Grigorʹev, S. L. (Sergeĭ Leonidovich), 1883-1968

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Sergei Leonidovich Grigoriev (1883-1968) was a Russian-born character dancer and rehearsal director, who primarily became known as the indispensable régisseur of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He served in that capacity from 1909 to 1929. His responsibilities included signing contracts with dancers, composers, artists and other personnel, organizing and conducting rehearsals, supervising numerous aspects of productions, and serving as a mediator between Diaghilev and the members of the company. After Diaghilev's death in 1929, Grigoriev served as rehearsal director for Ballets Russes du Col. W. de Basil. The company subsequently changed its name several times: to Covent Garden Ballet Russe in 1938, to Educational Ballet Russe Ltd in 1939, and to Original Ballet Russe in 1940. The company disbanded in 1952 after the death of its director. Sergei Grigoriev and his wife Lubov Tchernicheva continued working on revivals of Michel Fokine's ballets for Sadler's Wells Ballet and other companies, supervising and donating materials to the Diaghilev exhibit at the Edinburgh Festival in 1954, and supervising rehearsals of Leonide Massine's ballets. In the 1940s-1950s Grigoriev was also working on a book about Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

From the guide to the S. L. (Sergei Leonidovich) Grigoriev papers, 1889-1972., (Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

Biographical Note

The Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev (also known as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes) was a creation of the great Russian impresario, Serge Diaghilev. In 1907 Diaghilev presented a festival of Russian music at the Paris Opera and, in 1908, he returned to offer six performances of Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov, which marked the first performance of the opera outside Russia. Upon his re-engagement in 1909, Diaghilev added four ballets to his operatic presentations. The enormous popularity of the ballets was such that in 1910 Diaghilev offered only “Ballets Russes.” Because many of the Russian dancers performing with Diaghilev were members of the Maryinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg, they were allowed to travel only when their season was over and Diaghilev soon realized the importance of creating a permanent dance company in the West.

From 1909 to 1912, the Russian choreographer Michel Fokine’s works dominated the repertory of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, but Fokine’s resignation allowed Diaghilev to re-conceptualize the company and to commission works that fulfilled his personal aesthetic. Vaslav Nijinsky was anointed as the choreographer who would open the door to Diaghilev’s principles of modernism in ballet. Thereafter, the succession of choreographers that continued Diaghilev’s ideals included Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine.

Between 1918 and 1922, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes performed for long periods of time in London; however, by the mid-1920s, the company split its time between Paris and Monte Carlo. In Monte Carlo, Diaghilev enjoyed the support of the ruling Grimaldi family and was also providing dancers and choreographers for most of the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo’s operatic productions.

One of Diaghilev’s most significant legacies was his collaboration with other artists. For example, he commissioned scores from Debussy, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Satie, Poulenc, and Prokofiev, and is credited with establishing Stravinsky’s international career. Diaghilev also worked closely with the numerous painters and sculptors who created designs for his company, including Bakst, Benois, Matisse, Picasso, Rouault, Gris, Braque, Utrillo, and Miró. However, perhaps his greatest contribution to the world of ballet was his support of the choreographers Nijinsky, Massine, Nijinska, and Balanchine. Likewise, he launched the careers of many dancers, including names such as Adolph Bolm, Léonide Massine, Lydia Lopokova, Olga Spessivtseva, Anton Dolin, Alexandra Danilova, Alicia Markova, and Serge Lifar.

Throughout its existence, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes set new standards for ballet technique and played an important role in creating a significant body of choreographic works—many of which continue to be performed in the repertories of ballet companies throughout the world.

After Serge Diaghilev’s death in 1929, René Blum was appointed director of ballet at the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo. Blum was determined to establish a new Russian ballet company at the Théâtre and, in 1931 he met Colonel Wassily de Basil. De Basil had emigrated to Paris in 1919 and was the director of L’Opéra Russe à Paris. In late 1931, de Basil and Blum created Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo with George Balanchine as ballet master and Boris Kochno as artistic director. The company’s first season opened at the Théâtre de Monte-Carlo in 1932 and, at the end of the year, Balanchine left and was replaced by Léonide Massine. Massine remained with the company until 1937. After a disagreement with Blum in 1934, de Basil became the sole director and the company became known as the Ballets Russes de Colonel W. de Basil (later called the Original Ballet Russe).

When de Basil died in 1951, his associate George Kirsta organized a new company that opened four months later at the Wimbledon Theatre, England. Despite some local touring, the company performed for the last time in January 1952. Known variously throughout the years as the Ballets Russes de Colonel W. de Basil (1932-1938), Colonel W. de Basil’s Ballet Russe (1937, in New York), Educational Ballets Limited (1938), Covent Garden Russian Ballet (1938-1940), and the Original Ballet Russe (1940-1952), the company crisscrossed the globe and was instrumental in the popularization of ballet worldwide.

Serge Grigoriev studied ballet at the Imperial Theatre School in Saint Petersburg and, in 1909, Diaghilev appointed him as company régisseur (rehearsal director) for the first Paris season of his Ballets Russes. Grigoriev remained in this position until Diaghliev’s death in 1929. Upon the formation of the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, Grigoriev served once again as régisseur, remaining with the company until its dissolution in 1952. During the 1950s, along with his wife, dancer Lubov Tchernicheva, he staged revivals of Fokine ballets for Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later known as the Royal Ballet), the London Festival Ballet, and La Scala, and oversaw rehearsals for Massine ballets. Grigoriev died on 28 June 1968.

  • 1883: Serge Grigoriev (Sergei Leonidovich Grigor’ev) is born 5 October in Tichvin, Russia.
  • 1900: Grigoriev enters the Maryinsky corps de ballet, where he remains until 1912.
  • 1909: Grigoriev is appointed Serge Diaghilev’s company régisseur (rehearsal director) for the first Paris season of the Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev (also known as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes). Grigoriev marries dancer Lubov Tchernicheva. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres works by choreographer Michel Fokine, including Le Pavillon d’Armide (music by Tcherepnine) and Les Sylphides (music by Chopin).
  • 1910: Grigoriev plays the character role of the Shah Shariar in Michel Fokine’s Schéhérazade (music by Rimsky-Korsakov) for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Paris. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Fokine’s L’Oiseau de Feu [The Firebird] (music by Stravinsky). This is the first score by Stravinsky to be commissioned especially for a ballet.
  • 1911: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Fokine’s Petrouchka. The company makes its first visit to London.
  • 1912: After Diaghilev promotes Vaslav Nijinsky as a choreographer, Michel Fokine leaves the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un Faune (music by Faure) and Jeux (music by Debussy).
  • 1913: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps [The Rite of Spring] (music by Stravinsky). After Vaslav Nijinsky marries Romola de Pulszky, Diaghilev fires Vaslav Nijinsky from the Ballets Russes.
  • 1914: Grigoriev plays the character role of Guidone in Fokine’s Le coq d’or (music by Rimsky-Korsakov) for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Léonide Massine makes his debut with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the title role of Fokine’s Die Josephslegende. In support of her brother Nijinsky, dancer Bronislava Nijinska leaves the Ballets Russes. The company makes its first tour of South America.
  • 1915: Le Soleil de Nuit (music by Rimsky-Korsakov) is premiered with Massine acting as both choreographer and principal dancer.
  • 1916: Ballets Russes makes their first tour of the United States, returning again for a second tour, 1916-1917.
  • 1917: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Massine’s Parade (music by Satie).
  • 1919: Grigoriev plays the character role of the Russian Merchant in Léonide Massine’s La Boutique fantasque (music by Rossini, orchestrated by Respighi) for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, London.
  • 1921: Diaghilev dismisses Massine from the company. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes produces a version of Marius Petipa’s 1890's The Sleeping Beauty. Retitled The Sleeping Princess, it is the first full production of a complete Petipa ballet to be performed outside Russia. Bronislava Nijinska returns to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes for four years.
  • 1922: Diaghilev presents a divertissement created from Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (music by Tchaikovsky). The resulting work is called Aurora’s Wedding with staging and some new choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Renard (music by Stravinsky).
  • 1923: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Nijinska’s Les Noces (music by Stravinsky).
  • 1924: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres Nijinska’s Les Biches (music by Poulenc); Les Fâcheux (music by Auric); Night on Bald Mountain (ballet from the opera Sorochintsy Fair, music by Mussorgsky); and Le Train Bleu (music by Milhaud). Diaghilev engages George Balanchine as ballet master. During his tenure with the company (1924-1929), he creates ten ballets.
  • 1928: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres George Balanchine’s Apollon musagète (music by Stravinsky).
  • 1929: Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes premieres George Balanchine’s Le Fils prodigue [Prodigal Son] (music by Prokofiev). Serge Diaghilev dies on 19 August.
  • 1932: Grigoriev joins Colonel Wassily de Basil’s Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo as company régisseur.
  • 1933: The company makes its London debut at the Alhambra Theatre on 4 July. Sol Hurok presents the company in New York at the St. James Theatre on 22 December.
  • 1934: The company begins a North American Tour in October in Mexico City. The company also performs in Canada and California.
  • 1935: The company performs at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
  • 1936: Invited to Austrialia, de Basil forms a second company for a tour that lasts until July 1937.
  • 1937: Massine’s contract is extended to cover part of the fall and winter American tour.
  • 1938: Massine gives his last performance at the San Francisco Opera House on 30 January. Massine becomes artistic director of a new company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with Sergei J. Denham as general director. Colonel W. de Basil’s Ballets Russes performs at Covent Garden, London, under the name Educational Ballets Limited.
  • 1939: Under the name Covent Garden Russian Ballet, the company tours Australia and New Zealand from September to April 1939. Touring under the name Original Ballet Russe, the company returns to the United States in October.
  • 1941: The Original Ballet Russe arrives in Cuba. The dancers receive a cut in salary and seventeen of them stage a strike. The company eventually makes its way back to the United States.
  • 1942: The company tours Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. By 1943 the company is in residence at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. In addition, the company tours other South American countries. The Original Ballet Russe remains in South America until 1946.
  • 1947: The Original Ballet Russe returns to New York for a season at the Metropolitan Opera House, tours coast-to-coast and, presents a second New York Season. The company returns to Europe and prepares for a season at Covent Garden, which takes place July-September. David Lichine’s Graduation Ball is seen in London for the first time.
  • 1948: After seasons in Paris and Brussels, de Basil takes the company on a tour of Spain and North Africa that lasts seven months. The company is disbanded on 6 November.
  • 1951: Colonel Wassily de Basil dies on 27 July.
  • 1952: De Basil’s associate, George Kirsta, resurrects a new Original Ballet Russe, which offers its last performance at London’s Adelphi Theatre on 26 January. Serge Grigoriev retires.
  • 1953: Grigoriev publishes The Diaghilev Ballet 1909-1929.
  • 1954 - 1955 : Grigoriev and his wife stage Fokine’s The Firebird and Les Sylphides for Britain’s Royal Ballet.
  • 1956: Grigoriev serves one year as régisseur for London’s Royal Ballet.
  • 1957: Grigoriev and his wife, Lubov Tcherinova, stage Petrouchka for the Royal Ballet.
  • 1968: Serge Grigoriev dies in London on 28 June.

From the guide to the Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, 1909-2009, (bulk 1909-1952), (Music Division Library of Congress)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf S. L. (Sergei Leonidovich) Grigoriev papers, 1889-1972. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Stravinsky-Diaghilev Foundation research files, 1920-1989. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Dokoudovsky, Vladimir,. Interview with Vladimir Dokoudovsky. New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
referencedIn Howard D. Rothschild collection on, Ballets Russes, of Serge Diaghilev: Manuscripts and objects, 1908-1969 (inclusive), 1908-1929 (bulk). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Howard D. Rothschild collection on, Ballets Russes, of Serge Diaghilev: Photographs and scrapbooks, 1909-1975. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Serge Grigoriev/Ballets Russes Archive, 1909-2009, (bulk 1909-1952) Music Division Library of Congress
referencedIn Ekstrom Collection: Diaghilev and Stravinsky Foundation, 1902-1984 V&A Museum: Department of Theatre and Performance
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Ballet--Russia
Ballet--Stage-setting and scenery
Ballet dancers
Ballet dancers--Photographs
Ballet companies--Russia--Photographs
Ballet companies--Russia
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1883-10-17

Death 1968-06-28

Britons

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