The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. Originally conceived by impresario Sergei Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes is widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century, in part because it promoted ground-breaking artistic collaborations among young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers, all at the forefront of their several fields. Diaghilev commissioned works from composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, and Sergei Prokofiev, artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Alexandre Benois, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, and costume designers Léon Bakst and Coco Chanel. Its principal dancers, the most famous of whom was probably Vaslav Nijinsky, were huge stars of their day.
The company’s productions created a huge sensation, completely reinvigorating the art of performing dance, bringing many visual artists to public attention, and significantly affecting the course of musical composition. It also introduced European and American audiences to tales, music and design motifs drawn from Russian folklore. The influence of the Ballets Russes lasts to the present day.
The five bronze dancers I created in 2012 are intended to conjure up for a new century the innovative quality and nature of this outstanding ballet company. They evoke a robust, elemental, ritualistic and sensual quality, subtly combining the colours and costumes of the original performers. The pieces are unique because of the way they are modelled and cast, and because of their complex multicoloured patination. They exhibit a complex angular inward geometry reminiscent of Nijinsky choreography and style of movement.
Even though it would likely annoy the spirit of Diaghilev, who famously refused to allow the Ballets Russes to be filmed, I’m interested in combining the power of my bronze dancers with the moving image. I’m working on moving video of spinning and spiralling bronzes onto scenic backdrops to give an extended dimension of form, substance, movement, power, and height, evoked particularly by the nature of bronze as a material.
In the gallery at the moment, some of these pieces can be seen against some of the original Ballets Russes scenic backdrops projected on our huge videowall.