July 01, 2013

Russian Paris

Russian Paris
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Susanne Kries

Just prior to Easter this year, the Eifman Ballet from St. Petersburg took to the stage of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées for a short Paris season. The company performed Boris Eifman’s Rodin, a dark ballet inspired by the intertwined lives of the sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. It is a sensual, often tortured and definitely controversial production — and in its timing recalls an extraordinary cultural confrontation between Russia and France that was played out on the very same stage in 1913.

Just over one hundred years ago, Parisians were in love with Russia — and vice versa. Towards the end of the first decade of the last century, Parisians had become accustomed to la saison russe. The fortnightly magazine Comœdia illustré, founded in 1908, enthusiastically mapped the growing Russian influence in the performing arts in Paris.

A key figure in this story is the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, a man of artistic genius with a remarkable knack for seizing every promotional opportunity. Diaghilev presented his first Paris stage production in 1908,[1] returning the following year with his newly formed Ballets Russes. In the years from 1908 until the outbreak of the Great War, Diaghilev became Russia’s most successful cultural ambassador, and Paris became the conduit through which Russia’s avant-garde prowess in the performing arts was promoted to the wider world.

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