Bakst-[age] @The_Met

Looking for Rei…

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Costume Design by Léon Bakst for Vaslav Nijinsky in the Role of Iksender in the Ballet “La Péri” (The Flower of Immortality), 1922 (first performed in Paris, 1912). Watercolour and gold and silver paints over graphite

With his distinct Eurasian features, Nijinski effortlessly portrayed protagonists of various ethnicities, such as Iksender in La Péri, set in Iran. However he never actually performed as Iksender, because Diaghilev cancelled the entire production when Nijinski’s female counterpart could not match his talent in dance.

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Fantaisie sur le costume moderne‘: Two female haute couture figures, 1910. Graphite, brush and watercolour and gouache 

Although better known for his costume and stage designs for the Ballets Russes directed by Diaghilev and the performances of Ida Rubinstein, Bakst was also influential in fashion design during the early decades of the 20th century, and designed garments himself. The designs in this drawing show the bold, sensuous colour, characteristic of his style, with geometric patterns and rich textures.

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Costume Design for a Woman from the Village, for the Ballet ‘Daphnis and Chloé‘, performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, 1912. Watercolour and graphite

This ballet by Fokine was first performed at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 1912, as part of the repertoire of the Ballets Russes for the season. The costume designs for the ballet were inspired by Ancient Greece, and Bakst drew inspiration from ancient vases, both for the costumes and the poses and movements of dancers

4/Ida’s stylish fans in mutual admiration.

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Mme Ida Rubinstein1917. Watercolour, gouache, and graphite on paper, mounted on canvas

Bakst was a gifted portrait artist and captured the likeness of many of his friends and colleagues. In this almost life-size watercolour, he depicts the Russian heiress Ida Rubinstein, who danced with the Ballets Russes for two seasons after an introduction by her teacher, the choreographer Mikhail Fokine.

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Design for the Set of the Ballet ‘Narcisse’, premiered at the Théâtre de Monte Carlo, 1911.  Watercolour, gouache, and charcoal

Bakst designed this impressive decor for Narcisse, a one-act ballet about the Greek mythological figure Narcissus, who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. The story is set at the shrine of Pomona, a mythological goddess associated with the abundance of nature. The rich green landscape Bakst created echoes the sensibilities of the Art Nouveau style.

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Images from ”Performance as Escape: Léon Bakst and the Ballets Russes”, an exhibition featuring a small selection of costume and set designs by Léon Bakst for the Ballets Russes, we happened upon on our way to The Met’s 2017 blockbuster, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.

You can see photos from that show, in nine sections, by going to the Search button at the end of the page and simply typing ”Rei Kawakubo”.

August 6th, 2017

Last Work

What we didn’t want to miss that night was the latest work by Batsheva Dance Company, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, making its NY premiere in BAM. I was prepared to be impressed and I was – by the dancer at the back of the stage running on a treadmill for the entire duration of the show! According to reviews, and as you can see below, it was supposed to be a woman (dressed in blue) but on the evening we watched she had been replaced by a man. Still standing, drenched in sweat at the end of the performance, he deserved – and received – a warm round of applause. The work itself was a barrage of beautiful, intense moves and ideas, so much so that the audience was left with no breathing space; no chance to absorb and truly appreciate the scenes. On the way out, we agreed that Last Work was aesthetically stimulating, but bringing so many elements and people on the stage together, all at the same time, resulted in cancelling out emotions it was supposed to evoke. Indeed sometimes, there can be too much of a good thing.

Images courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company

February 4th, 2017

Letter to a Man

Letter to a Man is the third collaboration between two icons from the world of performing arts – Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov. I had the privilege to enjoy all three, in three different corners of the world.

Video Portraits came first in 2013; hosted by Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens Greece, it was an audiovisual feat unlike anything we’d seen before – in that part of the world, at least. A few months later and some three thousand kilometres north of Greece The Old Woman came to town, with William Dafoe joining the party in deSingel, Antwerp’s centre of contemporary arts. And, finally, three years later, a performance at the source, with Letter to a Man marking our initiation to the theatre world of New York at BAM, Brooklyn’s leading performing arts venue. We didn’t know it then but BAM would become a regular ”hangout” where we would enjoy many an entertaining weekend night out.

Letter to a Man is based on autobiographical texts by Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), with extracts from his diaries, written in less than six weeks in 1919 when Nijinsky was already succumbing to madness and trying to record and understand what was happening to him.

In Robert Wilson’s play, each passage is repeated many times in English and in Russian by Mikhail Baryshnikov alone on the set, assisted only by Wilson’s masterfully minimalist – yet grandiose – mise-en-scène on which light, sound, props, movement and text are all of equal importance; and staged to perfection by the Director himself.

Now, I will readily admit I had never been a great fan of Baryshnikov, tilting toward the ethereal grand jeters of the likes of Nureyev rather than the solid, precise movements of Mikhail. Despite his extraordinary leaps, which apparently were higher than Rudolf’s, Baryshnikov always gave me the impression that he was somehow heavier, earthbound.  And I have to take Nijinsky’s brilliance as an establish fact, since none of his performances were ever recorded.

But watching Baryshnikov alone on the stage channelling a lifetime’s worth of earthbound precision, mastering choreography and pantomime, being almost seventy years old and unstoppable, the least I can do is concede admiration. For Baryshnikov rendered Nijinsky’s descent to insanity with the brio and gentleness, compassion and deep understanding, as only another great dancer could.

This is how it began:

”I understand war because I fought with my mother-in-law,” he repeats several times while confined to a straitjacket.

”I am a beast, a predator. I will practice masturbation and spiritualism. I will eat everyone I can get hold of. I will stop at nothing.”

”I am God’s plan, and not the Antichrist’s. I am not the Antichrist. I am Christ.”

Letter to a Man, BAM, October 2016.

It will run in Barcelona on 29 June – 02 July 2017. Details for this and other productions can be found on Robert Wilson’s website.

Photo credits: all, except the last two, photos are by Lucie Jansch.

October 23rd, 2016