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Book Review

‘From Russia With Love’

A book about the Ballets Russes

reviewed by Renee Renouf

The National Gallery of Australia, Roger Leong, curator:
‘From Russia With Love’.
ISBN: 0-642-54116-7, Canberra, 1999, 96 pp., illus. $29.95
Distributed in the United States through the University of Washington Press; in the U.K. by Thames and Hudson.

For fans of the Ballets Russes tradition and history, this is a must have!


Costume by Leon Bakst for the Bluebird in The Sleeping Princess 1921
picture linked to the From Russia with Love website

From Russia With Love was a two-venue Australian exhibition the spring and summer of 1999 exhibiting some of the National Gallerys holdings acquired through the third Sotheby auction of Ballet Russe holdings in 1973. James Mollison, the Gallerys founding director, purchased four hundred items from 47 lots for a little more than 3000 pounds. The Gallery continues to collect costumes and sketches relating to this period and has acquired materials from the Castle Howard Collection, one of the major purchasers of the initial offering by Sothebys.

The splendor of the catalog is enhanced by the concept of the exhibition itself. Each costume displayed was augmented by a costume design of the same ballet and a photograph of one of the principal dancers, wearing the same costume where possible. Set designs were included if they were available. Therefore, short of film or the dancers themselves, a visitor to the exhibition could enter into a time warp. With imagination and the aid of these objects the viewer could be projected into the original production. The catalog also included close ups of certain costumes which indicated the care and thoroughness with which the designs had been realized and the high level of workmanship of the costumers and seamstresses.

Costumes depicted came from ballets noted and obscure: Prince Igor; Thamar; Carnival ; Firebird; Cleopatre; Le Sacre du Printemps; Petrushka; Le Dieu Bleu; Sadko; Ode; Le Bal; Daphnis et Chloe; Le Chant du Rossignol; Narcisse; Le Coq dOr; L'Apres Midi dun Faune; Chout; Scheherazade; the 1921 production of The Sleeping Princess; Les Presages. It is an extraordinary visual feast, gourmandaise in its extent.

The impact of the catalog continues with essays by: Roger Leong on the collections background; Natalia Metelista, Head of Research and International Relations, St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music; the late Nancy Van Norman Baer, Curator, Theater and Dance Collection, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; Dr. Lynn Garafola, author of a definitive study of Diaghilevs Ballets Russe published by Oxford University Press; Sarah Woodcock, Research Assistant, Theatre Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Dr. Michelle Potter, author, editor and Manager of the Keep Dancing Project, National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.

From Russia With Love will absorb you every time you turn a page.



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