Organizing Theory & Artistry

Adventures in Ballet and Art


The day after the HEAV Homeschool Convention ended, I saw that The Washington Ballet was giving a special free performance at the National Gallery of Art in connection with the Diaghilev and the Ballet Russses exhibit currently on display.

Even though we had just done a lot of travel and were a bit tired, we had to go! So we packed into the car and headed north to D.C. Traffic being what it is, we ran a bit behind schedule. When we arrived in D.C., we were surprised to find that we were also right in the middle of the Capital Pride Festival!


We made our way to the National Gallery of Art just in time to catch the last part of the ballet performance. It was such a beautiful moment, combining the incredible architecture of the museum with gorgeous artwork and ballet. The dancers were dressed simply in rehearsal clothes in a wonderful contrast to all the formality around them. As I watched the performance, it just struck me how much freedom of thought and expression is required to enable the creation of great art like this.





It ended up being somewhat good timing to have come right at the end as my son did not have the patience to sit still (and be quiet) for very long.


After the performance, I took the children through the Diaghilev exhibit. Although I had heard of the Ballet Russes before, I didn’t know very much about it. So, the exhibit was quite a surprise. The exhibit had original costumes and set designs, combined with costume and set design sketches, as well as video screens of famous ballet companies performing works from the Ballet Russes.

Sergei Diaghilev was the mastermind behind the Ballet Russes. Through his vision, he created a ballet company unlike any other before or since. Most of the reason the Ballet Russes is so famous is because Diaghilev brought together the most creative forces of the day in art, music and dance to create unique performances. Set and costume designers included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel. Music was commissioned from Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev, among others. The dancers and choreographers were a tour de force of Vaslav Nijinsky, Michel Fokine, Anna Pavlova, George Balanchine and many others.


The costumes were interestingly mostly made of cotton. There is only one surviving film of the Ballet Russes. Diaghilev forbade any recording of the performances even though the technology existed at the time. One movie, captured in secret at a rehearsal preserves a precious few moments and gives you a glimpse back in time.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was how shocking many of the ballet performances were. They were shocking at the time they were created and they are still pretty shocking today! “Afternoon of a Faun” for example is described as having “an overtly erotic subtext beneath its façade of Greek antiquity, ending with a scene of graphic sexual desire.” Other works included transsexual themes and virgin sacrifice.

I might have had the only children viewing the exhibition that day. My kids, although they can read, did not pick up on the more adult themes of the exhibit and focused more on watching the ballet performances on screen. We also compared the artistic sketches to the final costumes, pointing out differences in the execution of designs. In general, my children enjoyed the exhibit. For adults, the exhibit was interesting, beautiful and disturbing simultaneously.

As we left the exhibit, I thought we would take a brief stroll through the Capital Pride Festival on our way back to the car. From the street, it just looked like a big fair with food vendors, amusements and exhibitors. There apparently is a children’s section of the festival but this was not it.

There were a few business vendors handing out free stuff. My children got some neat notepads from Amtrak. A few more steps in, however, and they were passing out condoms to everyone. I then noticed that the ads on the sides of the garbage cans were for various sexual lubricants. We turned back at that point and made our way out via the food vendors. In a way, it was the perfect modern day extension of the Diaghilev exhibit. As in the exhibit, my children took no notice of the more adult content around them and were just thrilled to have a new notepad to draw in.


We entered the parking garage and shared an elevator with several very kind celebrators of the Capital Pride Festival. They asked how our day was and I told them how we had really enjoyed the art exhibition and ballet performance. “We had no idea all the rest of this was going on,” I said and they all smiled and laughed.

As we drove out of the city, we couldn’t help but notice these banners on the streetlamps promoting a new play at The Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company.


The play is described as: “In this irreverent, contemporary, and very funny remix of Chekhov’s The Seagull, award-winning playwright Aaron Posner wages a timeless battle between young and old, past and present, in search of the true meaning of it all.” Again, I was shocked at the title and even more shocked that this sign was on a public street. From the backseat I heard my children calling out, “Stupid Flying Bird! Stupid Flying Bird!” Yes, they saw the signs too but again had no idea what they meant.

Having just come from a very conservative environment for the past two days, I was a bit mentally exhausted from all I had just taken in. I had been on both ends of the intellectual spectrum. In the end, however, I decided that it was wonderful that we have both conservative and liberal influences in our society and that it made us a richer country for it.

Might we be a little more “liberal” to allow people to pray and express themselves religiously in more places? Might we be a little more “conservative” by embracing the fullness of the world’s family and allowing homosexuals to participate fully in all of the world’s religions? We have work to do in all areas. This reminder on the Newseum was particularly poignant.