Monday, June 4, 2012

A ballet never performed - "La Liturgie"

(MOMA) - Decor for the Ballet "Liturgie" Natalia Gontcharova [French (born Russia) 1881–1962].

A description of the would-be production from the University of Glascow.

In 1915 Diaghilev and his small group of intimate friends and Ballets Russes collaborators moved to Lausanne in Switzerland which remained neutral during the war. Major members of the Ballets Russes circle at this time were Natalya Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. In the peaceful confines of Switzerland time was given to the formulation of ideas for future ballets and work was able to be carried out on existing projects, it was here that Diaghilev conceived of the production of "Liturgie".

It is in the wonderful costume designs for this production, which was never actually staged, that Goncharova’s profound interest in Russian icons and medieval manuscripts is most clearly illustrated. The decision to draw on pre-literate Russian sources for inspiration was automatic for Goncharova who had previously declared her interest in the artistry of those primitive forms, it was of course compatible with a production which was to have as it’s chief character the Virgin Mary.

The unusual religious subject matter on the theme of Christ’s Passion was to be choreographed by Massine and was to be set not to music in the traditional sense but to the sound of rhythmical stamping. Massine’s choreography, his first ever attempt, was to correspond with Goncharova’s icon inspired costumes by devising a scene consisting of stiff angular gestures with open handed movements.

The influence of icon art and church paintings, and mosaics is clearly evident. The figures in Goncharova’s drawings have crisp, clear outlines reflecting the linear flatness characteristic of ancient religious art. Goncharova admired this lack of depth and the fact that no attempt was made at any spatial illusion, as she identified the quest for precise mimetic representation with the conventions of western art. Here Goncharova emphasises the eastern naiveté which she so valued. However, these illustrations are still distinctly modern, precisely because of that hard crisp line. The sharp, flat representations, emphasised geometric forms along with the pure bold colour owes a lot to cubist art which she was greatly influenced by in her early years. Although the ballet was never actually produced some of her costume designs were made into pochoirs and published in a folio.


  1. Does it drive anyone else's OCD-self crazy that Christ and Panagia are on the wrong sides of the "iconostas" in this painting? Perhaps it's just me...

  2. You are not alone. Not driven crazy, but noted. :)