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Orloff, Nijinsky, and Karsavina in a scene from "Petrouchka."
Photograph by Bart Parks
Harvard Theatre Collection
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by Alexandra Anderson-Spivy

One hundred years ago a troupe of a hundred Russian ballet dancers burst onto the French cultural scene and set le tout Paris on its ear. The fledgling company included the now legendary Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Anna Pavlova and Adolf Bolm. Their charismatic leader was Russian art critic, editor, curator and impresario, Serge Diaghilev, who possessed boundless energy, an obsession for detail and a passion for flamboyant color. For the first Paris season he even extravagantly reupholstered the theaterís 2,500 seats in crimson velvet. His path to the ballet came through the visual arts. In the years leading up to that first dance season in Paris, he had already organized 16 exhibitions of painting. Among these was the huge exhibition of Russian art at the 1906 Salon d"Automne.†