From June 11th to September 28th 2014


Une compagnie d’avant-garde

Following the 2009 exhibition on the Ballets Russes, which celebrated the centenary of Serge Diaghilev’s famous company, the Paris Opera is presenting a new exhibition devoted to the Ballets Suédois, another avant-garde company which revitalized the Parisian artistic scene during the 1920s.

“The Ballets Suédois have made a point of shunning choreographic clichés and fare all the better fo doing doing so. They want something new. Modern ballet is as much Poetry, Painting, and Music as it is Dance.”

This is how the Ballets Suédois, founded in Paris in 1920 by Rolf de Maré, presented itself to the public: a company at the forefront of the avant-garde, not just choreographically but also artistically. “The greatest poets, the most modern painters, the most audacious musicians” were solicited: Cocteau, Claudel, Pirandello, and Cendrars wrote librettos set to music by Ravel, Honegger, Milhaud, Satie, Auric and Cole Porter, whilst Fernand Léger, Picabia, De Chirico, Bonnard and Steinlen created  sets and costumes. To that list we must also add, among others, the name of René Clair, author of a film screened during the “instantaneist” ballet Relâche in 1924!
From 1920 to 1925, Les Ballets Suédois would thus rival Diaghilev’s celebrated Ballets Russes in the quest for artistic modernity, foreshadowing the happening and the performance.

This exhibition will also be an opportunity to rediscover Jean Börlin (1893-1930), the company’s sole choreographer. The favourite student of Michel Fokine, he managed to rebel against his classic training to invent a freer choreographic vocabulary that could experiment with new modes of artistic expression. More particularly, it will explore the relationships of the choreographer and dancer with painting, folklore and Norse tales as well as the cinema, and illustrate his choreographic conception of a scene in motion. It will also highlight masterpieces – some never previously published – from the collections of the Opera’s Museum Library that came from the International Dance Archives donated by Rolf de Maré in 1952: set models and costumes from Fernand Léger, Nils de Dardel, and Alexandre Alexeieff; stage costumes unseen since the 1960s, photographs of ballets and dancers, performance posters, paintings and sculptures by Karl Hofer, Per Krohg, Antti Favén and the Martel Brothers…  all crucial elements, not just for the history of the development of the visual arts but also for the history of  stage art in all its forms (mime, pantomime, folk dance, modern dance, performance...). Finally, the exhibition will bring into focus the legacy of the Ballets Suédois to the Paris Opera: the engagement of the Swedish company's Étoile Carina Ari, the painters (Léger, De Chirico,) and the musicians (Milhaud, Honegger,…) who worked for Rolf de Maré, and played host to a reconstitution of Relâche by Moses Pendleton in 1979.

Presented by the Paris Opera and the Bibliothèque nationale de France in the rooms of the Opera’s Museum-Library, the “Ballets Suédois” exhibition aims to re-evaluate a fundamental link in the history of dance and the arts in the 20th century.

  • Jean Börlin dans Maison de fous, 1920

    Jean Börlin dans Maison de fous, 1920

  • Carina Ari dans la danse d’Anitra, Divertissement, 1921

    Carina Ari dans la danse d’Anitra, Divertissement, 1921

  • Relâche, chorégraphie de Jean Börlin : scène de l’acte I, 1924

    Relâche, chorégraphie de Jean Börlin : scène de l’acte I, 1924

  • Fernand Léger, projet de décor pour La Création du monde, 1923

    Fernand Léger, projet de décor pour La Création du monde, 1923

The Paris Opera Museum-Library - Palais Garnier
From June 11th to September 28th 2014

An exhibiiton staged in partnership with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and the Opéra National de Paris.


Mathias Auclair, chief curator of the Opera Museum-Library
Frank Claustrat, Associate Professor of the History of Contemporary Art at the Université Paul-Valéry, Montpellier III
Inès Piovesan, publishing department manager of the Paris Opera.


Publication :

Book-catalogue published by éditions Gourcuff Gradenigo, under the direction of Mathias Auclair, Frank Claustrat and Inès Piovesan.