On 22 December, cinemas across UK will be screening a live HD transmission of the Opéra National de Paris production honouring Les Ballets Russes, Diaghilev and Nijinsky. They're doing La spectre de la rose, L'après-midi d'un faune, Petroushka and the Three Cornered Hat - click HERE for more info and a link to a video.
Seeing the ballets is extremely important, because the Ballets Russes were profoundly influential on the growth of modern music, and indeed modern music and creative sensibilities. Visual arts transcend language and cultural boundaries. They communicate in an uncommonly direct way. Nijinsky wasn't an articulate person, but he showed with his body how ideas could communicate non-verbally. That's him as the faun, shocking enough now, amazingly revolutionary in the days of the Ballets Russes.
To understand 20th century music, you need to understand how modern sensibilities were shaped by non-verbal art forms. It's about getting away from explicit rules and prescriptive forms. Looking for clues to the modern other without understanding the role of visual arts is like looking for oranges on a pine tree. You can't appreciate orange juice if you don't know what oranges are.
S0 see the film transmission at your local cinema or get to Paris for the real thing (plus exhibition). If you can't get to either, there's a special Ballets Russes night on BBC TV 4 on Friday 11th December. See HERE. Can be watched online and on demand for a week. This too is part of a series on Russian art. It's not the Paris Ballet but the Royal Ballet. They're doing The Firebird ! There will be an interesting documentary, too. Pierre Boulez, so deeply rooted in Debussy, Stravinsky, and much else in 20th century art, will be talking about music in this visual art context.
PS The documentary was very good - recommended ! The Firebird was interesting but not sure on the performance. Orchestrally especially. Alas, ballet isn't available on repeat, but the documentary is, so watch that from the BBC website follow link) Another Diaghilev documentary next week.
And Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake starts a short run at Sadler's Wells. This is the radical mostly male production first seen in 1995. Swans are tough creatures, not at all soft and fluffy, so it's an extremely intuitive approach, to Tchaikovsky as well as to the whole idea of dance as expression that goes deeper than words.