Puslapio vaizdai

America we have scarcely heard the distant echoes. The notable exception is in the scenery painted by Jules Guérin for "Cleopatra," the opening production at the New Theatre in New York. Perhaps the production of "Pelléas and Mélisande" at the Manhattan Opera-House may also be excepted.

Bakst is the chief representative abroad of this new movement. Other men of the younger school in Russia, notably Boris Ainsfeld, Benois, and Roerich, are prominently connected with it; but it is from Bakst that the chief inspiration comes.

It was Serge de Daighilew of the opera in St. Petersburg who first suggested to Bakst that he interest himself in stage designing, and it was under the direction of Daighilew that Bakst attained his great success in designing the costumes for the Russian ballet, now become vastly popular and revolutionary in its methods. The Russian ballet has given Bakst his opportunity for recognition, but it is dependent upon his genius for its appeal. It is in the fusion of music, dance, painting, and costume-designing that the ballet is incomparable.

Bakst paints his scenery with masses of color that have a significant relation to the hidden spirit of the drama. He uses the stage-settings as a background against which the costumes of actors or dancers are in effective contrast or in harmony. His purpose is to extract the essential; it is not to be naturalistic, but to convey the impression of the emotion of the play, which is more effectively achieved by color than in any other way. This effect is obtained not by imitating nature, but by symbolic representation and decorative effect. In this lies the chief point of divergence between the art of his precursors and his own.

In Russia the art of the ballet was not allowed to sink into desuetude as in other European countries. Subsidized by the state, it has been the vital expression of the Russian people, and has commanded the services of the best artists. Dancers trained to interpret emotion rather than merely to portray the empty forms of an outgrown art gave their life to the art of the ballet and put into it a new element. Pavlowa, Nijinsky, and Karsavina vitalized the old forms. The dancing of Isadora Duncan, who made a sensation in

St. Petersburg before the Russian ballet appeared outside of their native country, had a decided effect on the form, added the element of the bacchanal, and gave breadth and freedom until then not employed. The Russians have built upon and added to Miss Duncan's art.

In November an exhibition of Bakst's paintings was held in New York that was the most complete that has yet been attempted. This collection of water-colors and drawings will also be exhibited in some other of our important cities.

The water-color designs for the ballet costumes are daringly imaginative, startling in their turbulence, linked with a realism of a purely sensual type. The dancers are by turns Arabic, Greek, Muscovite, or Nubian, glowing with the intoxication of life and movement. The drawings are powerful, exquisite in detail, with a masterly expression in line and great feeling for form. The figures are bizarre, weird, frankly sensual creations of a hectic imagination, glowing with color, and vibrating with movement.

That Bakst will prove of interest to us here in America, where he is virtually unknown, is undoubted. America has always taken delight in the expression of the Russian art spirit, whether in music, as represented by Tschaikovsky and RimskyKorsakof, or in her men of letters, such as Turgenieff, Tolstoy, and Gorky.

The expression of the Russian genius is always profoundly interesting to America, perhaps by reason of a kindred feeling. in their wild striving for freedom, which evinces itself in the newly awakened political life of the people, and penetrates to every fiber of the life of the nation. Russian art has been articulate only since 1835; as the art language is growing into maturity it announces itself with startling emphasis. There is an untried strength, an energy, of a new nation in the music, literature, and painting that stimulates and fascinates. Russia has lain fallow through long centuries; as the unused force is bursting into flower, the fragrance of a peculiar richness, born of tropical luxuriance and the stamina of the North, is being manifest.

Léon Bakst has the very roots of his genius sunk deep in the soil of Russia. He could not escape it if he would. The rich Byzantine origin of the peasant art

of Russia speaks in his barbaric, chromatic coloring, elemental in intensity. Russia's peasant art has deeply impressed itself in the picturesque dress of the women, in the embroideries, the decoration of their houses, even the very humblest, and is most closely associated with the feelings and lives of the people. The gorgeous vestments of the Greek clergy and the interiors of their churches, with the deep glow of gold and precious stones, feeds the barbaric feeling for color and richness, and becomes part of the unconscious inheritance of the Russian artist.

As Russia looks both east and west, so Bakst's mind partakes in almost equal degree of the Orient and the Occident. He has the vision of the Asiatic, which dreams dreams, with the reason and sensuous perception of the Greek. Primarily Bakst sought his inspiration in the Persian illuminations, with their wealth of color and detail; secondarily in the Greek dancing figures just before the decadent period. Realism and imagination are both part of his mental equipment, and find expression with equal intensity. He did not copy the designs on the Greek vases or of the Persian illuminators; rather he assimilated and transmuted into something quite his own the richness and beauty of the elder art.

In the ballet of "Scheherazade," as his most characteristic work, the elemental, sensuous note dominates. Consequently there is not visible a touch of white, the symbol of innocence and purity. Instead there is a riot of indigo blues, emerald greens, and flame-colored reds, all instinctively sensual. But he obtains, nevertheless, real harmonious chords with his blatant palette, which is astonishingly successful in conveying the impression of the stifling atmosphere of the harem without being vulgar.

In "Cleopatra," on which Bakst made his reputation, his touch is lighter, more subtle and suggestive. The costumes become the expression of the soul of the dancer; they do not drape the body so much as they are the externalization of the weird spirits that dance in them. They are clothing for the soul rather than for the body, and as such are vibrant, passionate. The coloring of the stage-setting

of this ballet was a composition of orange and vivid blue. The columns and walls of the great hall of the queen were orange, flooded with a golden light; the blue Nile was seen in the distance, amid the golden sands of the desert, while the frieze of the room was blue. The only other colors visible were seen in the costumes of the dancers.

But not alone does the artist give expression to fierce animal passions; he is equally adaptable to the rarer air of "Narcisse" and D'Annunzio's "St. Sebastian," in which Ida Rubinstein was so effective. To see the moonlight scene in "Boris Godunoff" is to know that Bakst is poetic. The last-named opera, it is claimed, has never been given a truly representative production outside of Russia, for none but Russians can adequately interpret the emotions and the music.

There are interesting possibilities of development in this new art of the drama that bid fair to change the conception of dramatic art. The movement is only in its infancy. In the new ballet the designs and colors of costume and decoration take the place of the spoken word, and are quite as eloquent as interpreters of the emotions; the spoken word seems superfluous when we are swayed in turn by the rhythm of the dancers, their expressive pantomime, the harmony of the music and the vibrations, and the riotous assemblage of color and decoration.

Whether the influence of Bakst will prove lasting cannot be foreseen. It will undoubtedly leave a marked effect. Perhaps the reaction from the cold, flat clay tones and rigid discipline of our Puritan ancestors is responsible for this mad orgy of colors and the senses. We cannot but feel that the future will take what this splendid barbarian has given us, and lead it to a higher expression. Bakst has helped us to break away from tradition, to find a new realm in the emotional value of color, line, and mass; but we still await a genius who will take what we now have, purge it somewhat of animalism, keeping the force, but awakening a new flaming spirit. We are learning to demand a new beauty and interest, a revelation of the beauty of the "beyondness of things," which alone satisfies.


The Berlin Photographic Co.



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Eight Designs for Costumes

From the Color Sketches by
Léon Bakst

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