Currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, is Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced with Music through September 2, 2013. A hurried lunchtime visit to the exhibit only gave me a taste of the wonderful breadth of this exhibition. If you are fascinated by the marriage of dance, theater, music, and art, this exhibit will thrill your senses. Other artists of note who worked with Diaghilev included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, among others. The exhibit masterfully integrates, paintings, posters, costumes, music, stage sets, and video throughout. You could easily spend an entire afternoon absorbing this magical moment in ballet.
I was very drawn to the work of Giorgio de Chirico and the presentation of Le Bal. Confined to one room of the exhibit, you are seemingly transported into the set itself with the ability to see the costumes at close range. Hence, the focus of this blog post.
A ballet in one act and two scenes
Producer | Les Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev
Premiere | May 7, 1929 | Théâtre de Monte Carlo, Monaco
Costume Design | Giorgio de Chirico
Scenery Design | Giorgio de Chirico
Music | Vittorio Rieti
Choreography | George Balanchine
Libretto | Boris Kochno, after a novel by Count Vladimir Sollogub
While the Italian Surrealist painter, Giorgio de Chirico, had worked in theater design since 1924, his commission from Diaghilev for Le Bal gave him his most public success. As a version of the popular theme of the masked ball, the story’s dreamlike quality explored the nature of duplicity, ambiguity and deception. De Chirico drew upon his interest in desolate, devoid of people built spaces for his design of the ballroom, an austere room with exaggerated cornices, strangely proportioned openings and scattered with fragments of classical architecture. This theme is echoed in the guests’ costumes, rendering each performer a movable element of an architectural ensemble. Jackets and trousers became pilasters and columns, shirts and dresses roughly sketched examples of the classical orders. Their complexity and weight was further laden with stuccoed wigs for the dancers, adding to an air of ossified antiquity even though Balanchine’s choreography was light and acrobatic.
A young man, dressed as a military officer, attends a masked ball where he meets a beautiful masked lady accompanied by an old astrologer, and falls in love with her, even as she flirts with his rival, a young Italian man. While overseen by the ballroom’s giant classical statue, which is possessed of magical powers, the sylphides mischievously dress to imitate the couple in order to confuse their suitors. The young man finally persuades the lady to remove her mask and is dismayed to see her as an old woman. He tries to leave but she pursues him, and as the ball ends the old woman leaves on the arm of the astrologer. As she passes the young officer she and the astrologer both remove further masks, revealing them as a beautiful young couple. Attempting to follow them, the dazed young officer is held back by the statue to contemplate his behavior.