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JCA Dance Home Page


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 Carlo.

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 Carlo

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 Laurent.

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.