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By Phil Hall | September 8, 2013

Between 1909 and 1929, the Russian producer/impresario Serge Diaghilev redefined the performing arts through the innovative productions of his Ballets Russes. The Paris-based company brilliantly mixed the rich cultural Russian heritage with the avant-garde modern influences of early 20th century Europe.

Diaghilev’s talent was not in creation – he was a self-admitted failure as an artist and composer – but his genius was rooted in tapping into the creative zeitgeist of the era and cajoling a wealth of innovators to collaborate. And even a brief roll call of Ballets Russes collaborators can inspire awe: Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky were among the more notable artists to work under Diaghilev’s direction. The vibrancy of the Ballets Russes productions quickly became legendary, although the company had its share of problems – most notably, the disastrous rupture between Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

Sadly, there is no film footage of the now-legendary performances due to Diaghilev’s refusal to allow cameras to shoot the dancers while they were on stage. This film overcomes the lack of footage with a wealth of still photographs, surviving original costumes and intricate recreations by major contemporary ballet companies of the Ballets Russes’ groundbreaking achievements.

Ballet lovers will greatly appreciate this insightful and intelligent presentation.

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