Brain Pickings

Vintage Ballet: Rare Photos of Dancers from the 1930s-1950s

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Drama, glamor and elegance converge in amazing archival images of ballet dancers from the early 20th century.

Since its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, ballet has been considered one of humanity’s most graceful and beautiful forms of creative expression. These fantastic archival images from the State Library of New South Wales collection capture the elegance of ballet alongside the classic, dramatic glamor of vintage photography from the early 20th century.

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Paul Petrov in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tamara Toumanova & Serge Lifar, Swan Lake, Sydney, 1939-1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Emmy Towsey (Taussig) and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Ballet in Centennial Park, Sydney, ca. 1939 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska and Roman Jasinsky in Les Dieux mendiants (The Gods go a-begging), between Nov 1938-Aug 1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska, ballerina, ca. 1938 / photographed by Maurice Seymour

Margaret Barr's 'Strange Children' (ballet), 1955 / photographer unknown

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Unidentified dancer (Yura Lazovsky?) as Petrouchka, Sydney, March 1940 / photographed by Sam Hood

For more on this fascinating and endlessly inspiring piece of cultural history, I highly recommend Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by New Republic dance critic Jennifer Homans, which offers not only breathtaking eye candy but also traces many of today’s cultural values back to ballet’s legacy of discipline and virtuosity.

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