Who knew that James Joyce’s daughter and Zelda Fitzgerald were trying their hands at dance or that a single ballet such as Le Train Bleu could bring together the choreography, music, dance, writing, fashion, and visual art talents of Nijinsky, Milhaud, Diaghilev, Cocteau, Coco Chanel, and Picasso (respectively)? I certainly didn’t. (I feel a bit like I would upon discovering that two of my best friends already knew each other…)
What I’m realizing after these last four days of research is just how interconnected the arts scene of 1920s Paris was—with everything influencing everything else. It was an atmosphere of radical change and new excitement but not without fear of completely losing the old. Lynn Garafola, in her book Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, writes of the complicated attitudes: “In an age where birth counted for little and wealth had squandered its claim to leadership through public displays of hedonism, art alone seems to justify the continued existence of older forms of social privilege” (360). Did the so-called Lost Generation turn to artists as the new elite, or did they believe they were abolishing the elite altogether? Did the mixing of race, class, and nationality within the arts blur pre-existing dichotomies or create new ones?
Possibly 1920s Paris doesn’t lend itself easily to yes or no questions, nor do I feel confident categorizing the era with anything more than the words dynamic and fluid. As I continue my research, I want to keep examining these questions, never forgetting to take into account that all of this was happening temporally and in a specific place. Paris itself, with its history, traditions, and post-war rawness, may be one of the largest forces swaying the scene.