Ballet comes of age with Sergei Diaghilev

‘What exactly is it you do?’ asked a bamboozled King Alfonso XIII of Spain upon meeting Sergei Diaghilev at a reception in Madrid, while the Great War raged on in Europe. ‘Your Majesty, I am like you,’ came the impresario’s quick-witted reply. ‘I don’t work, I do nothing. But I am indispensable.’ At first glance, the Russian expatriate’s estimation of his own worth may seem theatrically grandiose, but as the dance critic Rupert Christiansen shows in Diaghilev’s Empire, his new history of the Ballets Russes and their buccaneering onlie begetter, ‘indispensable’ was really no overstatement. Now, 150 years after Diaghilev’s birth, the story of the Ballets Russes, its temperamental director

The lonely genius of Bronislava Nijinska

Even in her lifetime, people had a habit of overlooking the talent of Bronislava Nijinska. Her famous brother Vaslav Nijinsky initially refused to recommend her to his lover Sergei Diaghilev when the impresario was signing up dancers for the 1909 Paris season of Ballets Russes. He didn’t introduce her to his friends, either and – in what can only be seen as an act of cruelty – took away her roles in the ballets she had helped him create. Diaghilev himself, whom she regarded as a father figure, treated her with something like disdain, declaring: ‘I cannot have two geniuses of the dance from one family’, and asked her to