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PRINT May 2009

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the Ballets Russes centennial

THIS SPRING, A FLURRY OF exhibitions in Europe and America will celebrate the centennial of Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which debuted on May 18, 1909, in Paris—an inauguration that was to have a profound impact on the way art, dance, and theater would be promoted and experienced in the twentieth century. The company’s first season marked the moment when dance displaced Wagnerian opera as the most modern medium of high-cultural entertainment. The Ballets Russes quickly became a fashionable brand associated with ambitious multimedia performance, achieving production values of Zeffi relli-esque proportions. It was the first company to employ professional visual artists, who designed every last detail—sets, costumes, posters, programs. It raised the bar for the kinds of music that could accompany dance. Diaghilev made concert music fair game for choreography, and, for the first time,

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