cover image Diaghilev: A Life

Diaghilev: A Life

Sjeng Scheijen, trans. from the Russian by Jane Hedley-Prôle and S.J. Leinbach. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (560p) ISBN 978-0-19-975149-5

In Scheijen's words, Sergey Diaghilev (1872–1929), the brilliant impresario who created the Ballets Russes, both revolutionized and scandalized the worlds of art, ballet, and music by presenting "subversive art in a lavish setting." Beginning with exhibitions and publications in czarist Russia, he combined artistic vision with a genius for talent spotting and cajolery that enabled him to produce avant garde ballets from Fokine's Firdbird to Nijinsky's Rite of Spring; his last great choreographic discovery was Balanchine. Scheijen, a specialist in Russian art, intertwines excerpts from the diaries and correspondence of artists, patrons, and Diaghilev's family to convey the tumult of Diaghilev's personal and professional life. From homosexual entanglements with his artists to the financial difficulties that beset him throughout his career, the impresario relentlessly pursued his revolutionary artistic vision, often at the expense of others' feelings. The parade of great dancers, composers, and artists through Diaghilev's life give this book the sweep of a Russian novel with a fascinating, brilliant, and complex protagonist who, according to the author, lived a very public life, but kept his most intimate feelings hidden. 8 color and 64 b&w photos. (Sept.)