Ballets Russes' Gesamtkunstwerk for the centenary of Picasso's visit to Italy
                                      By Martina Angioloni, 01 August 2017

Naples and Pompeii are celebrating this year the centenary of Picasso’s visit to Italy, which
the artist undertook together with Jean Cocteau to work on
Parade, which the Ballets Russes
premiered on stage in Paris in 1917. During his visit to Italy, the artist went to Naples twice,
between March and April of 1917 and to Pompeii. For this occasion a group of institutions
including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Soprintendenza of Pompeii, the Museum
of Capodimonte, along with the publishers Electa, organised Picasso and Naples: Parade, an
exhibition which was held at Capodimonte and Pompeii. More than sixty organisations from
eight countries have developed various exhibition projects on the theme "Picasso-
Mediterranean" which will take place until Spring 2019, and the one in Naples was the inaugural

Curated by Sylvain Bellenger and Luigi Gallo, the Naples exhibition attracted 100.000 visitors
in just 3 months, and it was designed to develop the interest of a wider audience thanks to
numerous outreach initiatives: performances, musical events, small acts by street artists and
a specifically designed app that enriched the visitor’s experience along the museum path with
videos, music and extensive contextual information. The apotheosis of these happenings, all
conceived on the same theme, were 3 performances, in which the dancers of the Rome Opera
House with the support of students of the Lyceum, a Neapolitan school directed by Mara Fusco,
presented two historical ballets with sets and costumes designed by Picasso and choreography
by Léonide Massine:
Parade with music by Erik Satie and Pulcinella set to music by Stravinsky
(after Pergolesi among others). Léonide's son, Lorca Massine, who has a special relationship
with this company as he directed it from 1981 until 1983, reconstructed his father's precious

Parade started with the "unsuccessful" managers and their iconic costumes featuring
skyscrapers and boulevards, a horse made by two dancers, a very musical and expressive
Manuel Paruccini as the Chinese Conjuror and the American girl (Cristina Mirigliano), and all
were a pleasure to watch while following Satie's innovative soundscape and the noises added
by Cocteau.

Parade became a part of 20th century cultural history because it was one of the greatest succès
de scandale, a work of genius that was ahead of its time and therefore derided by many.
Described as "a kind of surrealism" by the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, coining the word even
before Surrealism emerged as an art movement in Paris, the ballet was remarkable for several
reasons: it represented the first collaboration between Satie and Picasso and was their first
commission by Diaghilev. Before
Parade, references to popular entertainment were considered
unsuitable for the elite world of the ballet, and here Parade wittily included the failed attempt
of a troupe of street performers to attract audience members to view their show. When this
revolutionary ballet premiered, it was scorned by audiences, and some of the more conservative
members booed and hissed and became very unruly. However, Diaghilev said: "
Parade, is my
best bottle of wine. I do not like to open it very often". Today Picasso's set and costumes are
considered symbols of "the progressive art of their time", and have only become more
celebrated and better appreciated over the past century and I'm indeed glad that the special
bottle was opened again!

In addition to the costumes, Picasso designed a curtain which illustrated a group of performers
at a fair consuming dinner before a performance. This iconic curtain, Picasso's largest painting,
was the symbol of both the exhibition and the performances and portrays most of the influential
people that contributed to the show: Sergei Diaghilev, Léonide Massine, Igor Stravinsky,
Fortunato Depero, Olga Khokhlova - a Ballets Russes ballerina and Picasso's future wife -  
among others.

The story of
Pulcinella, a one act ballet taken from a Neapolitan folk tale, is told by Massine
using academic steps with very expressive and Italian body language. This tribute to the
commedia dell'arte portrays the amorous adventures of the Neapolitan character set in front
of Picasso's elaborate design dominated by Vesuvius, with cold tones evoking moonlight on
the sea and the volcano in the background. There couldn't have been a more appropriate
setting than the Teatro Grande in Pompeii built in the II Century BC on the flanks of the volcano.
Scored for 3 solo singers and instruments and defined by Stravinsky as "the epiphany through
which the whole of my late work became possible", this brilliant comedy highlighted the talent of
the prima ballerina Rebecca Bianchi, whose feet and great use of the bas de jambe were
underlined by the black pointe shoes and tights on a white carpet. She gracefully danced with
a very expressive and dynamic
Pulcinella (Claudio Cocino) in the pas de deux "Se tu m'ami".
Pablo Picasso and Léonide Massine
Pompeii, 1917