Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Plastic Flora - Fortunato Depero's Scenes and Costumes for Le Chant du Rossignol, 1916-17.
On 16 November 1916, a fortnight before signing a contract with Balla for "Fireworks" (dated 2 December 1916), Diaghilev commissioned Depero to design the décor and costumes for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", with music drawn from Stravinsky’s early opera, "Le Rossignol", staged in Paris in 1914. The plot had been adapted from a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen and had two animal characters, a "real" nightingale and a mechanical nightingale. It was when visiting Depero°s studio and seeing a cardboard model of some enormous flowers that Diaghilev suggested to the artist that he construct the whole scenery as a kinetic sculpture, in line with the “artiticial landscape" theorised about in the manifesto "Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe". Depero worked on the décor and costumes for several months. The bizarre geometric shapes bristled with spiky and jutting elements and clearly developed further some of the ideas contained in the earlier "Mimismagia", but failed to attain the revolutionary quality of the “Plastic Complexes”: the costumes were not equipped with switches and were not noisy or transformable.
The whole artistic milieu in Paris was looking forward to the event, but in the end, and despite the fact that he had written enthusiastically to Stravinsky about this stage set, Diaghilev did not accept Depero’s work and did not present the ballet. There has been much speculation about the reasons for Diaghilev’s refusal. Some critics think that the costumes would have caused excessive obstacles to the movements of the dancer; others refer to Depero’s delay in finishing the work on time. Another reason may have been that the Russian impresario attached much importance to the organic harmony between the different arts involved in a ballet and that he noticed a glaring contradiction between the revolutionary quality of Depero’s plastic décor and Stravinsky’s music, which was of a conventional, "descriptive" kind.
1. Model for the set of "Le Chant du Rossignol", complete view.
2. Model for the set of "Le Chant du Rossignol", detail of the central part.
3. Sheet with five sketches for mandarins and court women and with the mobile-floral complex of the emperor, that remind the structure of the plastic flora.
4. Mandarin, costume for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", marquetry of colored cloths (1919).
5. Sheet with twelve sketches for mandarins and court women.
6. Dancer, costume for the ballet "Le Chant du Rossignol", collage of colored papers.
7. Drawing project for "Le Chant du Rossignol", details of the "plastic flora".
8. Drawing project for "Le Chant du Rossignol", support for the the great plastic flora bush.
9. Two views of the studio-workshop of Depero in Rome with the large elements of the "plastic flora" made of wood, cardboard and linoleum.