Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929

I had been looking forward to the V&A's major autumn exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 for a while, so I was especially pleased to be invited to go along and see it, as well as to hear a talk about Diaghilev by fragrance specialist Roja Dove, who created a new fragrance especially for the exhibition.

This beautifully-curated show tells the story of  Diaghilev's Ballet Russes, focusing particularly on how he blended dance, music and modern art in his productions to create avant-garde works of 'total theatre', collaborating with some of the most radical artists of his day, such as Stravinsky, Chanel, Picasso, Matisse and of course, the company’s famous choreographer and dancer, Nijinsky. Moving from the dazzling launch of the Ballet Russes in 1909, through the events of the Russian Revolution and the First World War, and into the 1920s, the exhibition also examines the huge influence Diaghilev exerted on 20th century culture, especially in art, design, fashion and theatre, as well as his legacy in terms of contemporary dance.

Exuberant, glamorous and opulent , this exhibition is hugely enjoyable - a carefully-assembled treasure trove of Diaghilev's personal effects and documents, as well as short films, an incredible selection of original costumes, and fascinating visual material such as posters, photographs and backcloths.  Further material relates to the choreography, music and design of Diaghilev's productions, from scores and dance patterns through to set models and costume design sketches, which illustrate the strongly radical and often controversial nature of these archetypally modernist productions.

Walking through this exhibition is a genuinely atmospheric experience: strolling through dramatically lit spaces with a striking red and black colour scheme, we move first through a darkened 'backstage' area and then emerge into a 'stage' complete with backcloth, music and brilliant lighting - for a moment, we too are allowed to take our place in the spotlight. Nonetheless it is the charismatic figure of Diaghilev himself who remains very much centre stage in this enthralling exhibition, as in Roja Dove’s entertaining talk about the man and his influence on the world of fragrances in particular, as well as art and culture more broadly.  

Though I have to admit that I'm particularly intrigued by the world of ballet, and have a special interest in this period, regardless of whether or not you're a balletomane, this exhibition is a fascinating feast to enjoy - rich, evocative and full of bohemian splendour.

The exhibition runs until 9 January and there's also a blog by the exhibition's co-curator, Jane Pritchard, on the V&A website.

[All images via the V&A]