When Art Dances with Music

BiniChic recently went on an stimulating trip to the past, where we revisited the ground-breaking costumes, backgrounds and art made for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. It was a fortuitous coincidence that we had been recently working on a new edition of the costumes for Nacho Duato’s Duende ballet, designed by Susan Unger of BiniChic and inspired by the wonderfully original costumes from the Ballet Russes.

It was a treat for the senses to be able to see first-hand the impressive creative legacy left to us by the Ballet Russes right after spending our holidays happily submerged in the world of costume design; hand silk-screening meters of knit and silk for the Slovak National Theatre’s performance of Duende.

The Ballet Russes were founded in 1909 by Sergei Diaghilev — and in an ironic twist, in the twenty years they were active they never performed in Russia. A highly respected art curator from the Russian bourgeois, Diaghilev moved from Saint Petersburg to Paris in search of exciting new ventures promoting Russian art and music in Western Europe.

Diaghilev saw the potential success of bringing together the traditions, colors, sounds and dances of the exotic tribes living in the vast Russian lands, which greatly appealed to a Europe thirsty for Oriental tales. He very wisely used his knowledge of the art world and his connections to employ some of the best talents in the Avant Garde of the early 20th Century.

The Russian artist Léon Bakst was a great promoter of Orientalism. He drew inspiration from the bold hues, embroideries, heavy appliqué, ‘harem’ silhouettes and sensuality brought back from Eastern cultures in the late 19th Century. Bakst created several costume and background designs for the Ballet Russes, and his illustrations are iconic and expressive, exuding both Eastern and Ancient Mediterranean influences.

Images of Bakst’s work permeated our lives, as he — and in turn, the cultures he was inspired by — greatly influenced Susan in her designs and as I looked through her books in awe. At the top of the post, an image of Susan’s drawing for the girl costumes in the ballet Duende, 1991 (left) and an illustration of the costume for Narcisse, 1911. The next six illustrations are also by Léon Bakst. Below, a collage of various prints by Susan Unger where Oriental and Ancient Mediterranean influence is evident.

In the exhibition at Barcelona’s Caixa Forum you get a sense of the great effort and creativity that went into each element of the shows. The videos of the performances with the original cast, costumes and sets gave a special insight into the finished product. Diaghilev hired the best dancers from the Imperial Russian Ballet, and with them created an Expressionist dance style that especially shined with the ensemble cast, the grand music and colorful costumes and sets — probably a great point of reference for the popular Broadway shows that followed in the mid 20th Century.

Diaghilev commissioned only the best artists and designers to work on his Ballets. The most well known involved in the costume and background design were Matisse, Picasso, Chanel, Braque, Derain, de Chirico, Larionov, Cocteau, Goncharova as well as Léon Bakst. Some of the musicians that worked on the scores were Stravinsky, Debussy, Chopin, Satie, Tchaikovsky, de Falla, Rossini and Strauss, among others.

Diaghilev’s talent in curating the art for the shows was essential to the ultimate success of the Ballet Russes.

Good art is timeless — its message transported through generations, it reaches our senses untouched by the changes that usually wipe out trends and fashions. It is no doubt the reason the Ballet Russes have withstood the test of time.

We can see the Ballets reflected in our culture in the way the prints, colors and patterns of the costumes have influenced many of today’s top designers — or in the way many of these artists’ work is hanging in the most reputable museums around the world. The Ballet Russes have inspired and continue to do so countless creative minds in the more than hundred years since their first performance.

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5 Responses to When Art Dances with Music

  1. Isabelle says:

    I am thrilled to read about the collaboration between Susan Unger and Nacho Duato who was appointed artistic director of the ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theatre in Moscow where is he starting this month. While I am sad to see him leave CND I hope to see his new work soon…

    • BiniChic says:

      Hi Isa!
      We are also thrilled to still collaborate with the great Nacho Duato. We wanted to go see the first performance of Duende at the Mikhailovsky, but it was sadly impossible… Have you seen any of his recent choreographies? Best, Ona

      • Isabelle Bosquet-Morra says:

        The last time we saw Nacho Duato’s work was CDN was at the Egg in Albany a couple of years ago… Wish I could fly to Moscow soon.

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  3. I am a little confused…. must be my old age… as far as who did what of the above.
    First I love the entire presentation and explanation.

    So my favorite’s are : the four ladies / dancers …..Harem Silhouettes & Sensuality.
    So Sexy … the bodies. the costumer y..the subtlety yet vibrancy !

    Great Works..
    Ed Levy

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