Creating an ‘Aesthetic of Imagination’: The Art, Music, and Ideas of Sergei Diaghilev

By Amanda Jensen.

Published by The International Journal of Arts Theory and History

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Ballets Russes productions were considered revolutionary in design both in the early 1900s and in the present. The company’s radical ideas stem from several different elements. Firstly, director Sergei Diaghilev used the Western medium of ballet to express the aesthetic ideals of the ‘World of Art’ movement in Russia, particularly of Gesamtkunstwerk, while transforming such ideals with an Eastern aesthetic idiom. Costumes, music, set design, and choreography all combined to create a harmonious and unified vision of beauty instead of merely serving as a venue for vaguely connected music and dance. Furthermore, the ballet company is unique in the performance art world for the bold scale of their productions: they created and performed for a worldwide audience without compromising these artistic ideals. Finally, on account of its Russian heritage and its transformation of Gesamtkunstwerk into a concept unifying Eastern conceptions of beauty, the Ballets Russes served as the first large scale, unified exposition of Russian Orientalist ideas for a mass audience. As such, the ballet company was able to navigate a complex course of representing the East as exotic and an inspirational source of beauty from the perspective of both the West and the East. This complex negotiation is an essential component of the Ballets Russes’ revolutionary nature: the company refused to compromise on artistic vision while creating an audience for its own art and therefore was able to challenge the established order of art on a massive scale.

Keywords: Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, World of Art, Russian Orientalism

The International Journal of Arts Theory and History, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.97-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 10.827MB).

Amanda Jensen

Student, College of Fine Arts-Butler School of Music, College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, USA

A musicologist and historical harpist, Ms. Jensen holds a B.A. in music, Plan II Honors Program, and Greek from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently examining the changes in harp construction, repertoire, and performance practice in Renaissance Spain and Italy. Her other research interests include the iconography of musical instruments in the Northern Renaissance as well as the intersection between Renaissance music and philosophy. Ms. Jensen plans to pursue a Ph.D. in musicology, continuing to integrate research with historical performance.