Forgetting Ida Rubinstein
One of the very few places you can stumble across the name Ida Rubinstein, these days, is in the programme notes for a recording or concert performance of Ravel’s Bolero. For it was she who commissioned this ubiquitous work. Otherwise she is now almost completely forgotten. This is an injustice. In the three decades between 1909 and 1939, hers was a name to conjure with, almost equal in power and glamour to that of Diaghilev.
Her immense wealth, in the service of her egomania and artistic enthusiasm, enabled her to commission major works from some of the most celebrated composers of her day, Debussy, Stravinsky and Honegger, as well as Ravel.
She also furthered the careers of less well known musicians like Pizzetta, Ibert, Vincent d’Indy and Florent Schmitt.
As her behest scripts by much acclaimed poets like Gabriele d’Annunzio, Andre Gide, Paul Valery and Paul Claudel were written to serve her idiosyncratic talents. Two of the greatest stage designers of the era, Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois made her theatre presentations ravishing spectacles.
The list of choreographers who served her reads like a history of ballet in the early twentieth century – Folkine, Massine, Nijinska and Kurt Joos.
To stage one of her productions, she even brought Meyerhold, one of the most influential directors of the century out of Russia, long before he was known in the West.
She could afford the best and so she got the best.