Australian Screen

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Monte Carlo Russian Ballet. Original Ballet Russe (c.1936)

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clip Les Presages education content clip 2

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

In the final scenes from Léonide Massine’s symphonic ballet Les Presages, dancers from the Ballets Russes du Monte Carlo move frenetically across the stage, performing a series of strange gestures and jutting arm movements as they go. The final curtain drops at the end of the performance.

Curator’s notes

Danced to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and designed by André Masson, Les Presages was – according to the Australia Dancing project – ‘one of the most popular and enduring works during the three tours by the Ballets Russes companies’.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This silent black-and-white clip shows home-movie footage of the final scene from the ballet Les Presages (known in English as Destiny) performed by the Ballets Russes and choreographed by Leonide Massine. In this scene the figures of 'Fate’ and 'the Hero’ confront each other while a surge of dancers form diagonal rows and move across and circle the stage in an energetic, abstract dance. In the final sequence 'the Hero’ restores order and the curtain comes down.

Educational value points

  • The Ballets Russes, shown in this clip on a tour to Australia in 1936–37, evolved from the original Ballet Russe founded by Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris in 1909. Diaghilev revolutionised ballet by giving equal emphasis to dance, music, drama and design. In Les Presages, music, choreography and design are combined to explore the ballet’s theme of human destiny.
  • The excerpt from Les Presages (1933) is an example of the work of choreographer Léonide Massine, and was considered experimental and avant-garde at the time. Les Presages, set to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, was the first of Massine’s symphonic ballets, which included Choreartium and Symphonie Fantastique. Some critics felt it was redundant to set dance to classical music masterpieces but the ballets were well received, especially in Australia.
  • Les Presages is an allegory of the forces that shape human destiny, and the contest between good and evil. Solo dancers represent 'Action’, 'Passion’, 'Temptation’, 'Frivolity’ and 'Fate’. In this clip 'Fate’ is defied and a figure called 'the Hero’ helps restore order. The ballet featured an abstract backdrop and costumes designed by modernist painter André Masson that featured symbols and bold swirls of colour.
  • Léonide Massine (1896–1979), who choreographed Les Presages, joined Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe in 1913, and later was principal dancer and choreographer of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo from 1932 to 1938. He ranks among the most influential choreographers in 20th-century dance, devising more than 50 ballets. Massine left the Ballets Russes and set up his own ballet company before moving to the USA in 1939. He went on to work with the American Ballet Theatre and major companies in Europe.
  • The Ballets Russes tours had a huge effect on Australian culture, and contributed to the formation of the Australian Ballet in 1962. Hélène Kirsova, one of the principal dancers, stayed in Australia after the tours and formed a ballet school in Sydney. Dr Michelle Potter, former curator of dance at the National Library of Australia, says the company 'opened up a new world to Australians working across the arts. Choreographers, composers, designers, painters, printmakers and photographers … created new work of their own inspired by what they saw and heard on stage’ (http://www.nla.gov.au).
  • Sydney dermatologist Ewan Murray-Will, who formed a close friendship with members of the Ballets Russes, recorded home-movie footage of their performances and on informal occasions such as picnics and visits to the beach. Although historically regarded as amateur and only of interest to their creators and immediate family and friends, home movies are now regarded as historical documents. Murray-Will’s footage provides a record of the group’s Australian tours and a glimpse into the private lives of the dancers.
  • Amateur filmmaking became popular after the 16-mm camera was introduced in 1923 and the 8-mm camera in 1932 as relatively inexpensive alternatives to the conventional 35-mm film format. However, these cameras were still too expensive for most people and it was not until Kodak introduced the more affordable Super 8 camera in 1965 that home-movie making became more widespread.
  • The ballet company shown in the clip was officially known as 'Colonel de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo’ (Monte Carlo Russian Ballet). Following the death of Diaghilev in 1929, the original Ballet Russe disbanded. However, successive touring companies were formed by Colonel Wassily de Basil and René Blum, referred to as the Ballets Russes. Three of these companies toured Australia between 1936 and 1940.

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All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

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  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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