Monday, February 28, 2011

Serge Lifar - 'Les Sylphides

This is unique June 1928 silent film footage of the original now fabled Ballets Russes of Serge de Diaghilev.

It shows Serge Lifar and rehearsing 'Les Sylphides' with a corps de ballet outdoors at the 'Fetes de Narcisses' in Montreux, Switzerland.

What makes this discovery particularly exciting is that Diaghilev never permitted the Ballets Russes to be filmed, and so this unauthorised rehearsal footage may well be the only record of the company.

The footage was originally uploaded by British Pathe onto their website (, unrecognised, until identified in February 2011 by Jane Pritchard, curator of the Ballets Russes (Ballet Russe) exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and Susan Eastwood, a member of the London Ballet Circle.

They were aided in their identification by a photograph taken during the Ballets Russes' first visit to the 'Fetes de Narcisses' in 1923, which showed the company on an outdoor stage performing 'Aurora’s Wedding'.

The Ballets Russes, 'Aurora’s Wedding', the FĂȘtes des Narcisses, 1923

There are now many articles on the internet about the discovery including one by Jane Pritchard herself:

Ms Pritchard says:

What we see is I believe the June 1928 Festival (the topiary arch indicates this is the Ballets Russes second visit to Montreux when they danced 'Les Sylphides', 'Cimarosiana' and the Polovtsian dances from 'Prince Igor'). I believe that Serge Lifar was dancing the lead role – sometimes referred to as the poet. No doubt the long wig worn confused the [British Pathe] cataloguer to suggest ‘One female dancer (representing Narcissus?).

The film confirms what many have said - that while the principle dancers were often extraordinary (Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Leonid Massine and so on), the corps could be a far more ordinary affair.

I have added an audio - music from 'Les Sylphides' which does not attempt to be that of the various little mini segments of choreography in the footage.

Hope you are as bowled over by the find as I was - I never expected such a thing!

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