DE BASIL'S BALLETS RUSSES by Kathrine Sorley Walker


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For the singular on-the-road flavor of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo (1931-52), you'll do far better with memoirs of the period--especially Soho Osato's enchanting Distant Dances (1980). But though veteran British ballet-writer Walker fails to capture the company's shoestring excitement (without even, for example, a single reference to the Osato book), she does a solid, reasonably stylish job of setting down the troupe's complex history, the business/law squabbles as well as the eclectic repertoire. Here, then, in the book's long first section, is the story of how Colonel W. de Basil (a ""Cossack officer turned ÉmigrÉ impresario"") teamed up with Rene Blum, ballet director of the Monte Carlo Opera (and brother of the French premier), to bring together some pieces of Diaghilev's legacy with new talent in a new company; here, too, is the shift of choreographic leadership from Balanchine to Massine to the aged Fokine, with crucial visits from Nijinsky and others; and here--along with the lawsuits, name-changes, power-grabs, contract hassles, and feuds--is the parade of star dancers who trouped from London (the company's true home) all over the world. . . till its shabby decline after the war. Then Walker devotes a chapter to the Colonel himself, largely in order to defend him against the attacks of Sol Hurok and others; there are chapters on ""The Baby Ballerinas"" (teenage stars Toumanova, Baronova, Riabouchinska) and on the company's influence--""as disseminator rather than creator"" (except perhaps in the area of the ""symphonic"" ballet). And finally, most oddly, there's a separate chapter on the Ballets Russes tours to Australia--apparently intended to give Australia's cultural image (not as provincial as the stereotype) a boost. Far less dramatic or zesty than other slices of ballet lore, then, but a sturdy reference-addition to the dance-history shelf.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum