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Diaghilev: A Life Hardcover – September 1, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0199751495 ISBN-10: 0199751498 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199751498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199751495
  • Product Dimensions: 10.5 x 1.8 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Diaghilev turns up everywhere ballet and modern art are discussed, wrapped in a broad ribbon declaring him “Impresario Extraordinaire.” But who was the man from Russia who founded and directed the revolutionary dance company Ballet Russes and who brought Nijinksky and Stravinsky to the stages of Europe to riotous effect? With unique access to Russian archives and a passion for researching the lives of the artists, composers, dancers, choreographers, and prominent patrons drawn to the flame of Diaghilev’s audacious artistic pursuits, not to mention the lifting of the censorious ban on truth-telling about homosexual relationships, Scheijen is the first to portray the charming, tyrannical, turbulent, and brilliant artistic ringleader in full. Writing with buoyant curiosity, and providing exceptional illustrations, he covers Diaghilev’s first love affair with a cousin; his failure as a composer, which “helped him realize that his genius lay not in artistic creation, but in perceiving the genius in others”; and how his family’s extreme reversals of fortune prepared Diaghilev for a life of aesthetic and financial gambles. Scheijen also offers sensitive accounts of Diaghilev’s complex relationships with dancers Nijinsky and Massine and his sorrows once war exiled him from family and home, concluding that, as dramatic a public figure as Diaghilev was, he always kept his deepest feelings to himself. --Donna Seaman


"Sjeng Scheijen's biography of Ballets Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) has been universally welcomed as the best to date...[This] biography of Diaghilev is indispensable and a well-written 'page turner' besides...Scheijen's command of the subject resounds on every page. Ninety years after his death we have the first scholarly biography of Serge Diaghilev in English and it is a winner." --Slavic Review

"The parade of great dancers, composers, and artists through Diahilev's life give this book the sweep of a Russian novel with a fascinating, brilliant, and complex protagonist who, according to the author, lived a very public life, but kept his most intimate feelings hidden." --Publishers Weekly

"A vivid portrait of this morbid, nomadic, charming-yet-secretive visionary." --Classic FM Magazine

"Drawing on a great deal of new research, and relying wherever possible on contemporary journals and letters, Scheijen puts Diaghilev into a different frame to any of his previous biographers.... Scheijen masterfully recounts the phenomenal way in which Diaghilev contrived, under virtually impossible circumstances, to nurture a sequence of works, from Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Falla, Milhaud, designed by Bakst, Picasso, Derain, Matisse, Miró, danced by Nijinsky, Karsavina, Massine, Lifar, choreographed by Fokine, Nijinsky, Nijinska, Massine, each more audacious than the last, many of them still in the repertoire."--Simon Callow, The Guardian

"An expansive, immensely readable text... A must for anyone intrigued by the Ballets Russes and the ingenious impresario indelibly linked with its achievements." --Times Higher Education

"Sergei Diaghilev was a transformative force in the history of 20th century culture thanks to his promotion of Russian art, Russian opera and, of course, the Ballets Russes. After exhaustive research in Russian, European and American archives, Sjeng Scheijen presents us with a multi-facetted and synthetic portrait of Diaghilev, adducing much new biographical and critical material. With important sections on Diaghilev's family, education, esthetic criteria and psychological makeup, Sergei Diaghilev: A Life is a luminous, engaging and refreshing study of Diaghilev's national commitment, international mission and deep influence on the evolution of the visual and performing arts."--Professor. John Bowlt, University of Southern California

'Sjeng Scheijen's new book about Diaghilev is absolutely wonderful. It is filled with the most fascinating information and is a completely intriguing read.... [An] exceptional book'--Dame Monica Mason, DBE, Director of the Royal Ballet

"No biography is definitive - yet I cannot imagine any book that will supersede this account of how Diaghilev ballets came into being. It is an astonishing achievement."--Michael Holroyd

"Previous biographies... have said little or nothing of the family Diaghilev left behind in Russia. Mr. Scheijen, a Dutch expert in Russian art, demonstrates, however, that Diaghilev made repeated efforts to contact them... Mr. Scheijen draws happily from a wide range of sources that have become available in recent years in Russia and the West... an important addition to the large shelf of Diaghilev literature." --Alistair Macauley, The New York Times

"...new document enable Scheijen to sweep out many cob-webbed corners in the Diaghilev story... The leading edge of Scheijen's revisionism, however, is not his fact-correcting but his reinterpretations... An admirable book. Apart from its revisionism, its most striking quality is its avoidance of clutter, and hence its rhetorical force... Above all, [Scheijen[ has tried to provide a deep and unified account of Diaghilev's personality. It's not a soul laid bare - Diaghilev was secretive - but something closer than we've seen before."
Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

"Diaghilev's Ballets Russes attracted devotees who behaved as if under the spell of an almost cult-like intoxication. The rapture of art at its most transformative seemed to infect everyone connected to the impresario. The major achievement of Diaghilev: A Life is probably its detailed portrait of Diaghilev's private life, but at the same time Mr. Scheijen helps us to feel something of that rapture." -Joel Lobenthal, The Wall Street Journal

"[A] meaty and rigorously researched new biography...Diaghilev: A Life is especially excellent on its subject's formative years... Scheijen dexterously plays his sources against one another to examine the erotic and professional dynamics between Diaghilev and his stars." -Jennifer B. McDonald, The New York Times Book Review

"Diaghilev was larger than life, and this biography is an absorbing and dramatic account of an extraordinary individual and his time." -Library Journal

"In Scheijen's hands, this is quite a read, quite a life, and quite a book." -Playbill.com

"Scheijen provides a comprehensive, well-balanced chronicle of the professional and personal life of the famous, and infamous, Russian impressario Serge Diaghilev... A substantial addition to the literature on Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes, the book benefits from Scheijen's access to and selective use of materials from previously inaccessible Russian archives." -Choice

"An admirable biographical study, and a fascinating overview of the Russian art world and its European connections in the early twentieth century." --Times Literary Supplement

"The epic life of the impresario of the Ballets Russes is captured in Sjeng Scheijen's Diaghilev, which... proves that 'design by committee' is not necessarily doomed." --Harper's Magazine

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By I. Martinez-Ybor VINE VOICE on September 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sjeng Scheijen, recently cultural attaché at the Dutch embassy in Russia, has written an eminently readable, thorough biography of Sergei Diaghilev, one of the great artistic figures of twentieth century western culture. That Diaghilev was not himself an artist is ironic, though he initially wanted to paint. But in his many enterprises he help set in motion many of the trends that were to be dominant in twentieth century painting, music, and dance. It is somewhat unfortunate that Diaghilev's success with the Ballet Russes has obscured his achievements with the development of the plastic arts, way before he dazzled Parisian audiences with his dance company. It is providential that Mr. Scheijen is not a dance specialist, as he does not let Ballet Russe splendour blind him to the other significant achievements of Diaghilev, all thoroughly discussed in his book. But Dance is central and one of the delights of this biography is that the biographer lets contemporaries do the telling as to descriptions and analysis of the Ballet Russes. Indeed, I have read very few passages as revealing and absorbing as the long paragraph by Bronislava Nijinska quoted by Mr. Scheijen describing in minute detail her brother's fast and concentrated practice technique, his ability to create the illusion of being suspended in air by ending a jump not on the balls of his feet but on his extraordinarily strong toes. This is but a precious detail in a book that is full of many such jewels.

The biography has made use of many Russian sources so that there is much illumination on Diaghilev's early life and career in Russia.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paul E. Richardson VINE VOICE on October 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This oversized volume appears in a format befitting the impresario that was larger than life. And Scheijen delivers a biography of Diaghilev that reads like fiction for its vivid detail, rich cast of characters and fulsome collection of fascinating historical incidents and vignettes.

Diaghilev's contention with Russian authorities, his hot and cold relationship with Benois, the rise of Mir Iskusstvo, Diaghilev's rise to stardom in France and all the personalities (from Prokofiev and Blok to Nijinsky and Bakst) swirling about these events are brought to life with extraordinary detail. Scheijen made great use of little known archives, unearthing a rich trove of personal correspondences that illuminate the artistic conflicts and personal affairs that shaped the world of art in the early twentieth century.

As reviewed in Russian Life
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sally Waldmann on December 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I own most of Ballet Russes-connected books; this is the most insightful volume yet...correcting much erroneous information about the history of the important man responsible for the riches still evident in the ballet world.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Atticus on December 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Altogether too much speculation, hyperbole and clichés for this reader. Impressive research, yes, but lacking a central narrative to integrate so much information meaningfully. Little in the way of atmosphere, especially given the amazing era wherein SD lived, moved and had his being. As a result, Scheijen provides only a series of snapshots rather than a fully fleshed-out portrait.

Legendary names such as Spessivtseva, Danilova, Dolin, Karsavina and more (even Balanchine!) are tossed about casually, with no insight, no connections drawn, or recognition. This I found frustrating. For the Ballet Russes connoisseur, yes, this probably should be added to your shelf as an addition to Buckle and Haskell. And yes, the color plates are great. But the promise implied by the cover art (and BCC) failed to deliver.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By eric kearney on December 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book not only give a wonderful insight to Diagliev's mind,but to the intellectual thinking of the period as well as being a wonderful commentary of historical significance, culminating in the bringing together of the artistry that was the Ballet de Russe.
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More About the Author

Sjeng Scheijen (1972) is a Dutch author, a scholar and a specialist in fin-de-siècle Russian art. His interests are manifold: He writes regularly on film, poetry, dance, classical music and politics. He curated several exhibitions on Russian Art, including 'Ilya Repin, Russia's Secret' and 'Working for Diaghilev', both for the Groninger Museum; and Russian Landscape in the age of Tolstoy for the National Gallery, London.
In 2008 and 2009 he worked as the Cultural Attaché on the Netherlands Embassy in Moscow.
Scheijen is a much sought after and inspirational lecturer and speaker, who has spoken all over the world for museum audiences and on universities.
Currently he is affiliated with the Institute of Cultural Disciplines at Leiden University, the Netherlands.

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