Parade (ballet)

From Academic Kids

Parade is a ballet with music by Erik Satie and a one-act scenario by Jean Cocteau. The ballet was composed 1916-1917 for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The ballet was premiered on May 18, 1917 at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, with costumes and sets designed by Pablo Picasso, a choreography by Léonide Massine (who was also dancing), and the orchestra conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

The idea of the ballet seems to have come from Jean Cocteau: he had heard Satie's Trois morceaux en forme de poire in a concert, and thought of writing a ballet scenario to such music. Satie welcomed the idea of composing ballet music (which he had never done up till that moment), but refused any of his previous compositions to be used for the occasion: so Cocteau started writing a scenario (the theme being a publicity parade in which three groups of circus artists try to attract an audience to an in-door performance), to which Satie composed the music (with some additions to the orchestral score by Cocteau, see below).

Work on the production started in the middle of the first world war, with Jean Cocteau travelling back and forth to the war front in Belgium until shortly before the premiere. The most difficult part of the creation process, however, seems to have been to convince Misia Edwards in supporting the idea of having this ballet performed by the Ballets Russes: she had very long toes, but was trusted completely by Sergei Diaghilev for advise on his productions. A first version of the music (for piano four hands) was dedicated to Misia and performed in 1916.

Eventually, after aborting some other plans (and some more intrigue), Sergei Diaghilev's support was won, and the choreography was entrusted to Léonide Massine, who had recently become the first dancer of the Ballets Russes and lover of Diaghilev, replacing Vaslav Nijinsky who had left Paris shortly before the outbreak of the war. The set and costume design was entrusted to the then cubist painter Pablo Picasso.

The ballet was and is remarkable from several viewpoints:

  • First time collaboration of Satie and Picasso, also first time either of them worked on a ballet, so also the first time they collaborated with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.
  • Some of Picasso's cubist costumes were in solid cardboard, allowing the dancers only a minimum of movement.
  • The score contained several "noise-making" instruments (typewriter, foghorn,...), which had been added by Jean Cocteau (a bit to the dismay of Satie). It is supposed that such revolutionary additions by Cocteau showed his eagerness to create a succes de scandale, comparable to that of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps which had been premiered by the Ballets Russes some years before. Although Parade was quite revolutionary, bringing common street entertainments to the elite, being scorned by audiences and being praised by critics, nonetheless many years later Stravinsky could still pride himself in never having been topped in succes de scandale matter.

The Ragtime contained in Parade would later be adapted for piano solo, and knew considerable success as a separate piano piece.

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