Dead Blogging Ballets Russes Photos at Russian Icon Museum

Well the Missus and I trundled out to Clinton over the weekend to catch Emil Hoppé: Photographs from the Ballets Russes (through March 8) at the Museum of Russian Icons and say, it was swell.

Emil Otto Hoppé and the Ballets Russes pays homage to the genius of two men: Sergei Diaghilev who, more than a century ago, founded the Ballets Russes, and Emil Otto Hoppé, who, between 1911 and 1921, photographed the champions of that illustrious company.

With both studio portraits and ballet sequences, this visual chronicle presents not only the leading stars of the Ballets Russes such as Vaslav Nijinsky, Adolph Bolm, Michel and Vera Fokine and Tamara Karsavina, but also celebrities whose connection with Diaghilev was tangential rather than axial – such as Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova and Hubert Stowitts.

In his review yesterday, Boston Globe art critic Mark Feeney called the exhibit “balletomane heaven.”

[Hoppé] understood that while the stage exalts the body in all its sculptural fullness the camera worships the face.

Faces Hoppé would give it. The supreme example belongs to the name supremely associated with the Ballets Russes: Nijinsky. The sheer sexiness of the portrait of him in full costume (and even fuller makeup) from “La Spectre de la Rose” is hard to overstate. He isn’t so much flesh and blood as gunpowder in search of a match.

Hoppé’s “pictorial chronicling” of the Ballets Russes stopped just short of the arrival of Diaghilev’s baby ballerina, the British-born Alicia Marks, who joined the dance troupe at age 14, defying two of the impresario’s ironclad rules: He didn’t work with children, and he didn’t work with anyone who couldn’t speak Russian.

Markova went on to dance for 38 years and become the most acclaimed ballerina of her time, her worldwide renown surpassing even the great Pavlova’s.

(Shameless plug for the Missus goes here)

You can discover the marvel that was Markova at this website accompanying The Making of Markova, the definitive biography of the first Jewish prima ballerina assoluta.

Even without Markova, though, the Hoppé exhibit is well worth the trundle.

P.S. The museum hosted a lovely event on Saturday, Russian Holiday Tree Traditions & Soviet New Year’s Ornaments  – a tree lighting and talk by Masha Goncharova from St. Petersburg, Russia, with tea and refreshments. Thoroughly delightful.

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