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August 06 2013 5:00 AM ET
Above: Lifar by George Hoyingen-Huene, 1927
Serge Lifar (1905 – 1986)
By now, in popular dance culture, it could be assumed that the road to stardom involved a trek across the sheets of Sergei Diaghilev's bed. The very ambitious Lifar was only too happy to exploit his own good looks and charm on Diaghilev, Misia Sert, and Coco Chanel to mention but a few.
At left: Lifar with Diaghilev
In 1924, his strategies came to fruition as he became one of Diaghilev's favorites. As a result, he was cast in attention-getting roles and was groomed as a premier dancer and choreographer.
In a frenzy of fame and acclaim, Lifar kept taking so much that even the self-promoting Diaghilev hit his limit. But Lifar's talent had now begun to match his persistence, and he became indispensable as a featured dancer.
After Diaghilev's death he was engaged as the ballet master and director at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he remained in charge, with one hiccup of scandal, until 1957. While with the Paris Opera, Lifar attempted to carry on in the Ballet Russe style, using male dancers in featured positions, and using stellar choreographers such as Balanchine, Massine, and Frederick Ashton.
His brush with scandal: His open socializing with the German High Command during the Occupation of Paris, he claimed, was related to his work as an undercover agent. Although the appearance of collaboration led to Lifar's "banishment for life" from the Paris Opera Ballet in 1944, he was welcomed back by 1947.
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