Detectives in The Attic: A ‘Ballet and the Bloomsbury Group’ Update

by charlestonattic

An enormous ‘Thank You’ is due to a Charleston Attic reader (and ballet aficionado) for suggesting that the sketch of a dancer discussed in the previous post is likely to depict a character from the Ballets Russes’ production of Petrushka. Written by Alexandre Benois and Igor Stravinsky, and choreographed by Michel Fokine, the ballet tells the story of three puppets, and was first performed in Paris in June 1911 with Nijinsky in the leading role. Petrushka would become one of the Ballets Russes’ most celebrated and widely performed productions. In 1949, dance historian Grace Robert wrote of it: ‘Although more than thirty years have elapsed since Petrushka was first performed, its position as one of the greatest ballets remains unassailed. Its perfect fusion of music, choreography, and décor and its theme—the timeless tragedy of the human spirit—unite to make its appeal universal.’


Alexandre Benois’ design for the First Street Dancer. Image sourced here


Left: Grant’s sketch. Photograph © The Charleston Trust. Right: A page from the 1911 souvenir programme. Image sourced here

Grant’s sketch and annotations closely match one of Benois’ designs for a costume (note the winy purple & dark purple stripes of the First Street Dancer’s leggings), and a photograph of a character printed in the 1911 programme (note the striped bodice, bell-shaped skirt and white cap of the dancer in the top-left vignette). Although Grant was not involved in the production himself, it is highly likely that he would have attended a performance at some time and recorded the unusual outfit of the dancer on stage in a sketch. Kept amongst other designs in Grant’s studio at Charleston, perhaps this small drawing was later used as a source to inspire his own costume designs for Jacques Copeau’s productions – we can only speculate. What is certain, however, is the importance of cataloguing and researching the items in the Angelica Garnett Gift to enable such discussions which both enrich and enliven existing Bloomsbury scholarship.