The last post of 2011 is also the series finale of Ballets Russes and the artistry of Leon Bakst which has been updated several times. I’ve also brilliantly footnoted a subtitle for the series: Persequendum Est. Please note changes to Ballets Russes: Cleopatra and Ballets Russes: Afternoon of the Faun.  Neither post may have explained the significance of Ballet Russes, so I’ll do that now.

"Firebird" costume sketch, Leon Bakst 1910

The Ballets Russes is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century and its influence lasts to this day.  Many of its dancers came from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg. After the Bolshevik Revolution, young dancers were recruited from Paris. The company was  directed by Sergei Diaghilev between 1909 and 1929.

Artistic collaboration among contemporary choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers altered the course of musical history and the art of performing dance. Its ballets have been variously interpreted as Classical, Neo-Classical, Romantic, Neo-Romantic, Avant-Garde, Expressionist, Abstract and Orientalist.

As the title of this post implies, most of the rest of this post will be probably be about The Firebird, a 1910 ballet created by the composer Igor Stravinsky (his breakthrough piece) and choreographer Michel Fokine, who collaborated with Alexandre Benois to write the ballet. Not surprisingly, set and costume design were by Leon Bakst.

The Firebird premiered in Paris on 25 June 1910. Even before the first performance, the company sensed a huge success in the making.The critics were ecstatic, praising the ballet for what they perceived as an ideal symbiosis between decor, choreography and music.

The tale is a concoction of Slavik folklore where the Firebirda magical glowing bird that is both a blessing and a curse to its captor somehow interacts with the evil magician Kashchei the Deathless.

Léon Bakst: Firebird, Ballerina, 1910

It’s entirely possible, or so says Wikipedia, the inspiration for mixing the mythical Firebird with the unrelated tale of Kaschei the Deathless came from the popular child’s verse, “A Winter’s Journey” which includes the lines …

And in my dreams I see myself on a wolf’s back
Riding along a forest path
To do battle with a sorcerer-tsar
In that land where a princess sits under lock and key,
Pining behind massive walls.
There gardens surround a palace all of glass;
There Firebirds sing by night
And peck at golden fruit.


Persequendum Est ~  Postrema

 The Artistry of Leon Bakst


At the end of 1699 the Russian Emperor Peter I the Great issued an order to celebrate the New Year beginning on January 1 by the Julian calendar and for this purpose to decorate houses with pine-tree, fir-tree and juniper branches.

с Новым годом