I have pulled down another treasure from my bookshelves: “The Ballets Russes: Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo 1932-1952” by cultural historian Vincent Garcia-Marquez. I purchased this book in 1997 and requested that Oleg Tupine, who danced with the Ballets Russes and appears in the pages of this book, sign it for me. Mr. Tupine (or “Mr. T.,” as we called him) was our beloved ballet master at the Virginia Ballet Company, the classical ballet school he founded with his wife Tania Rousseau over 30 years ago and where I trained from age 7 to 17. I read the book at the time but am taking another look now, as I am better able to fit its scope into the larger context of ballet history.
I am struck by the opening quotation from London’s Daily Express on August 21, 1929, two days after the death of the founder of the original Ballets Russes, Serge Diaghilev. “I do not think the Ballet will long survive. There is all the machinery, but no driving force. The man who built the machine is dead…Without the puppet master who pulls the strings the members of the ballet are only lifeless toys. The puppets are sad little things just now.” How closely this sentiment resembles Jennifer Homans’ in her epilogue to “Apollo’s Angels!” And yet the Ballet Russes was reincarnated in 1932, lasting for twenty influential years and providing a launching pad for George Balanchine. This is more ammunition for my hope that ballet will live to see another heyday!