Diaghilev at the V & A

On Friday afternoon, we ventured out to see the exhibition Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes at the Victoria and Albert museum. This proved to be a thoroughly absorbing exhibition, bringing together so many different elements – theatre, music, art, choreography, strong and creative personalties – in the same way that Diaghilev did through the vehicle of his Ballets Russes company. The exhibition includes dozens of startling original costumes; posters, sketches and set designs by the likes of Cocteau, Picasso and Goncharova; some short videos giving an overview of Russian music at the start of the twentieth century, explaining the impact Debussy had on Stravinsky, or offering an insight into the process of choreographing a new dance piece; collaged projections of the multiple influences and interests which fed into Diaghilev’s vision; and a whole section devoted to Nijinsky where, alongside handsome and beguiling studio photographs of the dancer, there is a drawing by Nijinsky – a geometric face, obsessive red and green pencil strokes, made during one of his first breakdowns. Some of the most fascinating material for me was the ephemera – the hotel bills, tickets and telegrams, a tiny notebook with markings to help a dancer remember her steps, a ballet slipper signed and given to an admirer as a memento. Two and a half hours’ later, culturally over-stimulated, we staggered out into the brashly-lit museum shop. Cue a quick exit into the extremely bracing London night, and a brisk walk to a cosy (read, crowded) watering hole for a proper debriefing.

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