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Léon Bakst, "Costume design for the ballet The Firebird"

Video transcript

(music} Samantha: We're here in the Paper Study Center with Léon Bakst's "Costume design for the ballet The Firebird". Born Lev Rosenberg in Belarus. the Russian artist Léon Bakst is best known for his stage designs for the Ballets Russes, the pioneering company founded by impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1909. In the 1910s and 20s, the Ballet Russes was instrumental in fostering collaborations. The company was responsible for the 1913 Succès de scandale, The Rite of Spring, whose dissident music by Igor Stravinsky and equally modern choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky shocked Parisian audiences. This costume designed by Léon Bakst was for the ballet The Firebird, which premiered in Paris in 1910. Léon Bakst was apparently so enchanted by this magical character drawn from Russian folktales, that he made several designs for her costumes, including this one dating from 1913. The very finished, elaborate look of this drawing suggests that rather than a real working study for a costume, this was more a finished work in which Bakst immortalized the look of the character that meant so much to him. Bakst is generally associated with symbolism, with its sinuous lines and opulent exoticism, the very stylized posed of the figure and the silver touches of metallic paint. In a yellow and orange arabesques that emanate from the firebird's skirt, these forms are repeated in her headdress and in the peacock feathers that adorn the costume. At the same time, there's a freeze-like flatness to the picture, as if this figure were compressed in the two dimensions of the picture plane. This effect is heightened by the flat, decorative pattern of the firebird's skirt and this pattern comes from Russian folk art, which makes sense considering the ballet source material and Bakst's heritage. But we might also think of this flat, geometric quality as being influenced by avant-guarde aesthetics in Paris at the time, particularly cubism. Bakst had been visiting Paris since the early 20th century and settled there permanently in 1912 when he was exiled from St. Petersburg. Critics of the day noted Baskt's use of color and they referred to his palette as "violent, shrieking orgies of color." This drawing then, speaks to the close relationship between mere decoration and real radicality that existed at this transitional moment for modernism. (music)