Harvard Theatre Collection – Ballets Russes Symposium – Day 1

April 15, 2009 at 8:44 pm 2 comments

Today not only marked the end of tax season for most Americans – it marked, more significantly, the beginning of the three day conference Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: Twenty Years that Changed the World of Art at Harvard University. I was a bit apprehensive at first because it was the first conference that Harvard has hosted that I have had to pay a registration fee for – but my feelings were more than assuaged by the handsome load of materials in the bag (which included invaluable bibliographic references assembled by Ric Wilson – Curator of the Theatre Collection, as well as a T-Shirt, a fancy zippered bag, numerous greeting cards, a pin, and, most auspiciously, cough drops and caffinated gum). But the real event, of course, were the talks that took place in the New College Theater at Harvard.

The symposium features an ambitious three-keynote format, with the first given by Alexander Schouvaloff (a distant relative of Diaghilev. Mr. Schouvaloff’s hour long paper gave a flyover of the major issues of Diahilev’s life, including his enigmatic presence, assocations with numerous artists, and the myths and legacies that he left in his wake. Perhaps most interestingly, the Q&A following Schouvaloff’s talk established that this would be a highly audience-participatory conference, with a number of extremely detailed questions (perhaps more like comments) issuing from the audience. Later speakers hastened to preface certain claims with “I’m sure someone in the audience may know more about this than I do  ….”

The next seesion I attended included three papers – Jody Blake’s fulsome descriptions of Goncharova’s boundary crossing concepts (breaking down the divide between costum & scenery, but also costume & fashion). The second two built on this idea of costume, with Christine Ruane talking about Bakst’s position in the context of Russian costume history and Mary Davis discussing the long interplay between Ballets Russes fashion and designers ranging from Chanel to Saint-Laurent.

Gabe was particularly excited to hear the collecting panel, which was moderated by Gordon Hollis and included comments from Jody Blake, Hermine Chivian-Cobb, Alexander Schouvaloff, and Paul Stiga. I thought it was interesting — but also completely understandable — to listen to a faint ambivalence that some of the panelists had about competition from Russian collectors (one characterized some of them as “Robber Barons”) in driving up prices in recent years of Ballets Russes materials. Ms. Chivian-Cobb quoted the excellent advice from Robert Tobin about importing costumes – “next time call them regalia.” Mr. Stiga spoke particularly eloquently, I thought, about the duties that private collectors have towards documentation of their acquisitions for future generations. 

A spectacular reception followed, held in Pusey library amidst the exhibition that had been mounted as part of the symposium. I am perhaps easily impressed but the Quail’s eggs, Vodka, and Caviar that were served seemed a particularly nice touch. If you can’t make it to the exhibiton you can buy a digital copy of it – but it is really first rate stuff, largely from the Howard D. Rothschild Collection.

I admit to not quite grasping the film that was shown following the reception: My Madness is My Love – but then again I didn’t quite have the time to ruminate over its fragmented narrative style. In any event, Thomas Forrest Kelly and Basil Twist are both on the docket for tomorrow.

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Entry filed under: conferences, live blogging.

Boston University Music Society (BUMS) Graduate Student Conference Harvard Theatre Collection – Ballets Russes Symposium – Day 2

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