Tag Archives: Sergei Diaghilev

Tamara Toumanova home, Beverly Hills

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We have discussed Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) previously in this space. Today we’ll narrow the topic a bit, but not before doing a few preliminaries.
The future great dancer, a protege of George Balanchine, was born in the Siberian city of Tyumen, where her mother was located while searching for her husband, with whom she had lost contact during the Russian Civil War. The family was finally reunited and made their way out of Russia via Vladivostok, China, Egypt and Paris. Jason Edwards and Stephanie L. Taylor describe the situation briefly, but with flavor, in their book Joseph Cornell: Opening the Box: “Toumanova, like the ballet Sleeping Beauty, is also a relic of Russia and France. Tamara was conceived in the thick of history and born in a manger on railway tracks. Her father Vladimir was an army colonel and her mother Eugenia, gave birth to her on 2 March, 1919, among cavalry horses in a cattle wagon shared with army officers making a retreat through Siberia.”
This quirk of fate allows us to place this ethnic Armenian-Pole in the sphere of Russian culture. As a dancer whose early career was closely connected to Russian emigres – including Balanchine, Sergei Diaghilev and the great Russian dance teacher Olga Preobrazhenskaya, the Russian influence was strong anyway. In fact, at the end of her life, Toumanova donated some of her famous costumes to the Vaganova Choreographic Museum in St. Petersburg.  She made her first appearances on stage in Paris beginning in 1925 (yes, when she was six years old), later adding Brussels, Geneva, Monte Carlo, London, Mexico City, Barcelona, Havana, Montreal, and New York. Her U.S. debut in 1934 took her to Chicago and Philadelphia. Her final performances on stage were in 1956 at La Scala, in Milan,  with the exception of her absolute last performance, which was in Monte Carlo for a gala celebration of the wedding of Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly.
Today we look at the Beverly Hills house at 525 N. Foothill Boulevard, which Toumanova occupied at least in the early 1940s. (My cursory research does not turn up further dates.) She most probably lived here in 1944 when she made her first of six American films, Days of Glory. Debuting on screen with her in that picture was Gregory Peck.

We (thanks to the internet) have three artifacts that provide a glimpse into Toumanova’s life while she lived in this gorgeous home in Beverly Hills. (You can even take a look inside the place in a recent video tour posted by an L.A. real estate agent. Obviously the interior has been updated numerous times since Toumanova lived here, but you still get the old-time Hollywood feel for the Spanish-style home.) Toumanova was a friend of the ground-breaking American artist Joseph Cornell, and she had an enormous influence on his work. He dedicated numerous of his works to her, and included her image in many of them. He was an innovator in using found/stray objects in his work, and Toumanova, as we see in a letter she wrote to Cornell May 16, 1942, was willing to feed his need for objects. In a typed letter that bears the return address of 525 N. Foothill Boulevard, she writes:
Dear Mr. Cornell: I was so touched by your charming present and letter. I am simply crazy about it! It is really beautiful and very interesting. I am enclosing few (sic) bits from ‘Capriccio’ and I hope you will be able to use them. I am always glad to hear from you, and please do drop me a line or two, as I am permanently here. Thanking you once again, I am, Gratefully yours, Tamara Toumanova.
This letter, available online, reveals quite a bit. Clearly, this is not their first correspondence, and since we know about the beautiful boxes Cornell made under the influence of Toumanova and ballet, we can assume it was one of those boxes that he sent her. We also appreciate the comment that she is now “permanently here,” since it does suggest this remained her home for some time.
In a short letter of August 11, 1942, Toumanova acknowledges yet another gift, this time, specifically, a box: “This little box really looks like a bit of magique!” she writes.
A third letter dated March 11, 1943, this one handwritten on Tamara Toumanova stationary, but without a return address, provides a few more details of the Cornell-Toumanova friendship. He had sent her yet another gift, this time for Christmas, and this time consisting of a poem and, apparently, another box. In this letter she calls herself “your Snow Queen or Princess Aurora,” referring, of course, to two of her most famous roles which Cornell had reflected in his work.
Some, though not all, of Cornell’s boxes are quite like what we know as the art boxes made these days in Palekh and other Russian cities. One, Untitled (for Tamara Toumanova, 1940), can be seen on the website of the Art Institute of Chicago. The description tells us: “Like Hommage à Tamara Toumanova, this box (also known as Feathered Swan) was made for the ballerina Tamara Toumanova. Cornell saw Toumanova perform Swan Lake in 1941, and he subsequently often associated her with this role.”
Hommage à Tamara Toumanova may also be seen on this site, and the description gives us some nice details about the Cornell-Toumanova relationship:
Toumanova was “the subject of more than two dozen boxes, collages, and objects created by Cornell between 1940 and the 1960s. Introduced to Toumanova in 1940, he found in her the living counterpart to the Romantic ballerina Taglioni, as well as a woman with whom he remained deeply enamored until his death.” (Washington, D. C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Cornell: An Exploration of Sources, 1982-83, exh. Cat. By Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, p. 34)
The text continues: “He met Toumanova through Pavel Tchelitchew, a friend and fellow artist on the fringe of Surrealist circles in New York, who designed ballet sets and exchanged gifts with her (see Dickran Tashjian, Joseph Cornell: Gifts of Desire, Miami Beach. Fla., 1992, p. 111). This collage incorporates a photograph of Toumanova with printed images of butterflies, and sea plants and creatures, evoking both an aerial and underwater world. Cornell thereby suggested that Toumanova is a star who may take her place among the constellations, alongside such mythical figures as Andromeda.”

 

 

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Russian ballet at the Palace Theatre, London

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The plaque, which you can see at the end of the block of photos below, blithely proclaims that the Palace Theatre  is famed for being the home of London’s longest-running musicals. The hell it is. This venue, located at Cambridge Circus, is famous for being one of the places where Russian ballet established a foothold in Britain in the early 20th century. It was here that Anna Pavlova performed some of her London seasons; here that Nikolai Legat debuted on the London stage; and here where Vaclav Nijinsky unveiled his own company in 1914. In regards to them I understand what is carved in stone over the stage door: “The world’s greatest artistes have passed and will pass through these doors.” But what this has to do with a so-called mentalist like Derren Brown – the house’s occupant (or occupier) when I took these photos earlier this year – I do not know. Surely the timelessness of a gorgeous old place like this is created only by those of the stature of Pavlova, Nijinsky and their like. As for the theatre’s physical appearance, at least in regards to the front facade, it would appear it has not changed much in a century. You can watch a short video of Anna Pavlova dancing a snippet of “The Dying Swan” on YouTube, which begins with a short panorama of the theatre front. Looks very much the same as the shots you see here.
Pavlova performed here at least in 1910 and 1912, and we can even pin one of her performances down to my own birthdate of June 18, in the year 1912, thanks to an old program of that evening’s show which is available for sale for $200 as of this writing. The description of the evening’s fare, incidentally, takes a good deal of the hot air out of my earlier rather pompous claim that the fame of Russian dancers is of more value than that of the other hucksters who may have performed here. Just imagine the show that night, on Tuesday, June 18. Pavlova, the headliner, shared the stage with three comedians, a mime, a comic violinist, a comic juggler, a comic conjurer (Ah! Derren Brown again!), and an ambidextrous caligraphist, among others. Not exactly your sublime evening of high art. In fact, here is a nice description of the kind of entertainment audiences might have seen at the Alhambra Theatre, a Glaswegian counterpart of the Palace, in or around the years 1913 and 1914.
After the overture in the Alhambra the first act was frequently a play, musical revue, ballet, or short opera, all followed by variety with 6-10 turns, and ending with film. Through the Syndicate, entertainers came from all continents – comics, mimists, singers, illusionists, gymnasts, tumblers, instrumentalists, dancers, whistlers, Arabian whirlers, conjurers, memory men, trick cyclists, quartettes, jugglers, and ventriloquists. Dance and ballet came from the Danish classicist Adeline Genee, the Imperial Russian Ballet, America’s Maud Allan in her provocative free-movement, Lydia Kyasht and her Russian corps de ballet, Nicolas Legat’s Russian company, Anna Pavlova and others.”
Be all that as it may, Pavlova’s memory is so closely associated with the Palace that there is speculation about hers being one of two ghosts who continue to haunt the backstage area to this day (for the record, the other is of the Welsh composer and actor Ivor Novello).
We can also focus in tightly on another moment from those long-gone days by perusing an unsigned newspaper review of Pavlova’s April 18, 1910, performance, which appeared in the Daily Mail on April 19:
London – that is to say art and pleasure loving London – has a new sensation which will be discussed as widely and as eagerly as Elektra and the Sicilians, with the one difference that the new topic does not lend itself to argument. Anna Pavlova and Michael Mordkin, ‘Russia’s acknowledged greatest dancers and the famous leaders of the Imperial Russian Ballet,’ who made their debut at the Palace Theatre last night, are the last word in the art of dancing. The perfection of their art cannot be disputed. It is such as to re-establish the supremacy of the traditional ballet style over the so called ‘classic’ dance and its offshoots, of which we have had a very surfeit during the last year or two.
It is impossible to do justice to Anna Pavlova by mere description. Such grace as hers, such litheness of body, and such perfect balance in motion so quick that eyes can scarcely follow it must be seen to be believed. It is not alone the top-like whirling round on tip-toe, ending in a difficult poise that would defy the efforts of an ordinary dancer, even if it were attempted from an attitude of repose; it is none of the conventional tricks of the ballet-dancer that causes wonderment in the dancing of Anna Pavlova and her no less amazing partner, but their extraordinary effects of movement arrested, as it were, in mid-air – a pause, a hesitation that seems to defy the laws of gravity and makes you look instinctively for the wires on which these graceful marionettes must surely be suspended.”

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I must add a few words about Pavlova’s “no less amazing partner” Michael, or Mikhail, Mordkin, with whom Miss Pavlova apparently had a turbulent relationship. I am grateful to the Victoria and Albert Museum website for the following tidbit:
In 1912 Pavlova appeared in the first Royal Variety Performance. She was very competitive and during a curtain call slapped the face of her partner, Michael Mordkin, because she thought he was getting more applause.
The feud between Pavlova and Mordkin was much reported in the press. The pair were a sensation when they appeared together at the Palace Theatre, one of London’s leading music halls, in 1910.
They first appeared in a classical pas de deux, performed with such style and beauty that they took ten curtain calls, an extraordinary number for a music hall. Nothing prepared the audience for what came next.
Gone were Pavlova’s tutu and Mordkin’s ballet costume, gone her pointe shoes. In Greek tunics and sandals, they flung themselves onto the stage in the Autumn Bacchanal, one of the most tempestuous and passionate dances ever staged.”
Nijinsky’s most memorable, if not successful, connection to the Palace comes over just a two-week period in the spring of 1914. After breaking with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, who had raised him to the status of a living legend, Nijinsky attempted to put together his own troupe with which he planned to tour.  It never happened. Immediately following the two-week run at the Palace, the new company fell apart. A minor detail of that doomed endeavor was that Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, commissioned by Nijinsky, was given its world premiere during the performance of March 2, 1914  – the opening night of the run. Writing in her memoirs, Nijinsky’s sister Bronislawa wrote in some detail about the thought (or lack of it) and preparations that went into the new company. “The performances were to begin on March 2. There were only four and a half weeks to opening night, and Vaslav [her spelling] had not even started the work. To sign a contract with such a short time for preparation seemed to me to be pure folly, but it was too late to talk about it, least of all with Vaslav.” According to Bronislawa, the program for the Saison Nijinsky was to include major pieces such as Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Le Spectre de la rose, and Nijinsky’s own choreography of Carnaval and Les Sylphides among smaller dance numbers.
Nikolai Legat first danced abroad with Anna Pavlova no later than 1908. You can see a photo of the two in Swan Lake from that year when they toured Europe. Legat, however, although he enjoyed dancing abroad and did so for many years, remained in Russia at the Imperial School where he built his reputation as a teacher and choreographer. Still, Diaghilev convinced him to come West and take over as the ballet master of the Ballets Russes in 1923. Legat left to found his own school in London in 1926. I don’t readily find specific dates for Legat performing at the Palace, although there is a posed photo of Anna Pavlova performing in Legat’s choreography for Les Coquetteries de Columbine which premiered at the Palace on April 15, 1912.

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Lydia Lopokova house, London

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DSCN7131Most of the world knows her as Lydia Lopokova, although she was born and grew up in St. Petersburg as Lidia Lopukhova. The “pseudonym” (if you’re generous) or the abomination of her real name (if you’re honest) was visited upon us by Sergei Diaghilev. When he hired Lopukhova to join the Ballets Russes in 1910, he resolved that the world would not know what to do with the “Lopukhova” configuration… as though “Lopokova” were a great improvement. But history is what it is (just for the record, Russian folk wisdom calls it a turkey) so we have what we have: Lydia Lopokova (1892-1981) , one of the stars of the Ballets Russes. She never again lived in Russia and, for many years, lived at this house at 46 Gordon Square, Kings Cross, London, with her husband John Maynard Keynes, the famed economist and member of the Bloomsbury group of intellectuals.
Lopokova’s father Vasily was a simple man from the Tambov region of Russia. After moving to St. Petersburg he accepted a job as a ticket taker at the Alexandrinsky Theater. But there must have been something balletic in his genes – or in those of his wife, Rosalia Constanza Karlovna Douglas. In any case, we are told that Rosalia loved the ballet. Russian Wikipedia notes that all six of the Lopukhov children became dancers, with Lydia’s oldest brother Fyodor (1886-1973) becoming an innovative choreographer at the Mariinsky Theater, after having danced at that storied venue from 1905 to 1922. Another brother Andrei (1898-1947) was a leading character dancer at the Mariinsky from 1916 to 1945. A sister Yevgenia (1884-1943) was a popular dancer in the variety theater and then began performing operetta after she quit dancing in the 1920s. These three siblings made major contributions to Russian/Soviet ballet and theater during their lives.
Lopokova began her ballet training in early childhood at the Imperial Ballet School, from which she graduated in 1909 (some sources say 1910). She may or may not have performed from time to time on the stage of the Mariinsky when still young, but it was in 1910 that she accepted an offer from Diaghilev to join the Ballets Russes (the union didn’t last long, although she rejoined the company in 1916 when she paired with Vaclav Nijinsky).
Again, sources split on the details of her first performing tour abroad. One Russian source tells us that she toured the United States with her brother Fyodor and Anna Pavlova from 1907-1910. Many other sources, remaining silent about those dates, put Lopokova in the United States from 1912 to 1916, where she often performed on Broadway stages. The Spartacus Educational website tells us that during that period she was drawing a salary of ₤16,000 per month. Not too shabby.

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Much has been written about Lopokova’s active and sometimes unorthodox love life; all you need do is Google it if you’re interested. (Igor Stravinsky was just one of many dalliances.) But it was her encounter with Keynes that appears to have given her emotional life a center. He fawned over her in Diaghilev’s 1921  production of Sleeping Beauty (renamed Sleeping Princess because, Diaghilev claimed, “I have no beauties in my company”), attending the theater night after night and lavishing her with attention. She married Keynes in 1925 and their union was strong, despite much small-minded carping from his famous Bloomsbury friends. (They were apparently shocked to see their friend Keynes move from male lovers to a woman. If you need information on Keynes’ sexual proclivities, an article in the Independent provides plenty.) When Keynes fell seriously ill in 1937, Lopokova left the public eye entirely in order to devote all her time to him. She essentially acted as his caretaker for the last nine years of his life. Much of the time the two spent together from 1921 until 1946 would have been at the home pictured here. (They first met in 1918 during one of the Ballets Russes tours in London.)
Judith Mackrell, the author of the Lopokova biography Bloomsbury Ballerina, described Lopokova’s appearance at Gordon Square in an article she wrote for The Guardian in 2008.
By the spring of 1923, only weeks after they became lovers, Keynes installed Lopokova in a flat in Gordon Square, just a few doors away from his own house. The move put her at the heart of Bloomsbury, as she occupied rooms below Vanessa Bell at number 50 [see the final photo below] and joined in the collective meals and parties held at number 46. A newcomer had never been so forcibly inserted into the circle’s daily life, and it didn’t take long for Bloomsbury to close ranks against her.”
One of Lopokova’s early appreciators and later one of her biggest detractors also lived right here on Gordon Square. That would have been Virginia Woolf, who, over the years, became quite catty about Lopokova. According to Mackrell, Woolf once fumed, “You cannot argue solidly in her presence. She has no head piece.” (The comment is quoted in an article Mackrell wrote for The Guardian in 2008.) Interestingly, it doesn’t appear that Lopokova ever cared. She seems to have been a woman of strong fortitude; she didn’t let little things bother her.
Lopokova,” writes Mackrell in The Guardian, “was unlike any Russian ballerina that London had seen. A 27-year-old former child dancer with the Russian Imperial Ballet who had enjoyed an itinerant career, including a starring spell in Broadway musicals, she was an entirely different type from Diaghilev’s prewar ballerinas. While Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina had set the mould with their darkly classical beauty, Lopokova was a witty soubrette, her performances on stage less a refinement of pure technique than the product of a vivid, versatile intelligence and a fizzing personality. As Clive Bell argued in a long, theoretical essay, Lopokova was the embodiment of the new modernist ballet.”
Lopokova left the ballet after performing twice in Coppélia at the Royal Opera House in 1933. Despite a heavy Russian accent, she played several dramatic roles on the English stage – Shakespeare, Ibsen and Moliere – although her performing life ended abruptly when Keynes fell ill.
Rupert Christiansen, in a review of Mackrell’s Bloomsbury Ballerina, wrote: “Although some found her irritating, nobody thought her faux. Lydia Lopokova was the real thing, possessed of what Virginia Woolf described as ‘the genius of personality’. […]  Through her 35 years of widowhood, she became increasingly reclusive, living like a peasant babushka at Tilton in Sussex, the farmhouse she and Keynes had made their home, just over the hill from Bloomsbury’s retreat at Charleston. She showed no resentment and no desire to dwell on past glories, but faded into her dotage without complaint, ‘grandly indifferent to what anyone else thought of her’, her ‘genius of personality’ undimmed to the last.”

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Nijinsky opens ‘Rite of Spring’ at Drury Lane, London

DSCN7240 DSCN7248Isn’t it the way? What the French called scandalous barely caused the Brits to wiggle and waggle their stiff upper lips. We are talking about Vaclav Nijinsky’s famous, legendary, incendiary, monumental ballet choreographed to Igor Stravinsky’s revolutionary and seminal 20th-century music – The Rite of Spring. Everybody and their uncle knows of the “riot” that occurred opening night in Paris on May 29, 1913. Whether or not there really was a riot is a different story, and it has been told many a time from many an angle.
Lydia Sokolova, one of the dancers on the stage that night, said the audience came prepared,” the BBC reports. ‘They had got themselves all ready. They didn’t even let the music be played for the overture. As soon as it was known that the conductor was there, the uproar began,’ she said in an interview recorded in 1965.”
Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, which put on the performance, is said to have been hankering for a scandal. What impresario isn’t? The BBC again: “‘He knew there was going to be trouble,’ said Lydia Sokolova, and there are some signs that he was hoping for a scandal. Announcing the Rite of Spring in the Parisian press, Diaghilev had suggested it would cause ‘impassioned debate.’ In so doing, Esteban Buch suggests, he was setting the scene ‘for maybe not a riot, but at least a controversy.’ He certainly got one.”
Stravinsky is on record as having said that the storm only broke after the overture, “when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down.”
According to a piece in The Arts Desk, “the newspapers dubbed it ‘Le Massacre du printemps.’ Diaghilev’s satisfied comment was, ‘Exactly what I wanted.’”
Whether or not 40 people were arrested that night will probably remain a point of contention at least until someone decides to research the police records for that night in the Champs Elysees precinct.
But let’s now leave Paris to Paris, for today, in fact, we wander the streets of the City of Westminster, where, a month later, the scandalous Rite of Spring was offered to the judgment of London’s theatergoers at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Following the six-day run in Paris in May-June 1913, the four-day London run opened July 11.
Today the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, like so many London houses, hosts one of those abominable, endlessly-running musicals. In this case, it’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, about which we couldn’t possibly care less. Do your best, when perusing the photos, to blot the Charlie marquees out in your mind. It will be easier, and more pleasant, to imagine Diaghilev, Sokolova, Nijinsky and company perhaps nervously arriving at the theater and furtively entering by way of the stage door on Russell Street. Imagine crowds of excited ticket holders gathering outside the front of the theater, waiting for the doors to open so that they could take their seats and get a glimpse for themselves of this dastardly ballet…

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Except that it appears London didn’t see anything dastardly at all. Here, as quoted in a book called Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician and Modernist, is what Henry Cope Colles, the music critic for The Times of London, had to say:
The functions of the composer and the producer are so balanced that it is possible to see every movement on the stage and at the same time to hear every note of the music. But the fusion goes deeper than this. The combination of the two elements of music and dancing does actually produce a new compound result, expressible in terms of rhythm – much as the combination of oxygen and hydrogen produces a totally different compound, water.”
Damn! “Balanced!” “Fusion!” “New compound result!”
Where are the flying tomatoes? The razzes? The fights and the arrests?
I would like to point out, by the way, that this review appeared in the Times the next morning after the London premiere. That is, Colles winged this – he hurried from the theater to wherever he was wont to write, and he filed this story on short deadline in order to make the morning’s papers. And look at that clarity of thought, the insight, the ability to make sense of what we now know was something absolutely, entirely new. Folks, I’m impressed. My hat’s off to Henry Cope Colles, my new hero.
On the occasion of the work’s 100th anniversary in 2013, James S. Murphy, seeking to debunk the old tale about a riotous premiere, discussed the London premiere  in the Paris Review:
When the Times of London reviewed the British premier (sic), it declared in the first sentence, ‘London takes both its pleasures and its pains more quietly than Paris.’ The review notes that ‘the applause was measured, but so were the cries of disapproval.’ The Rite went off without any major incident, as it had done in the four subsequent performances in Paris after the premiere. This is worth remembering, particularly since the anniversary has provided the occasion for several critics to indulge a nostalgia for the good old days of repression, when art could still shock. An essay in the New York Times this year by the eminent Stravinsky scholar Richard Taruskin captured this consternation perfectly in its headline: ‘Shocker Cools into a Rite of Passage.’ While several people have pointed to Walt Disney’s cooptation of Stravinsky’s music for Fantasia in 1940 as the moment when the work officially lost its edge, reports on the subsequent performances in Paris and the reviews of the London premiere show that it did not take three decades—or even three years—for audiences to see past the shock and find the beauty in The Rite. It took a few weeks.
Murphy goes on:
“…The extent to which this [Paris first-night] disturbance counts as a riot really is beside the point, as is the question of what actually happened that night. What matters most is that whatever it was, it never happened again. Not once. Some small disturbances were reported at the second performance four days later, but nothing of note occurred at the final two performances of the ballet in Paris. A report on the third performance in London speculated that the English audience ‘is either surprisingly quick or surprisingly careless in accommodating ourselves to new forms of art. The first performance of [The Rite] evoked something like a hostile demonstration from a section of the audience. The third and last performance [my understanding is that there were four] was received with scarcely a sign of opposition.’ That the scandal of France could be accommodated so quickly by an English audience bewildered the reviewer and has continues (sic) to bedevil many lovers of the work.”
Fascinating stuff, I say. If you’re interested in the reasons for, and the background of, this story, start your search with the sources I have quoted. There is good information to be had. But my purpose is not to dot the last “i” in this tale, but rather, simply, to take the time to walk around the walls of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and to take the time to think about what it might have been like that opening night in London in the summer of 1913. How might it have felt, how might it have looked and sounded. Apart from the vile Charlie marquees (and that moronic quote of some critic who shall never deserve to share his profession with H.C. Colles [“Dazzling Charlie is Choc-Full of Delights!!!!!!!”]) this structure affords us a nice opportunity to do that. It appears to have changed little in the 100+ years since Nijinsky, Diaghilev and Stravinsky stormed into London to play The Right of Spring.
One more tidbit: The four London performances were the last ever of the original Nijinsky choreography. Shortly thereafter, Nijinsky ran off and married Romola de Pulszky, infuriating, and breaking the heart of, Diaghilev beyond measure. As such, this theater here marks the end of the “scandalous” first performances of The Rite of Spring, as well as the end of the storied collaboration between Diaghilev and Nijinsky.

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Diaghilev/Ballets Russes suppliers, London

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There’s no telling how much longer this place will remain, at least in the form it now has. As I was walking around looking for angles from which to photograph the facade of No. 68 Drury Lane in London, a man stopped and asked if he could help me find something. I said, yes, maybe he could. I was looking for No. 68 and I had found Nos. 67 and 69, but there was no No. 68. There was just this unnumbered place between the two. The numbers on the other side of the street were well up into the 100s. So I was pretty sure this was what I wanted, but I wasn’t yet fully convinced. Had I gone up to the door and seen the notice there (see second to last photo, as well as short discussion below), I would have known, but I hadn’t done that yet. So I fell into conversation.
“There was a supplier for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes here,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it was this one here. The house number should be 68.”
“Well,” the man replied, “all the houses are numbered consecutively on this street, so let’s look… Yes,  67 and 69… Yes, so this is what you’re looking for. I live in the next building down, so I know the neighborhood pretty well. What did you say was in here?”
“It was a supplier for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.”
“My goodness,” the man said. “The Ballets Russes. Right here. And I never knew.” Then after a brief pause, he said, “These buildings are all marked for major reconstruction. They’re going to add a couple of floors on top of each. So they’re not going to look like this much anymore. The Ballets Russes! Somebody should take pictures of these places before they change them.”
“Actually, that’s what I’m doing, ” I said. “I write about buildings and places connected to Russian culture all over the world. I take pictures of these places and I put them on the internet.”
“Well, that’s what people need to do. Take pictures of these places before they are lost!”
And that’s just what I did. They aren’t the most exciting photos I’ve ever taken, but they may turn out to be the last photos taken of this spot more or less as it looked when Brodie and Middleton supplied the Ballets Russes with materials for the making and painting and decorating of sets.

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My photos, unspectacular as they are, capture this place in the first, creeping stages of oblivion. You can find other photos online that still bear the proud name of Brodie and Middleton and Russell and Chapple (late comers after B&M worked with Diaghilev under their own name) emblazoned above the window. You can see those here, if you’re so inclined. In my photos, the name is gone, just the black background left. In the doorway is a sign indicating that “Russell and Chapple” have moved to a new address. Nothing about Brodie and Middleton. At first blush B&M would seem to have fallen by the wayside on their way out of this part of the City of Westminster. So I went to the Russell and Chapple website as listed in the doorway, and, sure enough, found just a sliver of a reference left to the original suppliers, Brodie and Middleton. That moniker remains in the names of a few items that Russell and Chapple continue to provide their customers, such as cellulose varnish, French chalk, Damar crystals, Aqualac matt and gloss glaze, and, perhaps, a few others. Go here to see the name Brodie and Middleton applied to these products. But, lo and behold, Brodie and Middleton is apparently more than just merely a ghost no longer hanging onto its sheet. When I ran a check for this honored name, I came upon a website that looks suspiciously like the Russell and Chapple site, with the same telephone number, the same address, and virtually all of the same products – only without the Russell and Chapple name! So I don’t know what these guys have going, and, frankly, it has nothing anymore to do with the Ballets Russes. So I will let that little mystery remain unexplained and get back to my original topic.
I found this place, as I did numerous others connected to the history of the Ballets Russes, thanks to a very cool page on the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It narrates a long walk beginning and ending at the Covent Garden underground stop. In between it offers up 32 addresses, with brief stories, about places that were either important in the history of the Ballets Russes’ connection to London, or which were of minor importance, but fun nonetheless. I only detected a minor error or two in all the information, and most – though not all – of the locations are still there to be seen. This little place, which, under the name of just Brodie and Middleton, supplied Diaghilev’s artists with paints, brushes, pigments, drapes and other materials, will apparently soon join the few other places that have gone the way of all things made by men and women.
For the record, the final shot below is not of Brodie and Middleton or Russell and Chapple. It is merely a shot of the sign designating the street where the old building is located. Since it turned out to be more attractive than the “business” shots, I added it for beauty.

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