Crowding a shelf already heavy with at least eight biographies of the Russian impresario, Oxford last week published Sjeng Scheijen's 552-page Diaghilev: A Life. Happily, Scheijen gives Diaghilev's homosexuality the attention it warrants because as a ballet master sleeping with his principal dancers, art, self, and sex were always entwined. NYT critic Alastair Macaulay argues
"Ballet was not Diaghilev’s first, second or third love. But he found in it the ideal vehicle to bring other arts together. It’s also likely that it stimulated, and sublimated, his sexuality. As he developed a taste for younger men, so ballet brought him the male beauties he desired; and his status gave him maximum casting-couch power.
"In several cases, his lovers — who included, successively, the star dancers Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Anton Dolin and Serge Lifar — needed no seduction from him; they were ambitious. And this gay Pygmalion was most galvanized when he could turn these male Galateas into artists the world would worship. Ballet had hitherto been essentially a heterosexual art glorifying femininity, but now a long series of Diaghilev ballets cast more luster on hero than heroine, while at least two of them (“Jeux,” “Les Biches”) actively encouraged homosexual nuances."
Sjeng Scheijen divides his time between Amsterdam and Moscow where he is cultural attaché at the Netherlands Embassy. Read an excerpt of his first chapter here.
London's Victoria & Albert Museum is hosting a massive exhibit, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballet Russes, from September 25 - January 9.