One hundred years ago this month, impresario Sergei Diaghilev presided in Paris over the first of his so-called Russian Seasons, the results of which were to cause one of the most profound revolutions ever in the world of dance. Ballet companies everywhere are marking the anniversary this year with festivals and special performances, and Saturday the Bolshoi Theater pays its homage to Diaghilev and the Russian Seasons with a gala program of four Diaghilev-commissioned ballets, performed both by its own dancers and by guest companies from Paris and Perm.
The Russian Seasons were originally designed to bring Russian culture to the attention of the outside world. And that they did. But Diaghilev's principal achievement lay elsewhere. As ballet developed through the 19th century, it was dominated by choreography, with music and stage design mostly playing a subsidiary role. Diaghilev believed in giving equal prominence to all three art forms, engaging such formidable talent as that of Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and Francis Poulenc to compose ballet scores and of Lev Bakst, Nataliya Goncharova, Henri Matisse and Georges Braque to design sets and costumes. For choreography, he turned above all to three young natives of Russia, Mikhail Fokin, Leonid Massine and George Balanchine, who eventually came to be ranked among the greatest innovators of 20th-century ballet. And to execute the results he engaged an outstanding company of dancers, one that included such now-legendary figures as Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina and Vatslav Nijinsky.
Diaghilev could be rightly characterized as one of classical ballet’s best friends. Now there comes a time when dancers are no longer dancers, and as they age there comes a particular affliction which no one warns you about and it strikes long after the pointe shoes are hung up in the back of the closet. It’s called arthritis and it is the result of pounding away for hours after hours, year after year, in pointe shoes. It makes one’s knees and ankles sheer burning swelling misery. I have tried all kinds of prescription drugs, and unfortunately for me, all those little annoying side effects which one is duly warned about by a responsible physician - come out to strike in full force in me. So I gave up the prescription drugs and decided I would spend the rest of my life chanting the dancer’s mantra – it is only pain.
Along the way, I discovered, there was one over the counter drug, which doesn’t bring on the vomiting, the migraines, the profusely bleeding nose and does not turn my stomach into a bbq pit. Let me introduce to my new best friend – 400 mg of Ibufren – absolute liquid gold. Two of these beauties and I can at least walk for a few hours.