Rare 1928 Ballets Russes film footage found

Dance · Film

From Corriere della Serra, via arts•meme‘s good friend Stefano Tomassini, a dance historian at University CaFoscari in Venice: the only film to date of the Ballets Russes. The footage portrays Michel Fokine’s Chopin ballet “Les Sylphides,” and features principal dancer, Serge Lifar. It seems to have been filmed in 1928 at the Fête des Narcisses in Montreux, Switzerland.

Jane Pritchard, the British co-curator of the recent Ballets Russes exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum writes about the discovery of the 30-second film clip here.

Lifar, described in this good Anna Kisselgoff essay, was the late-starting danseur noble who replaced Nijinsky as the most charismatic leading male of the Ballets Russes in its final years. Balanchine choreographed “Apollo” and “The Prodigal Son” on Lifar. That’s why it’s interesting to see this footage. He’s no technical wizard by today’s standards, but his movement is clean and credible. I like it.

Indeed Kisselgoff notes that, “Diaghilev sent him to study with Enrico Cecchetti in Turin,” and Lifar’s Cecchetti technique is evident in the film:  the contained torso twisting in épaulement, the simple c-curving, tapering arms, and the upper spine thrust forward in arabesque position.

The Italian newspaper notes, “Diaghilev did not like the cameras. Indeed, strictly prohibiting the performance of his company were filmed, perhaps for fear that someone, without going to the theater, could see the breakthrough performances of his dancers.” Diaghilev would have had a conniption if he knew Theodore Kosloff, who was with Ballets Russes for one year only (1909), was knocking off  “Les Sylphides” as he did under the pirated name, “Chopin Memories,” in the 1930s in Los Angeles and Dallas.

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