Twentieth Century Ballet

Impact of the Ballets Russes

The impact of the Ballets Russes on Europe was very great. So great, in fact, that intellectual Leonard Woolf compared the Ballets Russes’ impact on European civilization to that of the impacts of Joyce, Picasso, Eliot, and Freud (Marks 191). France, specifically Paris, received the Ballets best although they were popular in England and other countries as well. They did perform in the United States in 1916, but before the performance were asked to tone down Afternoon of a Faun, a particularly scandalous ballet (Marks 194). The United States proved to not be as accepting of the Ballets and the themes as Europe, perhaps because the country did not understand the philosophical messages. It should be noted, however, that the Ballets Russes were never performed in Russia because Diaghilev was ostracized before 1917 (Marks 183). Nevertheless, as mentioned before, the impact on European society was huge.

From 1910 to the mid-1920s, French and English fashion and interior design took influence from the Ballets Russes. Designer Coco Chanel was influenced by the costume jewelry and Oriental styles and colors of the costumes of the Ballets. The previous Victorian restrictiveness that was present in European clothing was overthrown and the female body was emphasized and advertised in fashion magazines more (Marks 195). As for music, music that was used in the Ballets Russes, particularly jazz music, as seen in “Waltz No. Two from the Jazz Suite” by Dmitri Shostakovich, became more popular in Paris. This song can be heard below.
There was also an influence on U.S. theater and film, particularly Broadway and Hollywood. Russian dancer George Balanchine founded the New York City Ballet in 1949 and choreographed for Broadway (Marks 197). Ballet adapted to musical theater and the movies but still gave credit to classical Russian ballet training. There was even a rip-off of the Ballets Russes in Vaudeville, and the “Monte Carlo Ballets Russes” was created and performed in New York in 1933 with Balanchine’s contributing choreography (Marks 197).

Nevertheless, the most significant impact due to the Ballets Russes was that they spurred an interest in classical ballet in Europe, North and South America, and Japan. New ballet companies were formed as a result, and in England, several dance schools and companies were set up by dancers who were associated with Diaghilev. An interest in dance in general was also sparked, including a craving for all things exotic, and it was during this time, the 1920s, that the Argentine tango and American ragtime dances became greatly popularized (Marks 201). Ballet and dance in general became better known as a means of self-expression.