Ballets Russes Style, By Mary E Davis

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The Independent Culture

The "legendary command" of the Ballets Russes impresario was simply: "Astonish me!" A century on from its Paris debut, Diaghilev's dancers continue to do that in this handsome book.

Ballerina Natacha Trouhanova flashes a nipple in a 1909 magazine photo-spread. Despite a "feminising costume of gold harem pants fixed by ropes of pearls to a jewelled bandeau top", Nijinsky's performance in the 1910 Scheherazade was "sex incarnate".

It was for a Ballets Russe programme that Apollinaire coined the term "sur-realisme" to describe its transcendence of 19th-century realism.

Mary E Davis conveys the electric excitement from a collection of talents – music by Stravinsky, sets by Picasso, costumes by Bakst – that has never been equalled.