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History of the Ballets Russes

On May 19, 1909, Sergei Diaghilev founded the Ballet Russe and launched his career as a ballet impresario. The roster included legendary artists such as Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinski, and Tamara Karsavina. Featuring two gifted choreographers, Mikhail Fokine and George Balanchine, the company shocked Western Europe with the force, color, skill, and originality of Russian dancing and continued to do so until disbanding following Diaghilev’s death in 1929.

The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was founded in 1932 by Rene Blum and Col. Wassily de Basil. This company was known for its presentation of the “Baby Ballerinas”: Irina Baranova, Tamara Toumanova, and Tatiana Riabouchinska. In 1935, Blum severed his connection with de Basil and a legal struggle ensued. During this time, the company appeared under several different names. Having lost the rights to the ‘Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo’ name to Blum, de Basil changed the name of his company to the Original Ballet Russe and maintained touring in the United States, South America, and Australia. He died in 1951 and his dancers were disbanded soon after. Following the lawsuit, Blum retained choreographer Leon Massine. In 1937, Sergei J Denham and other investors bought Blum’s company. At the advent of World War II, the company was based primarily out of the United States. The company disbanded in 1962.

Moylan Rita Karlin-Brandt Tupine

Photographs by Maurice Seymour, courtesy of Ronald Seymour.

Ballets Russes Archive at the School of Dance at the University of Oklahoma

As some former Ballets Russes dancers left their respective companies, they settled in many communities throughout the United States. Two of these dancers, husband and wife Miguel Terekhov and Yvonne Chouteau founded the University of Oklahoma School of Dance in 1961. In 2005, discussions began with School of Dance to donate some of their memorabilia. This launched the collection of material that eventually led to the founding of the Ballets Russes Archive in 2007.

What began as a small amount of material has expanded to approximately 70 linear feet of information, with contributions from sixty-one individuals to date. The collections include contracts, correspondence, programs, clippings, diaries, scrapbooks, and photographs as well as video resources and ephemera. Collection of oral histories and transcripts of live interviews is ongoing.