History of Colonel W. de Basil's BALLET RUSSES

by Edwin Evans

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When Serge de Diaghileff died, after his summer season of 1929 at Covent Garden, there was a general impression that with him had died the Ballet. Its Collaborators, dancers, choreographers and others were dispersed---a flock without a shepherd. All were agreed that to allow so splendid an enterprise, which had exercised so powerful an influence upon the art of its day, to lapse into oblivion, would be a disaster, but all attempts to gather up the threads and start anew failed until Col. W. de Basil made the problem his own and found the right solution.

He was no novice in management. He had directed a season of Ballet as far back as 1922. In the year of Diaghileff's death he had formed a group of Russian singers with Chaliapine at their head into an opera company which appeared with considerable success at the Lyceun Theatre in 1931. With the opera was associated a ballet which, though not to be compared with the present one, had already fine artistic qualities, and gave the most ambitious performances presented in the interval between Diaghileff's death and the resuscitation of the Russian Ballet. Prior to its appearance in England, Col. W. de Basil's Ballet had been engaged at Monte Carlo, so long the headquarters of the Diaghileff Ballet, and thus originated a link between the old and the new Ballets.

Col. W. de Basil came to the work of reorganization with ideas of his own, chief among which was the desire to bring out the younger generation of dancers. When Diaghileff started his Ballet he was able to draw upon the proved resources of the Imperial Ballet and present from the outset artists whose fame was established. the conditions under which Col. W. de Basil formed his company were different and much more complicated owing to the general world crisis. He was confronted with a number of what seemed insurmountable difficulties. Notwithstanding this atmosphere of pessimism and depression, he had faith in the final success of his plans. He carefully selected young dancers who showed promise, recruiting rh3m from the studios of various famous Imperial Ballerinas in Paris, and training them in his own studio together with his own company. One serious difficulty was that managements demanded well-known names, and he was relying upon young people whose names were in the making. In one of his earliest engagements he was driven to the expedient of saying that the big names would appear later in the season. He relied upon the young people having conquered their public by then, and his faith was not misplaced. Yet some of his stars were then only twelve years of age.

This recruiting or young people was not only expedient in itself: it was also vital to the new development in choreography, to which young dancers always take more readily than those of settled habit. It is commonly agreed that in his last phase Diaghileff had veered markedly towards the left, in sympathy with cubism and other modern art-currents. The time was due for a reaction towards the right, for choreography that should be new and original, still classical. For this Col. W. de Basil applied in turn to Folkine, Nijinska, Romanoff, Balanchine, and finally Massine. Since 1931 Massine has been Col. W. de Basil's maitre de ballet, and artistic collaborator in his enterprise. He has created, together with Col. W. de Basil, new forms of choreography, much appreciated by balletomane.

In addition, Col. W. de Basil has again invited for the present season, as in the Monte Carlo season of 1934, the collaboration as guest-choreographer of that famous artist La Nijinska, who will produce several new ballets.

Meanwhile many of his young people have become internationally famous, thus proving that he had taken the right course. Eminent representatives of the classical Ballet now teaching in Paris recognize in them their true successors and consider that they have carried the tradition a stage further.

the tradition of the Ballet is international. Its collaborators include painters, composers and conductors of all countries. Similarly, although the necleus of the present Ballet is Russian, it includes dancers of no fewer than eight countries, who have become absorbed by the Russian school. Among them are some English and American dancers, the first of whom were engaged in 1932. They have traveled with the company, and even the latest recruits are already beginning to speak Russian. There is even a very promising Japanese, who was engaged in Chicago.

Mme. Tchernicheva conducts the daily classes, which are attended by all the dancers, including Massine, who gives demonstrations and sets the example of assiduity. Meanwhile, Col. W. de Basil has, in training with the great Russian dancers who have settled in Paris, a number of children from seven to twelve years of age, who are being prepared for the Ballet. He is not content to provide for day to day necessities. In these children he is recruiting the Ballet of 1940.

Meanwhile, Col. W. de Basil's company has appeared with triumphant success in many European Countries, and has had two equally successful tours in the United States. Its young forces have thereby become thoroughly seasoned artists, and the quality of their performances has earned them international admiration. The personnel of the company is now over eighty strong---probably the largest number that has ever toured the world in Ballet---and its repertoire, enriched by the acquisition and revival of many of Diaghileff's Ballets, now comprises over fifty productions, to which others are being constantly added. Col. W. de Basil may well look with pride upon the outcome of his labors, which have resulted in the attainment of a new stage in the glorious history of the Ballet.

After two successive years, with a five-month season in each, the annual visit of Col. W. de Basil's Ballet Russes has come to be regarded as an integral part of the London season an as established tradition. Following the example set by London, about thirty American cities have now formed associations of "Friends of the Ballet," the membership of which, as in Europe, continues to expand.

In Madrid, where Col. W. de Basil's Ballet Russes have recently visited at the invitation of the Spanish Government, the performances were hailed as an historic event, and aroused the greatest enthusiasm in audiences which included the May of Madrid and several members of the Government.

At the Royal Opera Covent Garden the company completed a record season, three months of full houses through a heat wave!

And all the time the repertoire is being increased: Scherazde, Thamar, Good Humoured Ladies and other early works, novelties such as "Jardin Public" and d'Erlanger's sparkling "Cent Baisers" which brought Madame Nijinska to ther company as a choreographer.

the governments of several other countries have written to Co;. W. de Basil with a view to engaging his company as an aesthetic and educational demonstration for the encouragement of art in their nations.

And so the great tradition goes on. Long may it prosper! But, as Col. W. de Basil himself declares, that tradition was never identified with one artist or any one country, and, in the future as in the past, he sees in it a rallying point for the collaboration of artists of many countries, each helping to enrich it with new forces and new ideas.