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Ballets Russes film discovered!

Posted on January 28, 2011

ballets russes filmJane Pritchard, co-curator of the V&A’s recent exhibition, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, has authenticated film of what she believes to be the Ballets Russes in performance. This is the only known film of the most influential dance company of the 20th century.

The Ballets Russes ran from 1909 until Diaghilev’s death in 1929. Cinema was still in its infancy; Diaghilev did not want his artists to be filmed. The V&A exhibition did include rare film of dance of the period, including remarkable footage of the Ballets Russes star Tamara Karsavina. Now new material has come to light.

As Pritchard explains on her exhibition blog, the film was found in the Pathé film archives, where it was labelled “Festival of Narcissus”. Pritchard believes it shows the company at the 1928 Fête des Narcisses at Montreux in Switzerland. It captures several short sections of Les Sylphides, one of the most popular works in the Ballets Russes repertory.Pritchard has identified the lead dancer as Serge Lifar, and believes the footage shows a rehearsal, since the central women seem to shift their position during the mazurka movement.

See Jane Pritchard’s blog for an account of the detective work that unearthed the clip. The film itself can be seen at the Pathé website.

Photograph copyright britishpathe.com.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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