Serge Leonovich Grigoriev (1883 - 1968)
To most of the world, Serge Grigoriev is a name on a birth certificate in Tichvin, Russia, but when we go to the ballet today we are in debt to him for the classic ballets from the repertory of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Because of his phenomenal memory, he became régisseur of the Ballets Russes on their first trip to Paris in 1909 and remained in that position for twenty years.
Grigoriev was born October 5, 1883. He studied at the St. Petersburg Imperial School, graduating in 1900, and danced with the Maryinsky Ballet until Diaghilev appointed him ballet master in 1909. Grigoriev was a friend of Mikhail Fokine, and Fokine recommended him to rehearse the ballets for the 1909 season. He was one of the few to remain until the death of Serge Diaghilev. Even when his good friend Fokine left because of the rift over Nijinsky's choreography, Grigoriev stayed with the company, although his sympathies were with Fokine.
After Diaghilev fired Vaslav Nijinsky he needed to rehire Fokine. Before he agreed to return Fokine made many demands: to dance leading roles; that all of Nijinsky's ballets be dropped from the repertoire; and that Grigoriev and his wife, the ballerina Lubov Tchernicheva, be discharged from the company. He got everything but the termination of Grigoriev. Diaghilev got Fokine, Grigoriev and Tchernicheva to reconcile.
After the death of Diaghilev in 1929 the company disbanded; Grigoriev and his wife joined Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe in 1932, restaging the original choreography of Diaghilev's repertoire and remaining until 1948. Grigoriev mounted The Firebird in 1954 and Petrushka in 1957 for the Royal Ballet in London. He also wrote a book, The Diaghilev's Ballet. Richard Buckle, in his book Diaghilev, implied that Grigoriev minimized Diaghilev's sexual preferences, which played a large part in his hiring and firing. Diaghilev was willing to lose Pavlova, when she resented his preference for the male dancers. He also became the lover to most of his male stars.
Being able to remember a complete ballet is an art in itself. Many choreographers can't even restore their own ballets. Today we have videos and movies to make a permanent record of not only the performance, but the choreography.
"The Public never guessed how much the success of the performance was due to the work of Serge Grigoriev, director, stage-manager, ballet encyclopedia and receptacle of many artistic--and other--secrets which are now buried in the past." (Three Centuries of Ballet by Cornelius Conyn, 1953).
(First published March 1995)