Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the "Ballet Russe," or Russian ballet, craze, started his international dance experiment  before the establishing of Ballet Russes. In 1906, he organized the Exhibition of Russian Art at the Petit Palais in Paris, helping further international artistic relations. After the grand success, he proceeded to establish his first "Saison Russe."

In 1907 and 1908 Diaghilev performed Russian musical masterpieces that as-yet unknown to Europeans: Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, and Chaikovsky, appended with the voice of famous Russian bass, Fyodor Chaliapin. 

Colonel de Basil's "Original Ballet Russe" (Russian Ballet) season, Theatre Royal, Sydney, 1939-1940, / Sam Hood

The debut of Ballet Russes was set by adding a ballet performance to the program of Saison Russe and by creating the maestro’s own troupe. The troupe members were recruited among the leading dancers of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. The ballet premiered with talented dancers such as Tamara Karsavina,  Bronislava Nijinska,  Michel Fokine, Serge Lifar and many others, making made the Paris public all in love with it. 

Scenery and costumes for Diaghilev's performances were created by the The World of Art artistic group associates: Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois. Later, the ballet hired outstanding European artists: Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Coco Chanel, Henri Matisse and many others, as well as Russian avant-garde artists.  No less productive was the cooperation with famous composers - Richard Strauss, Erik Satie, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, and especially with Igor Stravinsky.

Photograph of Serge Diaghilev

Leon Bakst's color design for a Courtier in "The Sleeping Princess," 1921

Diaghilev's Ballet phenomenon had two distinctive periods, starting with a golden age that lasted from the early 1900s to the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Driven by the desire to present the uniqueness of Russian national culture to the West, Dyagilev made Eastern-themed choreography and art one of the troupe's specialities. 

The second period, from 1914 to 1929, was quite opposite. A Europeanization of Russian ballet occurred: scandalous and extremely leftist ideas were incorporated, and Diaghilev brought in many modernistic, bold and creative experiments. As a result, in about ten years, Diaghilev's troupe became the world's leading ballet enterprise. New findings in music, choreography, dance became a part of the explosive mixture that gave birth to the triumphant phenomenon of a scale that nobody had yet seen in ballet. 

Michel Fokine as Prince Ivan and Tamara Karsavina as the Firebird in The Firebird, 1910

It's thanks, in part, to the glorious Russian ballet, as shown in Europe, that there was a revival of the ballet and modern dance as a national art in many countries. The essence of this international movement can be described as a reinterpretation of the foundations of the classic ballet by appending a new kind of bold integrity into an old dance form.

You can enjoy the whole collection dedicated to Diaghilev's Ballets Russes on Picryl, where you can find images of costumes, photos from the performances, newspaper articles and much more. 

Photograph of L to R: Ludmilla Schollar, Alice Nikitina, Serge Lifar, Walter Nouvel, Serge Grigoriev, Lubov Tchernicheva, Olga Kokhlova [Picasso's wife], Paulo Picasso [Picasso's son], Mme. Trusevich, and Pablo Picasso.