René Bull’s Russian Ballet

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L’Oiseau de feu.

I’m sure I’ve said this before but one reason I spend so much time scouring the Internet Archive is in the hope of turning up gems like this recent arrival. The Russian Ballet was a study by Alfred Edwin Johnson of the Ballets Russes, written for an English readership and published in 1913 shortly after Diaghilev’s company had staged their historic performance of Le Sacre du printemps in Paris. Johnson discusses this event, which he attended, but he gives equal space to examinations of the company’s other ballets, from earlier avant-garde pieces like L’après-midi d’un faune to that hardy perennial, Swan Lake. In place of production sketches or photographs we have René Bull’s many illustrations, in colour plates and black-and-white drawings, with the chapters being announced by a title in a graphic style that matches the theme of each ballet. I’d only seen a few of these before on a Flickr page so it’s a treat to see the whole book at last.

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Schéhérazade.

Johnson’s discussion has a tendency to falter when faced with the difficulty of describing a wordless artistic medium. The problem is compounded by the radical nature of many of the ballets, so that Bull’s illustrations become an essential component of the book, giving a flavour of the costumes and dances while the author attempts to relate the emotional qualities of the performances. Bull’s work here isn’t as elaborate is in his illustrated Rubáiyát but then the drawings are serving a documentary purpose.

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Schéhérazade.

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Schéhérazade.

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Narcisse.

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L’après-midi d’un faune

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Listening recently to a collection of Debussy’s music it occurred to me that I knew rather a lot about the creation and performance of the Nijinsky ballet based on Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune but couldn’t recall having seen a performance of the original dance. Not in full, anyway, although “full” here only means the entire 12 minutes, Debussy’s short piece being the only completed part of what would have been a much longer composition.

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This filmed version of the ballet dates from 1980, and forms part of a tribute to Nijinsky staged by Rudolf Nureyev and Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, the other works being Petrouchka and Le Spectre de la Rose. L’après-midi d’un faune is the only one of the three ballets that was choreographed as well as danced by Nijinsky, and was famously radical at the time, with the dancers adopting the stylised postures of figures from the ceramics of Ancient Greece. The erotic tone of the piece also generated controversy.

The Nureyev/Joffrey film restages the original Ballets Russes performance from 1912, using the costumes and decor designed by Léon Bakst. The choreography departs so much from classical ballet it might serve as a different kind of prelude, to the even more radical and controversial dances that Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes staged the following year. The original performance of The Rite of Spring was subsequently resurrected by the Joffrey Ballet after a lengthy period of historical research by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer. A 1989 BBC documentary about the process of research and reconstruction, The Search for Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring, is essential viewing for anyone interested in Diaghilev’s company.

Previously on { feuilleton }
George Barbier’s Nijinsky
The Rite of Spring reconstructed
Vaslav Nijinsky by Paul Iribe
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
Images of Nijinsky

02021

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The Elephant Celebes (1921) by Max Ernst.

Happy new year. 02021? Read this.

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Desert Sunset (1921) by George Elbert Burr.

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The Great Tower (1921) by Giorgio de Chirico.

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Evening Glow at Yanaka (1921) by Kawase Hasui.

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Construction (1921) by Gustavs Klucis.

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Three Musicians (1921) by Pablo Picasso.

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Illustration by Willy Pogány for The Golden Fleece and the Heroes Who Lived Before Achilles (1921) by Padraic Colum.

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Sketch of Figural Movement for Dance (1921) by Oskar Schlemmer.

Weekend links 546

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The next release on the Ghost Box label, Cosmorama is “tropicalia tinged psychedelic dream pop” by Beautify Junkyards. The album will be available in January. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• Reading a review of John Gray’s Straw Dogs several years ago I remember thinking facetiously that Gray should write a follow-up about cats. (Straw Dogs isn’t a book about dogs.) The joke is on me with the publication of Gray’s latest, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. I should set up as a literary agent.

• All you need is doom: Plague Notes, Unnamed, Unknown, A Finger Dragged Through Dust, the debut album from My Heart, an Inverted Flame, is released on the 11th of this month. “Absolutely NO guitars were used in the casting of these drone metal voidscapes.” Excellent work.

• What a difference a week makes: “A Utah monolith enchanted millions and then it was gone, leaving mysteries behind.”

• En Pleine Mer: The underwater landscapes of Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, 1867.

• Imaginative drawings of travel during a pandemic lockdown by Oscar Oiwa.

• The beauty of starling murmurations as photographed by Søren Solkær.

• Cosmic Dancer: Alice Finney on the strange world of Michael Clark.

• Mix of the week: Invaders by The Ephemeral Man.

Cosmos (1972) by Bruno Menny | Gliding Thru The Cosmophonic Dome (1981) by Bernard Xolotl | Radio Cosmos (1981) by Ippu-Do

Weekend links 442

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Orgasm Addict (1977). Design by Malcolm Garrett; collage by Linder.

• RIP Pete Shelley, Buzzcock and Homosapien. Shelley is celebrated for being in the vanguard of Britain’s punk movement, of course. (Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch was the UK’s first independent single.) But he also loved Can, recorded an album of electronic drones (Sky Yen), and in 1983 successfully blended home-computer graphics with his own brand of superior electronic pop music. Related: Malcolm Garrett’s Buzzcocks band logo at Fonts In Use; B’dum, B’dum: Tony Wilson in 1978 talking to Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto about Buzzcocks and Magazine.

• Winter demands ghost stories so Adam Scovell suggests 10 great winter ghost films. Related: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas presents an A–Z of Women’s Horror Filmmaking.

Carey Dunne on the rise of underground LSD guides for psychotherapy. Related: “Psychedelics change the perception of time,” says Shayla Love.

• Ex-Neu! guitarist Michael Rother receives the box-set treatment early next year when the Groenland label reissues his early solo albums.

Jodorowsky, an exhibition devoted to the writer and director, will be staged at El Museo del Barrio, New York, from February next year.

• “From Georges Méliès to Bill and Ted, movie hells remain seriously in hock to the Judeo-Christian playbook,” says Anne Billson.

The Owl’s Legacy, Chris Marker’s 13-part documentary series on Greek culture, receives its debut DVD release.

Topic II (1989), a short film by Pascal Baes of pixilated dancers in the night streets of Prague.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 274 by Koray Kantarcioglu.

• We are the first humans to hear the winds of the planet Mars.

• Patrick Magee reads The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean-Louis Trintignant Day.

• Mongolian biker rock: Wolf Totem by The HU.

The Quietus albums of the year.

Hell (2001) by Techno Animal ft. Dälek | Hell’s Winter (2011) by Earth | Hell A (2017) by The Bug vs. Earth