Art for the Dance: Russian Costumes and Stage Designs from the Riabov Collection

Costume design for a Dancer with Wooden Spoons from the The Blind Musician
Feb 02, 2008 - Sep 12, 2008
Dodge Wing Lower Level

This exhibition takes advantage of the Zimmerli’s deep holdings of Russian art created for theater and dance. Russian theatrical design flourished at the end of the nineteenth century, but acquired international scope and recognition with the Ballets Russes at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Ballets Russes, an enterprise launched by impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909 in Paris, became a true revelation for the Western public. Exotic themes, bright colors, daring decorations, splendid costumes, and powerful choreography provoked a revolution in taste and fashion, not only affecting the theater but also the era’s general lifestyle.

A great part of the success of the Ballets Russes must be attributed to the artists who designed the sets and costumes. Very knowledgeable about the visual arts, Diaghilev invited the finest artists of his time to create the costumes and stage designs for his ballets. He collaborated largely with the artists from the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) group, in which Diaghilev himself participated. The exhibition features works by such Mir Iskusstva artists as the group’s leader, Leon Bakst, Aleksander Benois, and Konstantin Korovin. Diaghilev also invited artists of a more radical avant-garde approach, such as Natalia Goncharova.

The Ballets Russes paved the way for daring experiments in Russian avant-garde theater, as represented in this exhibition by Aleksandra Exter’s designs. It also helped to establish a powerful tradition of progressive and internationalist costume and stage design in the West. After the Russian Revolution, the Ballets Russes settled in Monte-Carlo and hired both Western European and Russian émigré artists, and many of the latter went on to work for large European theatrical companies. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky and Leon Zack, for example, designed for Grand Opéra in Paris and La Scala. Some of the artists, such as Sergei Soudeikin, traveled to the United States and designed for Broadway shows and the Metropolitan Opera in New York, bringing the traditions of Russian stage design to America.


Serge Tchekhonine 

Costume design for "Dancer with Wooden Spoons" from the musical piece "The Blind Street Musician," 1929

Gouache, watercolor, and graphite on paper

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers 

George Riabov Collection of Russian Art