He was a pagan, and a Dionysian pagan


In December of 1874, when Serge ­Diaghilev was 2 years old, he stood in the drawing room of his home in St. Petersburg, belly thrust out, and took in the spectacle of the family Christmas tree. He “gravely inspected the tree with its glittering lights,” his stepmother recalled in her memoirs, “glanced at the toys placed around it and said quietly, ‘Not bad. . . .’ ” Thirty-eight years later, at the premiere of the Nijinsky ballet “Le Sacre du Prin­temps,” a riot broke out at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. As Stravinsky’s dissonant score pulsed, as the dancers of the Ballets Russes darted and scuttered, whispers in the audience gave way to agitated shouts and screams. Stravinsky himself, according to one account, “dashed out like a madman.” At a restaurant afterward, celebrating with his collaborators, a contented Diaghilev declared, “Exactly what I wanted.”

more from Jennifer B. McDonald at the NYT here.