The Ballets Russes in Grand Rapids, February 1917
Dr. Julia Randel
In 1909, Serge Diaghilev created a sensation in Paris with the company that became known as the Ballets Russes. Over the next 20 years he collaborated with the greatest dancers, choreographers, composers, and artists of the day (including Nijinsky, Stravinsky, Bakst, Picasso, Coco Chanel, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Balanchine, and others) to create modernist ballets that stretched the limits of the genre and sought to combine the arts into one spectacular whole. To escape the dangers of World War I, the company toured the United States, visiting more than forty American cities, including Grand Rapids, Michigan. The focus of this project is their performance in Grand Rapids on February 13, 1917, and what it might have meant for the people who saw it. How did it connect with current events (the war, women’s suffrage, Prohibition)? What was the artistic scene like in the city at that time? What was the role of local women’s organizations in promoting the arts in the community? We attempt to answer these and other questions through our archival research in the Grand Rapids Public Library.
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