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Russia showcases flamboyant Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst

MOSCOW (AFP) - The exotic stage and costume designs of Russian-born designer Leon Bakst, made famous at the Ballets Russes, are on display in a major retrospective in Moscow which examines his shock impact on fashion and theatre.

The exhibition which opened last week at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts features around 250 works by the designer, born 150 years ago.

“This exhibition is unprecedented, with works from around 30 Russian and Western collections -- both private and public,” said Marina Loshak, director of the Pushkin Museum which focuses on Western art.

The retrospective includes portraits, pastels and watercolors as well as Bakst‘s scenery designs and stunning costumes for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev’s hugely influential Ballets Russes in the early 1900s.

Idolized by ballet fans worldwide, Bakst is also admired by followers of fashion for his flowing lines and vivid use of color.

The colorful wigs and blue harem pants that he created for Diaghilev's ballets swiftly became all the rage in Paris.

One of the exhibition’s highlights is the silk rose petal costume he designed for dancer Vaslav Nijinsky for the 1911 ballet “Le Spectre de la Rose.”

Lent by Russia's top Vaganova Ballet Academy in Saint Petersburg, this costume has never been shown in Moscow before.

Bakst’s chalk marks can still be seen on the silk suit, whose petals were ripped off by eager fans.

The exhibition shows the multifaceted talents of Bakst, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Grodno, which was then in the Russian Empire and is now part of Belarus. His real name was Leib Haim Rosenberg.

He joined the World of Art avant-garde movement, which sprang up in Saint Petersburg in the 1890s, including such artists as Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky.

They saw art as primarily about aesthetics and self- expression and opposed the realist painters of the time who focused on portraying social ills.

Taking on the pseudonym Bakst, he began working in theatres at the start of the 20th century, espousing a kind of refined aestheticism that was close to Art Nouveau.

From 1909, when fellow Russian emigre Diaghilev organized the first season of his legendary Ballets Russes in Paris, Bakst worked as his designer.

Bakst succeeded in creating a brilliant synthesis of painting, music and dance, said the exhibition's curator Natalia Avtonomova, head of the personal collections department of the Pushkin Museum.

Bakst died in Paris in 1924, aged 58.