Ballet dancers Aimee Casey and Alex Johnson from the Elmhurst Ballet, promoting the new exhibition of Henri Matisse artwork and costumes from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which opened at Worcester Museum and Art Gallery. Pic Jonathan Barry 31.1.19

IT was a chilly day for tutus and black tights when two leading dancers of Elmhurst Ballet arrived on a winter’s morning in Worcester for the UK debut of a touring exhibition of costumes, programmes and objet d’art from one of history’s most influential ballet companies.

Aimee Casey and Alex Johnson were in the city to promote the display of material telling the story of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, alongside a Hayward Gallery Touring exhibition Matisse: Drawing with Scissors, which are both at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum until Saturday, April 27. Ballets Russes was the most spectacular and scandalous ballet company of the early 1900s and Matisse was one of many artists commissioned to create costumes and scenery for it.

Philippa Tinsley, curator at the Art Gallery and Museum, said: “We are very excited to bring these two fabulous exhibitions to Worcester. We are very proud to be the first venue in the UK to show the Ballets Russes collection, it is an extraordinary collection of objects illustrating just how spectacular the Ballets Russes was in the early 1900s. Matisse: Drawing with Scissors will be a visual delight for all visitors.”

To add impact to the launch, the services of Elmhurst Ballet were engaged. The ballet school is based in Edgbaston, Birmingham and celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. It is a feeder school for Birmingham Royal Ballet, which has its own particular connection with impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the Ballets Russe in 1909 as a touring ballet company to promote ground-breaking artistic collaborations among young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers

In the mid-1970s, Leonid Massine, a dancer and choreographer who worked extensively with Diaghilev as lead dancer with the Ballets Russes, both in its early days and later, came to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon to oversee a revival by the Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet company (nowadays Birmingham Royal Ballet) of Massine's comedy ballet La Boutique Fantasque, which had originally been created for Diaghilev.

The impressario’s sharp eye had discovered the dancers Valslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina, the designers Picasso, Bakst, Benois, Gontcharova, Braque and Derain, whose designs electrified a drowsy Europe and changed the nature of both music and colour appreciation in the West.

Nijinsky became Diaghilev's lover in late 1908. But the relationship abruptly halted when Nijinsky married and Diaghilev dismissed him from the company in 1913. Diaghilev died in 1929.

Entrance to both exhibitions is free and there is the opportunity to hear more about Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes from the exhibition’s curator on Tuesday, March 12 in a talk starting at 1pm. Admission to that is £3 per person and tickets can be booked in advance on 01905 25371.