although most of his original company were resident performers at the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg, Diaghilev hired them to perform in Paris during the Imperial Ballet’s summer holidays. ((Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes, produced by the National Gallery of Art (2013), DVD.)) The Ballets Russes was based in Paris and performed throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. ((Hansen, 333)) The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there. Noteworthy to Diaghilev’s artistic achievements in revolutionizing the then 400-year old art of ballet is the political backdrop of the times: Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and World War I. Despite the dangers of travel and bitter European rivalries, art not only prevailed but flourished.

Irina Cover for the world of art in 1902

Cover of Mir Iskusstva by Leon Bakst in 1902. ((Leon Bakst, Léon Bakst: Set and Costume Designs, Book Illustrations, Paintings and Graphic Works, Comp. Irina Nikolaevna Pruzhan, (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking, 1987), 97))



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The Soviet Circus Welcomes all Nationalities


Pictured: Jimmy, Marion and Martinov

The film Circus, produced by the Soviet Union in 1936, was made in order to propagate the Union’s ideals and acceptance of all nationalities. The main hero, Marion Dixon, is chased out of the United States because of racial intolerance against her black son, Jimmy. Marion stumbles across Fronk Kneishitz, a wealthy German, who offers to take her traveling around the world and conceal the identity of her son in order to avoid persecution. Marion and Fronk Kneishitz end up on tour in Russia, where she soon meets an exemplary Soviet man, Martinov, and falls in love with him. Ludvig, the circus director, has hired Martinov to create an act to be even greater than the exotic Marion. Fronk Kneishitz becomes jealous of Marion’s affection for Martinov, and he threatens to reveal her secret at every turn in order to keep Marion under his influence. Eventually Fronk Kneishitz cannot keep Martinov and Marino apart, and out of jealousy he reveals Jimmy in font of a crowded circus performance, shaming Marion. However, the crowd and Ludvig unexpectedly embrace Jimmy, passing him throughout the crowd to keep him safe from Fronk Kneishitz. As Jimmy gets passed along, he is sung a lullaby by each nationality who holds him, in their native tongue. When Ludvig is returned Jimmy he says to Fronk Kneishitz, “In our country we love all kinds”, announcing that nationality doesn’t define a person in the Soviet Union. ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936)) Martinov, Marion and Jimmy happily unite and the movie closes with a patriotic march in the Red Square proudly waving a banner with Stalin’s face on it.

Circus is uncharacteristic of the majority of Russian and Soviet films that I have seen, in that it has a generally joyous ending. Russian films tend to depict the realities of life and rarely sugarcoat these truths. The film was released in 1936, shortly after Stalin’s Five-year plan, and as a result it was a time of low morale across the nation from harsh conditions and a lack of daily necessities. Circus is an attempt to gloss over the hardships of life and inspire nationalism in the Soviet populace once again. By ignoring the negative aspects of Stalin’s regime, the film is meant to give the impression that Stalin was a well liked and successful leader, when in reality the country is suffering. In Circus, life in the Soviet Union is displayed as so desirable that throughout the film Marion herself undergoes a transformation form foreigner to accepted Soviet woman. This transformation takes place physically, linguistically and socially when she agrees to be in the circus act with Martinov and receive payment in Rubles. ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936)) Marion reaches full soviet potential when she marches with the entire circus crew in all white, which symbolizes the purity of Stalin and supports him and his policies of inclusion of all nationalities.

Life’s a Circus

Theatrical poster for Circus

Theatrical poster for Circus

The 1936 Russian Soviet film, Circus, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, tells the story of a famous American performer, Marion Dixon, as she flees from the United States after persecution from giving birth to a black child. She goes with a corrupt theatrical agent, Franz von Kneishitz, who looks suspiciously like Adolf Hitler, to Russia where she becomes a circus performer. After falling in love with another performer, Ivan Petrovich Martinov, von Kneishitz becomes jealous and not only prevents her from staying with Petrovich, but actively abuses Marion, despite claiming to love her.

The comedy-musical film is vibrant and silly, but it has serious undertones that are reflected through the characters. Marion’s guilt and shame is clear on her face whenever she’s not on stage. When she’s performing, she puts on a face that she thinks will please the people around her. Marion is constantly worried about the truth of her child coming out that when she has to choose between staying at the circus with Petrovich and leaving with von Kneishitz or else have the truth revealed, she goes even though she will be miserable.

The climax of the film is a final scene when von Kneishitz reveals her child as a product of Marion being a “mistress of a Negro” to the audience of the circus. He calls it wrong and that she should be expelled from society, but the audience just responds with laughter as they take the child from him and pass the boy around to keep him from von Kneishits’ grasp. The director comes up to him and explains that all children are welcome in the Soviet Union, “whether they have white skin, black skin, or red skin.” This is a critique of American society and the racism that exists there, but not in the Soviet Union where race is unimportant. This ties in with our discussions on how soviets viewed nationality as important, but not race because it is a trait that cannot be changed. The final scene is also a blatant message of nationalism, where the people, among them Marion, Petrovich, and the black boy, are marching in a parade to celebrate the glory and equality of the Soviet Union.

Come one, come all

Aleksandrov and Simkov’s 1936 work of “Circus” combines the elements of farce, comedy, vaudeville, and melodrama in order to produce a ubiquitously enjoyable, light-hearted tale of heroism in the face of adversity laced with prominent themes of existing world politics and the Soviet socialist cause. The simple plot revolves mainly around the exploits of a fictitious American circus performer, Marion Dixon, and her engagements in love and peril as she tries to seek sanctuary in the Soviet Union in an attempt to escape the bigoted derision she faces in America at the cause of her being the mother to a black child. The film opens with her running away with the diabolical Franz von Kneishitz, a German theater agent with a visage and ideology blatantly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s, and his assistant, a farcical cane-wielding Charlie Chaplin-esque performer.

Throughout the film, we can clearly see Marion’s avid willingness to transform into a joyful member of the Soviet Union with the utilization of the cannon performance as a metaphor. She begins the performance by singing about how she would desperately like “to get to the sky, but the stars are just too high.” ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936.)) Once she is fired from the canon, she lands on the moon contraption and sings of “knowing no fear, knowing no plight”, essentially paralleling the envisioned view of the socialist utopia, in which every individual would receive equal happiness. Marion continuously dreams of a better life in an unprejudiced Russia, but is constantly thwarted by Kneishitz. He himself is threatened by the Russian circus performers who wish to build an even better cannon, reflecting the intrinsic Soviet desire to modernize, industrialize, and become a dominant world power.

Marion also proceeds to fall in love with a fellow performer, Martynov, who retains the image of the flawless, handsome, and swashbuckling Soviet man. The two play the piano and sing a song glorifying the country: “Our border stretching far and wide / Walk our man, a master of his country / In his heart, and overwhelming pride / Each day is better than the previous one”. ((Ibid.)) Martynov is the antithesis to Kneishitz, who struggles to control Marion while the former strives to free her, as the two face off in a cannon-building competition. This conflict may also be seen as a Soviet disapproval of Hitler’s ideals of Nazi racism and the perfect “Aryan” race. Towards the end of the film, Kneishitz proclaims Marion as a criminal when he reveals her black son to the crowd, whom he expects to denounce her. On the contrary, they gleefully accept her and the child, passing him around while singing a collective lullaby between the hands of many different ethnicities, as a reflection of the socialist national policy of korenizatsiya. In a dazzling scene of synchronized choreography, Marion is surrounded by light, and looks up to Martynov, who stands with blazing torches in his hands upon an immaculate stairway, a scene resembling religious Christ-like imagery of ascension to heaven and paradise. The film concludes with a prideful, militaristic march of the circus performers in uniform that eventually evolves into a procession donning flags of Lenin, Marx, and Stalin, emphasizing the central political message of promoting revolutionary socialist and egalitarian ideals.

The Great Russian Melting Pot

The 1936 Soviet film “Circus” follows Marion Dixon, an American woman who flees to the USSR after giving birth to a biracial child. Once in Russia, Marion becomes a popular circus artist and falls in love with a fellow performer, Petrovich Martynov. The film was laced with comical antics and melodramatic, intertwining romances, but the end blatantly revealed underlying political messages concerning race and nationality, and the power of the Soviet government to inspire and mobilize its population.

The climax of the film occurred when, in a fit of jealousy, the nefarious theatrical agent Franz von Kneishitz interrupted Marion and Petrovich’s attempt at a record breaking stunt. Kneishitz had grabbed Marion’s son and held him up before the crowd declaring her a criminal for being the “mistress of a negro.” ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936.)) To his shock, Kneishitz is met with laughter from the crowd who wrestle the child from his grasp and proceed to cradle him until his mother can be found. After an array of people sing to the child, he is returned to Dixon and the manager of the circus proclaimed “in our country we love absolutely all kids, you may have a kid of any color,” establishing the USSR as morally superior to places like the United States. ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936.)) The scene of racial harmony directly related to the question of nationality that plagued Soviet Russia throughout its existence. A message of tolerance towards those of different ethnicities reinforced the Leninist policy of encouraging ethnic groups to maintain their own culture and customs while being actively socialist components of larger Soviet Russia.


Marion with her son and Petrovich

After displaying Soviet supremacy in morality and tolerance, “Circus” displayed the unity and pride of the Soviet citizenry through a closing scene comprised of a pristine march. The parade was headed by Dixon, Martynov, and the circus manager triumphantly holding up Dixon’s son. Flags adorned with portraits of Lenin flew among the immaculate lines of marching Soviets. At the front of one regiment, an orthodox-style icon displaying Stalin’s face was proudly shown, constituting a replacement to the previously dominant Eastern Orthodox faith. The demonstration of Soviet harmony and calculated consistency glorified the ability of the state to mobilize its population, and caused Marion to “see” that the Soviet Union was the paramount nation. ((Circus, Grigori Aleksandrov and Isidor Simkov, 1936.)) When looking at this film in the context of the arguably chaotic Soviet Union of the 1930s, it is intriguing to consider the aims of the film’s creator and how Soviet audiences may have understood the messages presented to them.

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