Felia Doubrovska in the titular role in Firebird by Stravinsky. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2009/09/dance/ballets-russes-centennial

As one of my individual projects, I have set myself on the task of cataloging and mapping all of the Ballets Russes and Ballet Suédois performances (I am wishing myself Godspeed). One of the benefits of this is that I get to rationalize looking at websites that have costumes from the performances (under the guise of finding more information about the performances, which I often do, to be fair). But the costumes! They are magical.

While the costumes are admittedly fabulous (Felia Doubrovska is fierce with those ruffles), I only find myself distracted by them because I’m on the hunt for more information in the first place. The sources I have found that list all of the Ballets Russes’ itinerary often don’t have a composer listed with the ballets, and on top of that, multiple sources often produce discrepancies.

This brings me to my point: finding accurate information is hard. Most of the time, it is not for lack of resources, but quite the opposite. There are just too many, each of them claiming to be as credible as the other.

How is one to choose?

For example, Sarah Woodcock has collected all of the performances of “Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes” and it has been published in 13 installments in The Dancing Times. However, Jane Pritchard also published an itinerary of their performances in Dance Research. Her publication says that The Ballets Russes debuted “Khovanshchina” on May 6th, 1913. Woodcock makes no mention of this piece at all in any year remotely close to 1913. Who is correct?

Fortunately, with help from the St Olaf Music Librarian extraordinaire Beth Christensen, we were able to trace the premiere of the piece to May 6th via New Grove Online. Additionally, Mussorgsky’s original piece was re-orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov and others, so it was difficult to know which version was premiered and who all even helped re-orchestrate it. This exact issue is the same for Ivan the Terrible and Boris Godunov.

(The controversially cited Khovanshchina, arranged and completed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)

There are many discrepancies like these, along with complete months where the performances are unknown by one author and known by the other – the only way to truly collect them all is to compile all the performances noted by Pritchard, Woodcock, and others together into a master list.

Additionally, many of these pieces were renamed. “L’Oiseau d’Or,” “L’Oiseau de feu,” and “L’Oiseau de Prince” are all the same piece, and it is listed in all three forms in Woodcock’s list. Even though multiple lists of the complete itinerary have been compiled, the multiple lists mostly create more problems. Why even solve these problems, you may ask? What does it matter if it premiered on the 6th of the month or the 7th?

It matters because we owe it to ourselves and those after us to seek out the truth. No matter how trivial it may seem sometimes, we must remember that already, we cannot possibly ever understand the complete truth of historical events. So, we must do them as much justice as we can through finding the accurate details – each one leads more to the truth. Once we know the truths of the past, we can truly begin to understand it. If I haven’t emphasized the word truth enough, I’ll do it once more – it helps us comprehend the real state of the world that we never lived through. I have not seen the premiere of The Firebird. But, I can imagine it. From understanding many truths of the past, I have lived in worlds hundreds of years old. Everyone deserves the chance to experience that same feeling, and that is only possible through research like ours.

Perhaps we will never collect all of the accurate data – but we must try. We all must try. That is the joy of having a team – we are all a Sherlock and all a Watson. We each support and we each take the lead. We each remember different facts and tidbits – together, we form a mega-brain that could probably give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money. And, Sherlock would have not been as successful without Watson – in the same way, we all bolster each other to create the highest level of success possible.

These discrepancies are numerous and tedious to remedy, but in the pursuit of truth, they are worth the collective effort.

Further Reading:

Woodcock, Sarah, “The Ballets Russes de Serge Diaghilev” The Dancing Times, Vol. 99 Issue 1179. 2008.

Pritchard, Jane, “Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes – an Itinerary. Part I: 1909-1921.” Dance Research, Vol 27 Issue 1. 2009.