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Spaces of otherness and desire: Ballets Russes – artist-animators – ethnographic enquiry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

This article will deconstruct the symbolic practices displayed by the Ballets Russes. It will scrutinize the correspondence between corporeal characters and scenic display of Oriental Otherness in the productions before the First World War. In particular, it will relate this display to both the Symbolism of the World of Art group during the Silver Age (1898-1914) and the transfer of knowledge initiated by Russian Orientalists in the late nineteenth century between Russia’s Christian- dominated centre in Europe and the recently acquired Muslim lands of her oriental periphery in Asia. This article will challenge the view that the decision of Ballets Russes impresario Sergei Diaghilev to display Russia’s Oriental Other was a mere PR act aimed at raising funds abroad for his theatrical venture. Rather, it will be argued that the display of these Muslim-dominated counter-spaces served various groups of artists as a platform abroad to rehearse a revamped identity, in which the unconditional pre-eminence of European culture, broadcast two hundred years before by Peter I, became increasingly challenged by Russia’s Asiatic counterparts. These counter-spaces will be discussed in the light of Foucault’s ‘Theory of Other Spaces’, with a view to the key question of access; entry to other spaces, Foucault maintained, is never straightforward. The advantage of such an approach is evident for two reasons: firstly, it reveals the novel research methods of Russian Orientalist scholars, especially ethnographers, and their transcultural perspectives that enabled them to unlock these counter-spaces. Secondly, it opens up a more differentiated perspective on the view, as expressed by Edward Said, that knowledge has been used to subjugate the Other, together with his claim that Britain and France were the pioneering nations to launch Orientalist scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiversity and Otherness between Standards and Life-Worlds
Subtitle of host publicationA Transcultural Approach
EditorsLisa Gaupp, Giulia Pelillo-Hestermeyer
PublisherDe Gruyter
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 2018

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