martedì 1 aprile 2014

Orientalism and the Ballets Russes

Many of the twentieth century’s notions about Eastern dance came not from the Arab world, but fromScheherazade, Cleopatra, Thamar, Le Dieu Bleu, Les Orientales and the Polovestian Dances from Prince Igor. Here the genius of Russian composers, dancers, choreographers, and theatrical designers merged to create a dazzling vision of the exotic East, a vision so powerful that it continues to shape popular notions about Eastern dance to the present day.
Russia. The most notable and successful exporter of pseudo-oriental dance was the Ballet Russe, the legendary company that enchanted the world with its portrayals of forbidden harems and provocative temptresses. Included in the ensemble’s repertoire were the so-called “oriental ballets:”

Serge Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet (Ballets Russes), which existed from 1909 to 1929, represents the golden age of modern ballet. From this company came the masterpieces Petrouchka, Schéhérazade, The Golden Cockerel and The Magical Toyshop, that are still in the repertoire of ballet companies around the world.

Serge Diaghilev was born in Novgorod, Russia in 1872. He moved to St Petersburg in 1890, where he became associated with a group of young writers and artists. Russia at this time was open to artistic influence from Western Europe, with many modern French and German artists selling works to Russian collectors. There was a similar European fascination with Russian culture. Both the exotic, or oriental, and the peasant cultures of Russia were recreated in Diaghilev’s ballets. 
Vera Fokina Michel Fokine

Vera Fokina Michel Fokine
 Diaghilev was not a dancer, choreographer, composer or designer, but he was an impresario of genius. He transformed traditional ballet by turning it into a theatrical production embracing all forms of the arts. Short, dramatic ballets, often radically different from each other, were presented on the same night. Audiences, used to the staid and predictable choreography and stage design of traditional ballet, were enraptured by Diaghilev’s productions. He encouraged exciting collaborations between choreographers such as Fokine and Massine, composers such as Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy and Satie and artists such as Benois, Bakst, Goncharova, Picasso, Matisse and Derain.

Vera Fokina
Perhaps the most influential of the Oriental ballets was the 1910 production of Scheherazade. Ironically, the courageous and witty storyteller Scheherazade, who risked her life in a valiant attempt to rehabilitate her serial murderer husband, is not the heroine of this ballet that bears her name. The literary Scheherazade arrived on Western shores much earlier when Antoine Gallard’s first French translation came out in 1704. Newly published English versions were printed in the Antheaeum as early 1838.11 Edward Lane explained that it was Scheherazade’s mind which gave her power among Arab audiences: “Eloquence, wit, is lawful magic: it exercises over their minds an irresistible influence.”

Fatefully for the Western perception of Eastern women, the Ballet Russe version of Scheherazade dispensed with the intellectual heroine. It took its thematic content from the opening story of A Thousand and One Nights. The action involves Shah Shahriar who pretends to leave his palace on a hunting trip in order to test the fidelity of his concubines in his absence. No sooner does he depart, but his harem favorite, Zobeide, obtains the keys to unlock the slave’s quarters. The result is a riotous orgy depicted in abandoned dance. The Shah unexpectedly returns to kill the faithless concubines and slaves, but spares Zobeide, who takes her own life when her favorite slave is murdered before her eyes.

Vera Fokina Michel Fokine 
Schéhérazade created a sensation in the Parisian world of art and fashion. After seeing Leon Bakst’s unusual combination of blue and green in the set design for Schéhérazade , the jeweler Cartier found the inspiration “to set emeralds and sapphires together for the first time in history.”13 Heavy fragrances became the rage, with names that conjured up images of the sensuous East: Nirvana, Kismet, Maharajah and, one still produced today by Guerlain, Shalimar. Oriental motifs in clothing and furnishings also enjoyed popularity. Schéhérazade proved to be so popular that it remained in the repertoire even after the death of Diaghilev in 1929. 

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1 commento:

  1. Shalimar is one of my favourite fragrances ever and the Bayadere is my favourite ballet, an example of Romantic Russian Orientalism.
    Nice post!