Ekstrom Collection: Diaghilev and Stravinsky Foundation

Scope and Content

The collection consists of letters, financial records, and telegrams, which give a unique insight into the day-to-day running of the company, its expenditure, income, administration, management structure and back-up services as well as much personal and social information. While Diaghilev's Ballets Russes as an artistic and dance phenomenon has been extensively researched, the Ekstrom collection increases understanding of how Diaghilev's Ballets Russes operated on a daily basis

Administrative / Biographical History

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was the single most revolutionary force in 20th century ballet, creating out of the conservative classical ballet of the 19th century a new, vibrant art form in which dance, design and music fused into an indissoluble whole, capable of expressing the whole range of human emotion and creating a new public for dance which continued to grow long after the company disbanded after Diaghilev's death in 1929.

Formed to present abroad the 'revolutionary' ballets of Michel Fokine, which could find no place in the conservative Imperial Theatres of early 20th century Russia, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes first appeared in Paris in 1909. Almost overnight ballet as an art was reborn in Europe, the one- act ballet became established as the new form, the male dancer was restored to star status after a century of neglect. The dancers, Karsavina, Nijinsky, became household names and the designers, Bakst, Roerich and Benois the rage of Paris.

Subsequent seasons revealed Fokine's astonishing versatility and the range and variety of expression available to classically trained dancers - classic Romantic works ( Les Sylphides, Carnaval, Le Spectre de la rose) exotic dramas ( Cleopatre, Thamar) ballets based on Russian folk themes ( The Firebird, Petrouchka) or Greek classical themes ( Narcisse, Daphnis and Chloe). In place of the easy tuneful scores hitherto used for ballet, Diaghilev commissioned scores from Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy, while Bakst's erotic, flamboyant designs spilled out from the stage into fashion and interior design.

In 1911 Diaghilev broke with Russia and formed his own company around the legendary Vaslav Nijinsky. In 1912 Diaghilev began to develop Nijinsky as choreographer; his ballets Le Sacre du Printemps, L'aprés midi d'un faune and Jeux created scandalous furores. Diaghilev, already showing signs of the low boredom threshold that was to drive him ever onwards towards the new and the novel, was increasingly to capitalise on sensationalism and novelty to keep the interest of the comparatively small avant-garde society on whom he depended for his audience and his backers.

By 1914 Fokine had left and Nijinsky had been dismissed from the company. Diaghilev selected the teenage Leonide Massine as their successor. The Russian revolution of 1917 cut the company off from its Russian roots and it became more cosmopolitan in dancers and subject matter. The shorter experimental ballets suited a company trained in many different schools and styles and Massine turned to Europe for inspiration. Ballet now embraced Spanish folklore in Le Tricorne, Italian comedy in Les femmes de bonne humeur as well as reflecting cubism and the musical avant-garde in European art in Parade. From this time Diaghilev sought out the young European designers and composers, commissioning avant-garde painters such as Picasso, Braque, de Chirico and Rouault, and composers like Satie, de Falla and Poulenc.

After Massine's departure, Diaghilev, temporarily without a choreographer, attempted a sumptuous revival of Marius Petipa's classical masterpiece The Sleeping Beauty (as The Sleeping Princess), but it was an expensive failure. In the mid 1920s Diaghilev developed his policy of seeking for fashionable novelty, and Bronislava Nijinska's ballets, including Le train bleu and Les biches, reflect the preoccupations of his society audience. Alongside these came new masterpieces, notably Nijinska's Les Noces, which looked back to the peasant Russia that seemed to have been destroyed by the 1917 Revolution.

In 1926 Diaghilev found a new choreographer in George Balanchine. While his early works continued the policy of novelty, in Apollo Balanchine turned again to the basic principals of classical dance, reasserted in his own unique neoclassic style; meanwhile Prodigal Son saw a return to the dramatic ballet which had first established the company's reputation - a perfect synthesis of choreography music and design.

In 1929 Diaghilev died and his company, leaderless, dispersed throughout the Western world, spreading the gospel of the new ballet which he had helped to form and from which 20th century dance descends.


This collection is organised into eight series:

  • THM/7/1 - Correspondence
  • THM/7/2 - Telegrams
  • THM/7/3 - Contracts
  • THM/7/4 - Financial records
  • THM/7/5 - Programmes
  • THM/7/6 - Press cuttings
  • THM/7/7 - Exhibition catalogues
  • THM/7/8 - Miscellaneous

This reflects the order in which the collection was received.

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

The Ekstrom Collection was acquired with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The collection was purchased from Arne Ekstrom in 1996.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/.

Custodial History

Parmenia Migel Ekstrom purchased the collection from Serge Grigoriev and later added to it at auction and from private dealers.

Related Material

Researchers should note that the Department of Theatre and Performance also houses a collection of Box Office Returns for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, which may provide additional information about the performances of the Ballets Russes in this theatre. See box office returns for Covent Garden for 22, 24 and 25 July 1929 filed under Covent Garden, July 1929 in the main Theatre Museum collection.

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to the Ekstrom Collection may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details


Beaumont, Cyril W., Bookseller at the Ballet, Memoirs 1891 to 1929, Incorporating the Diaghilev Ballet in London. London: 1975

Benois, Alexandre translated by Moura Budberg, Memoirs. London: 1964

Benois, Alexandre translated by Mary Britnieva, Reminisences of the Russian Ballet. London: 1941

Buckle, Richard, Diaghilev. London: 1979

Buckle, Richard in collaboration with John Tras, George Balanchine, Ballet Master. New York: 1988

Buckle, Richard, Nijinsky. New York: 1971

Fokine, Michel translated by Vitale Fokine edited by Anatole Chujoy, Memoirs of a Ballet Master. Boston: 1961

Garfola, Lynn, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.New York: 1989

Grigoriev, S.L. translated and edited by Vera Bowen, The Diaghilev Ballet 1909 - 1929. London: 1953

Haskell, Arnold in collaboration with Walter Nouvel, Diaghileff: His Artistic and Private Life. London 1935

Kochno, Boris translated by Adrienne Foulke, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. New York 1970

Lieven, Prince Peter translated by L. Zarine, The Birth of Ballets-Russes. London: 1936

Lifar, Serge, Serge Diaghilev: His Life, His Work, His Legend. An Intimate Biography. New York: 1976

Macdonald, Nesta, Diaghilev observed by Critics in England and the United States 1911-1929. New York: 1975

Massine, Leonide edited by Phyllis Hartnoll and Robert Rubens, My Life in Ballet. London: 1968

Nijinska, Bronislava translated and edited by Irina Nijinska and Jean Rawlinson, Early Memoirs. New York: 1981

Nijinsky, Romola, Nijinsky. New York: 1934

Propert, W.A., The Russian Ballet in Western Europe 1909 - 1920. London: 1921

Propert W.A., The Russian Ballet 1921 - 1929. London: 1931

Sokolova, Lydia edited by Richard Buckle, Dancing for Diaghilev. London 1960

Spencer, Charles and Dyer, Philip The World of Serge Diaghilev. Chicago 1974


Geographical Names