Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo

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Sergei Diaghilev (1872—1929) Russian ballet impresario


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A descendant of René Blum's Ballets de Monte Carlo, and part of the proliferation of companies which sprung up in the 1930s hoping to recapture the enormous popularity of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Although it eventually became an American company, it was founded when Massine, ballet master of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, quarrelled with Colonel de Basil, who ran the Ballets Russes, and sought a company of his own. The opening season of the new Massine-directed troupe was at the Monte Carlo Opera in April 1938; with Massine choreographing Gaîté parisienne and Seventh Symphony for its debut. In June 1938 the company appeared at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Just up the road, the rival Colonel de Basil Ballets Russes was performing at the Covent Garden Opera House. The two companies became engaged in a protracted lawsuit in pursuit of the performing rights to the Diaghilev repertoire (the battle was over Massine's ballets in particular); a legal compromise was eventually reached between Massine and de Basil. The London season of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo included the premiere of Massine's Nobilissima visione, considered one of his greatest creations. The following year, in Monte Carlo, Massine unveiled Capriccio espagnol and Rouge et noir. In 1939, with war looming in Europe, the company moved to the US with Massine still in charge (he resigned as director in 1942); based in New York the troupe never returned to Europe. During the Second World War the leading dancers included Danilova, Markova, Toumanova, Franklin, Platoff, Youskevitch, and, briefly, Lifar. With the move to America came a new American identity, both in terms of dancers and choreographers. Agnes de Mille made Rodeo for the company in 1942, while in 1944 Balanchine, who was resident choreographer, gave them Danses concertantes and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (originally staged in 1932), as well as many other ballets, both new and revived. Sergei Denham became director in 1942. The troupe toured regional America but after the war came to rely more and more on the old European repertoire, and any new work was largely insignificant. In the early 1950s, following the departure of Danilova, the company was disbanded. It was revived as a touring outfit in 1954 with Maria Tallchief and Franklin as stars; the following season Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch began an important association with the company. In the mid-1950s it toured exhaustively, giving 188 performances in 104 cities during one season alone. The Ballet Russe introduced many Americans to ballet and inspired many young Americans to take up the study of dance. In 1957 it appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, an engagement that broke box office records for a US company at that venue. However, with creativity stagnating and the repertoire shrinking, Denham finally closed the company at the end of the 1961–2 season. The last important work created for the company was probably Massine's Harold in Italy in 1954.

Subjects: Dance.

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