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Diaghilev's Empire: How the Ballets Russes Enthralled the World

Diaghilev's Empire: How the Ballets Russes Enthralled the World

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Rupert Christiansen, a renowned dance critic and arts correspondent, presents a sweeping history of the Ballets Russes and of Serge Diaghilev’s dream of bringing Russian art and culture to the West.

Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, is often said to have invented modern ballet. An art critic and connoisseur, Diaghilev had no training in dance or choreography, but he had a dream of bringing Russian art, music, design, and expression to the West and a mission to drive a cultural and artistic revolution.

Bringing together such legendary talents as Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, this complex and visionary genius created a new form of ballet defined by artistic integrity, creative freedom, and an all-encompassing experience of art, movement, and music. The explosive color combinations, sensual and androgynous choreography, and experimental sounds of the Ballets Russes were called “barbaric” by the Parisian press, but its radical style usurped the entrenched mores of traditional ballet and transformed the European cultural sphere at large.

Diaghilev’s Empire, the publication of which marks the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Diaghilev’s birth, is a daring, impeccably researched reassessment of the phenomenon of the Ballets Russes and the Russian Revolution in twentieth-century art and culture. Rupert Christiansen, a leading dance critic, explores the fiery conflicts, outsize personalities, and extraordinary artistic innovations that make up this enduring story of triumph and disaster.


“In the early twentieth century, Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes revitalized ballet, and the company remained at the forefront of the international avant-garde for decades. In this rich account, Christiansen… makes a convincing case for its indelible influence.” ― The New Yorker

“Well-researched [and] full of entertaining stories . . . A comprehensive look at the influence of one of ballet’s most famous companies.” ― Kirkus Reviews