Serge Diaghilev, bad example.

Too naughty: Serge Diaghilev

A talk related to the exhibition Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes at CaixaForum started with a 20minute introduction by Miquel Cuenca, a man surely too verbose to be a music critic, before the real speaker, Sjeng Scheijen, kicked into his bit. The Dutchman had just published a fat bio of Sergei Diaghilev, a Russian turn-of-the-century cultural empresario and the driving force behind madcap dance company the Ballet Russe. The troupe was the first to mash dance with the avant garde arts and the first too to pop a leaping male dancer centre stage which livened up ballet considerably. I was ready for some tips, for who does not want to be cool, rich and avant garde? But … Diaghilev, Mr Scheijen argued, ran his company like a 19th century family, with excesses and exploitations, splashing out and bailing on expensive hotels. He was a pugnacious tyrant who drained and derived his company of funding at least as often as he won it. He died bankrupt in 1929 and his company fizzled away. He did manage to be ‘cool’, though, working the social networks by hooking popular figures such as Coco Chanel, society divas who wanted in on it. In conclusion he was, Mr Scheijen proclaimed, not the ideal example of a privately-funded cultural entrepreneur for the 21st century.

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