Jean, Sergei, Erik, Pablo, Leonide et les autres…

'Rag-Time Parade', composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919)
‘Rag-Time Parade’, composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919).

The best part of this post is the short movie. If you haven’t got time, directly scroll to the end and have a good laugh with the dancing ‘horse’.

Left: the Théatre du Chatelet in Paris; Right: photo of The Little Girl in Parade.
Left: the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris today; Right: photo of the little American girl posing for the 1917 Parade. The girl’s costume should have been designed by Picasso, but it was just bought in a shop.

In 1917, almost a century ago, two big events happened that would affect the lives of millions of people: the United States entered the Great War and Russia held its October Revolution. It is hard to imagine that against this grim historical background the bizarre, eccentric and crazy ballet Parade was created in Paris, a few hundred miles away from the mud, misery and inferno of the WWI front lines.

CIS:S.5407-2009
Left, Leonid Massine as the Chinese conjurer in Parade. Right the design for the Chinese conjurer’s costume by Pablo Picasso.

Parade was a short ballet. It premiered, together with other more traditional ballets, at a war time charity gala to support the troops, in May 1917 at the Théâtre du Chatelet. Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) had set the whirling story somewhere at the fringe of a fairground. Cocteau imagined acrobats, clowns, a Chinese conjurer, a little American girl (based on the 1914 film serial The Perils of Pauline) and other strange characters parading on the stage to entice the passers-by to enter the show.

Author Jean Cocteau and composer Erik Satie
Portraits of the author Jean Cocteau (left) and composer Erik Satie (right), both by Pablo Picasso.

The music composed by Erik Satie (1866-1925) was mixed with many real-life sound effects, e.g. from typewriters and gunshots. The dances were choreographed by the young Leonide Massine, the successor of Nijinsky. Finally, none other than Picasso designed the decors and cubistic costumes.

Two of the costumes designed by Picasso and made of wood, papier-mâché, metal and cloth.
Two of the costumes designed by Picasso and made of wood, papier-mâché, metal and cloth.

Preparing the ballet in Rome, Sergei Diaghilev wanted to be part of the avant-garde art scene using a modernistic environment for his Ballets Russes. The Parade ballet caused a scandal. About time! It was from 1912 (L’ Après-midi d’un faune) and 1913 (Le Sacre du printemps) ago that the Ballets Russes had provoked public outrage and the scorn of the critics.

'La Diva de l'Empire', composed by Erik Satie ()
‘La Diva de l’Empire’, composed by Erik Satie (Rouart, Lerolle & Cie, Paris, 1919). Not in our collection.

The ragtime from Parade was later adapted for piano solo and published in 1919 with its beautiful cover shown at the beginning. At the same time the editor also published an American intermezzo ‘La Diva de l’Empire’ by Satie with an equally striking cover. La Diva de l’Empire is a 1919 edition of a cabaret song with ragtime rhythms which Satie wrote in 1904. Obviously both covers were drawn by the same hand, but whose? Picasso, Natalia Goncharova, Fernand Léger, Charles Martin, ..? Or perhaps Satie himself who enjoyed typography and sketches?

Example of Satie's graphic and typographic experiments.
Examples of Satie’s graphic and typographic expressions.

“1917” is also the title of an exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou – Metz a few years ago. On that occasion the monumental theatre curtain (more than 16 m wide !), designed by Picasso for the ballet Parade, was unveiled. A few pictures tell about that enterprise.

The preparation for the 2008 exhibition of the Picasso curtain from the 1917 ballet Parade, at the Centre Pompidou – Metz.

With this giant scene Picasso refers to his previous more romantic rendering of street performers and artistic types, so distinctive for his earlier Rose Period. But at the same time the perspective and composition create a semi-realistic scene that is both upsetting and disturbing.

A detailed view of the Picasso decor.
A detailed view of the Picasso decor.

While working on Parade, Picasso met his future first wife, Olga Khokhlova, a dancer with the Ballets Russes. They married a year later in 1918.

picasso olga
Pablo Picasso with his future wife Olga Khokhlova, posing before the poster of Parade in Paris 1917.

Now as promised, the film, thanks to the dance performance of ‘Europa Danse’ who recreated Parade in 2008 (source: Numeridanse.tv).

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