Backdrop of Bacchanale, by Salvador Dali
The Ballet Russe Collection
© 2001 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
Ballet in one act choreographed by Leonide Massine.
Music by Richard Wagner (the Venusberg Bacchanale from
Act I of Tannhaeuser).
Libretto and decor by Salvador Dali.
Scenery painted by George Dunkel and Salvador Dali.
Premiere: New York, November 9, 1939, by the Ballet Russe de Monte
"The season's scandal was Bacchanale... Purporting to
show the delirious visions of Ludwig II of Bavaria, it mixed
mythological figures with such personages as Lola Montez and
Sacher-Masoch... Dali's decor was dominated by a huge swan with a
hole in its breast through which dancers emerges, some in
remarkable costumes. There was a woman with a rose-colored
fish-head. Lola Montez wore harem trousers and a hoop skirt
decorated with false teeth. The Knight of Death turned out to be an
immense perambulating umbrella. Later, when Ludwig died, a whole
set of umbrellas opened on stage. Prudish audiences blushed to
behold the male ensemble with large red lobsters (as sex symbols)
on their thighs, and Nini Theilade, portraying Venus, created a
sensation because she seemed totally nude. In actuality, she wore
flesh-colored tights from her neck to her toes..."
Jack Anderson, The One and Only: The Ballet Russe de Monte
This incredible set from what must have been quite an
extravagant ballet may be one of the most unique pieces in the
Butler Ballet's drop collection. The author knows from a
conversation with the scenic artist who painted most of the
scenery, George Dunkel (who now lives in New Jersey ), that
Salvador Dali himself had a hand in painting the set. Visiting the
scenery shop where Bacchanale was being assembled, as
George Dunkel was standing over the canvas with a long paint brush
in his hand, Dali exclaimed "Oh, what fun to paint with such a long
brush! I want to try that...", and proceeded to take the brush from
George's hand and to begin painting a brand new corner of the
backdrop (the lower right half of the piece). After several hours
of hard, absorbed work he affixed his own signature, though in very
light paint, in a dark corner of the set. A close-up of Dali's
faded signature appears below. The Butler Ballet possesses the
complete set of soft goods (backdrop and three sets of legs and
borders); the hard scenery, however, is not in our possession.
Bacchanale remained in the Ballet Russe repertoire from
1939 to 1942, after which it was retired when Massine joined Ballet
Theatre. The scenery lay dormant for over fifty years, when it made
its re-appearance in a Butler Ballet production. Inspired by the
scenery (and the locale which it surrealistically portrayed, which
is the Spanish valley where Salvador Dali himself grew up)
choreographer Larry White - a former principal dancer with the
Martha Graham Company - set a brand new modern dance work,
appropriately set to classical guitar music from Spain, entitled
Luz Andaluz. This exciting and very well-received work was
premiered by the Butler Ballet in Indianapolis in February of 1994,
attracting considerable national attention.
Below are more pictures of the scenery.
Complete set showing downstage legs
(there are three sets of these bizarre and somewhat macabre
drawer-filled legs, some with bones protruding from them). The
obtrusive human figure captured in this newspaper photograph
pointing at the set is the author of these pages, Stephan
Detail of the downstage right leg.
Close-up of Salvador Dali's own
signature, at the lower right-hand corner of the backdrop.
Detail of center of backdrop
Black and white photograph of the Swan
which covered the opening in the center of the backdrop (this piece
is not in our collection)
Reproduction, including downloading of Dali works is prohibited
by copyright laws and international conventions without the express
written permission of Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York.