A “Parade” of Greatness

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A “Parade” of Greatness
Paris, before and after World War I, was a fertile, creative place with young, talented people ready to capture man’s imagination and introduce him to new developments in the arts. There were people like Joyce and Hemingway embarking on new writing ideas; sculptors, poets, musicians and artists all daring to move forward into Modernism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Mechanism, Expressionism, and automatic writing. The list goes on.  Then, in 1917 a number of talented artistic people came together to stage a theatrical experiment that would awaken new directions. It was called Parade. Consider Sergei Diaghilev, Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Picasso and Leonide Massine, all in one room, putting together a futuristic ballet that was different from anything seen before. Just studying who these people were is a study into what a genius is. Add the enigmatic Guillaume Apollinaire who wrote the program notes and you have what was described as the first surrealist performance done at the Theatre du Chatelet on May 18, 1917.  Diaghilev brought to the group the Russian Ballet (Ballets Russes), Cocteau conceived the idea, Massine would do the choreography, Satie would write the music and Picasso would do the costumes and backdrops. The play itself was unusual and not well received. It outraged many patrons and resulted in a riot. Of course riots after theatre performances were hardly rare in Paris.  People were treated to a parade before a red curtain led by Picasso-clad managers, a Chinese Juggler, an American girl performing a ragtime dance, another manager on a horse with human legs and acrobats. It goes on with other Picasso backdrops including jesters and a white horse with wings until the audience is coaxed to watch, but refuse.  The managers express annoyance, do a dance and collapse on stage. Everyone pack and leave before the same red curtain. If this sounds convoluted, imagine the paying public. Parade was ahead of its time or out of step. What did result was the friendship of the participants and a legacy for the future. Satie, through the controversy, became famous. He went on to become the quintessential composer. He turned to other things, especially his Gymnopedies which are still performed. Cocteau too had a degree of acceptance that would grow among the French avant-garde. Picasso met a Czarist General’s daughter, Olga Khoklova, a cast member dancer of the Russian Ballet.  When the troupe left Paris to tour in South America, Olga stayed behind and traveled to Barcelona with Picasso.  There, she met his family. They returned to Paris and were married in the Russian Orthodox Church on the rue Daru. Jean Cocteau and Picasso’s friend Max Jacob were witnesses. Other guests were Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, and Diaghilev among others. The newlyweds were central to Paris social life. They eventually had a son Paolo but the marriage deteriorated. Olga tried to make Picasso into a ‘gentleman.’ She wanted his studio cleaned which was something Picasso resented. He refused to allow his art and supplies to be dusted. “Dust,” he said, “is a protection.” He moved his studio to another floor in the same building on la Boetie, to maintain his privacy. The couple moved apart soon after but never divorced. They were legally married until her death in Cannes in the 1950s. The marriage of Picasso to Jacqueline took place only after Olga died. The work on large backdrops for the stage may have diverted Picasso’s interest in cubism and eventually led to Guernica, for which the art world can be thankful. Satie was a different type than Picasso. He was mostly a loner who wore the same type of clothes all the time. He always carried an umbrella, of which he had over one hundred, and always wore one of 12 identical grey velvet jackets. No wonder they called him the ‘velvet gentleman”. He even had eighty-four identical handkerchiefs. With his tiny pince-nez glasses, he looked like a professor. He hated to expose himself to the sun and washed with pumice instead of soap. His food habits were notorious. Satie ate only white food such as egg whites, sugar, animal fat, coconuts, salt rice pastry, white cheeses and certain fish.  He was always the outsider and talked only when necessary. He not only founded his own church but also lived alone in an apartment in Arceuil without anyone ever visiting for 27 years.  His only relationship was a six-month relationship with Suzanne Valadon in 1893. It was Satie’s only known liason. At the time, Satie lived at 6, rue Corot. She was a model, painter and one-time trapeze artist. Her Lautrec-like portrait of him remained in his room for the rest of his life. He may have been an eccentric, but he moved in interesting circles. He was friends with Claude Debussy and made a strong impression on Les Six, especially Poulenc, Milhaud and Cage. His repeating harmonies of Gymnopedies are haunting and infectious. I listen to them often.  Erik Satie died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1925, always doing what he thought to be right and fearing no man. Suzanne died in 1938. Jean Cocteau was ostensibly a poet, but he was a man for all occasions and was also a painter (see the church in Villefranche), a decorator, essayist, journalist, filmmaker, dramatist, novelist and more. Cocteau, a friend of Picasso, Diaghilev and those in the arts, was referred to as a “dandy”. He provided Picasso with a distraction. He was charming and amusing.  His writing was modern but filled with history, realism and fantasy. So too were his films. Cocteau was always looking for the modern, the avant-garde.  He was associated with Les Six as was Satie, and as a poet he believed that the message was in poetry.  He had an affair with a 17-year-old would-be author, Raynond Radiguet. It spurred Cocteau to new heights. The young writer wrote the popular Diable au Corps but he died of typhoid in…
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