‘Les Noces’ by Bronislava Najinska.
Nijinsky’s sister, Bronislava Nijinska. Both were members of Diaghilev’s, Les Ballets Russes.
To introduce Nijinska’s choreography, it is relevant to explain the world of Russian art between 1898-1900. At the fin-de siecle, Saava Mamontov (a railroad magnate) and Princess Tenisheva were both great patrons of the arts. Mamontov founded an artist’s colony, Abramtsevo, and Tenisheva founded Talashkino. Artists worked in a natural setting as members of a community. Both colonies became centres of the Russian Arts and Crafts movement, now referred to as the neo-nationalist school of Russian art. The Russian movement, which arrived later in Russia than similar movements in Europe, had a particular vitality. There were two reasons for the success of this movement in Russia:
1. the quest for a native Russian identity was strong at the end of the century ‘as the pace of internationalization quickened;’
2. ‘the movement’s focus on the languishing status of trades and applied arts in the life and development of the peasantry dovetailed neatly with the social ideas that dominated the art of the 1870s and 1880s.’ [Serge Diaghilev had been born in March 1872, and the Russian serfs - 23 million of them- had been freed by Alexander II in his Emancipation Proclamation of 1861.]
Diaghilev was to say in response to this artistic nationalism, ‘[…] But what could be more destructive than the wish to become a national artist? The only possible nationalism is the unconscious nationalism that is in the blood… until we see in Russian art an elegant, grandiose harmony, a majestic simplicity and rare beauty of colour, we will have no real art.’ [The above discussion is taken from ‘Diaghilev’, chapter 9, by Scheijan]
Curtain design for Act 2 of Chout (1921) by Mikhail Larionov: in Buckle’s words ‘Abramtsevo…after an earthquake”.
“Backcloth design for the finale of the 1926 revival of THe Firebird by Natalia Goncharova: it very precisely fulfils Diaghilev’s vision of the set.”
‘Les Noces’ [the wedding] : In June 1923 Diaghilev was hard at work on ’Noces’ which premiered on June 13 in Paris. Nijinska’s choreography was no less alarming than Stravinsky’s music or Gocharov’s designs. Audiences were polarized, and the most influential ballet critic of that time and an arch conservative, Andre Levinson, called it ‘Marxist’. This was because of its absence of solo roles and ‘ the absorption of the individual into the collective drama.’[Scheijan]
In some ways, Nijinka’s steps are reminiscent of Nijinky’s choreography to ‘Sacre du Printemps’ by Stravisnsky. Nijinska had chosen to choreograph another revolutionary composition by Stravinsky on a peasant theme.
‘The evening after the premier [of Les Noces] the group celebrated […] with a swanky party for the whole company on a boat in the Seine […] Everyone was there: the Serts, Goncharova and Larionov, Picasso, Cocteau, Tristan Tzara, Kochno, Stravinsky and everyone of the group of composers known as ‘Les Six’: George Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honneger, Darious Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre. As it was a Sunday, all the florists were closed and so Sara Murphy decided to decorate the tables with pyramids of toys, which she picked up at little markets in Montparnasse.’[ Scheijan, ‘Diaghilev’]
Professor Billington [Director of the Library of Congress] described Russia as symbolized by the bell, the flame [ represented in the onion domes] and the axe. Stravinsky has captured this unconsciously, as the music ends with the sounding of, not marital bells, but a Russian bell, a call to the Russian soul.