Sergei Diaghilev (1872–1929) was the famous impresario, or what we would now call a concert promoter/producer, who was responsible for commissioning works like The Rite Of Spring. His company the Ballets Russes (The Russian Ballets) was responsible for setting the artistic standard for modern ballet in the 20th century and for elevating the importance of the male dancer, which had largely been ignored previously.
Despite his early ambitions of becoming a composer, Diaghilev studied law initially. He eventually abandoned jurisprudence to study music with the famous Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, but was told that he had no talent for music. Diaghilev associated himself with very influential artists of the day and began to stage art exhibitions, operas and ballets, launching his career which resulted in the commissioning of a number of masterworks for which he and the Ballets Russes will forever be associated.
Discovering a Parisian audience eager for more exotic Russian culture, Diaghilev chose the most talented dancers in all of Russia to form the Ballets Russes, making a deliberate attempt to appeal to a wider audience beyond the aristocracy while still maintaining high artistic standards, thereby establishing the company as the most influential of the twentieth century. From 1909 until his death in 1929, Diaghilev yielded many important works and numerous collaborations with leading artists of the day including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Coco Chanel and new music from composers like Claude Debussy, Erik Satie and Sergei Prokofiev. The choreographer George Balanchine was also associated with the latter part of this golden age of the Ballets Russes.
The individuality of the dancer was an important characteristic of the Ballets Russes aesthetic and is very apparent in The Rite Of Spring. Milicent Hodson, the choreographer who painstakingly researched and reconstructed Nijinsky’s original choreography in the 1980′s with her husband Kenneth Archer before it was completely lost to history, stated that each person in the ballet is soloing simultaneously, making the ballet incredibly difficult to coordinate. The Ballets Russes disbanded following Diaghilev’s death in 1929, but several companies emerged years later with varying ties to the original Ballets Russes.