Early Balanchine/de Chirico collaboration feted in Aussie costume exhibit 1

Architecture & Design · Dance · Visual arts

Ballets Russes expert Dr. Robert Bell, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the National Gallery of Australia, shares these images of Giorgio de Chirico’s original costumes for “Le Bal,” an early Balanchine work based on a Boris Kochno libretto.

The “Le Bal” costumes are part of an exhibit now on in Canberra of 140 vivid and innovative costumes from 34 Ballets Russes productions, dating from 1909 to 1939.

We met Dr. Bell at an April 2009 Boston University convocation celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Ballets Russes premiere season in Paris in 1909. Since then, he curated the costume show.

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Le Bal (1929), a ballet in one act and two scenes, one of Balanchine’s  works for impresario Serge Diaghilev [please read comment below].

  • Producer: Les Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev
  • Premiere: 7 May 1929, Théâtre de Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Scenary and Costume design: Giorgio de Chirico
  • Music: Vittorio Rieti
  • Choreography: George Balanchine
  • Libretto: Boris Kochno, after a novel by Count Vladimir Sollogub

 [For “Le Bal” scenario, mouse over, or click on, photo at left.]

Italian Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico‘s commission from Diaghilev for Le Bal was based on the masked ball theme. The story’s dreamlike quality explored the nature of duplicity, ambiguity and deception. De Chirico drew upon his interest in desolate, unpeopled 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 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 antiquity even though Balanchine’s choreography was light and acrobatic.

de Chirico’s work for Le Bal is a vivid example of the Italian Novecento design movement that returned classicism to mainstream taste during the 1920s. It also reflected Diaghilev’s lifelong admiration for Italian history, particularly poignant as his last production before his death in Venice one month after the closure of the ballet’s London season.

Dr. Bell will give a talk about his show February 1. But you must go to Canberra to hear it. Viewable on the exhibit’s outstanding interactive website are the show’s many other original Ballets Russes costumes.

Ballets Russes: The Art of Costume | National Gallery of Australia | thru March 21 2011

Content:  courtesy of Robert Bell
Danilova photo courtesy balletto.net

One comment on “Early Balanchine/de Chirico collaboration feted in Aussie costume exhibit

  1. Violin Concerto Jan 4,2011 6:54 am

    Thank you for your interesting column and link to the exhibit in Australia. (A note, the incredible exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum will close on Jan. 9th. Get there if you can!!) B-U-T……

    Balanchine did many more than four ballets for Diaghilev starting with La Chant du Rossignol in 1925. Among the most successful are Apollon Musagete, Le Fils Prodigue, La Chatte, Barabau, The Gods Go A-Begging,The Triumph of Neptune, La Pastorale, and Le Bal. (Not in that order.) From the time Balanchine auditioned for Diaghilev in 1925 until Diaghilev’s death in 1929, Balanchine produced dozens of ballets for the Opera de Monte Carlo (sorry I can’t include the accents on the “e’s”, etc) as required to enable Diaghilev to use the Opera House to produce his ballets. Those included Carmen, Thais, Manon, Faust, Boris Gudunov, Judith, Lakme, La Traviata, and Turandot and many more.

    These works are listed in “Choreography by Geoarge Balanchine, A Catalogue of Works.” It was originally published in 1985.

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