What was Parade, and why was it significant?


The original Parade was a ballet – but a totally radical ballet whose premiere on 18th May 1917 not only marked the birth of surrealism and modernism, but revolutionised the very idea of what ballet is and who it’s for.

It was created by a supergroup of world-famous European artists; composed by Erik Satie and written by Jean Cocteau for Ballets Russes, a Paris-based dance company run by Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev, with set and costume designs by Pablo Picasso and choreographed by Diaghilev’s lover, Léonide Massine.

Ballet had existed for almost 400 years, and was seen as the stuffy preserve of the upper classes. Parade threw every tradition out of the window; the setting was a fairground and the ordinary streets of Paris, and the characters included clowns, acrobats, fire-eaters, and carnival acts to attract an audience; the score was inspired by music hall, ragtime, and fairground music; the orchestra’s instruments included a typewriter, a gun, a siren, milk bottles and a foghorn; and some of the dancers’ costumes were made of cardboard. 

Never before had an artform intended for the few been reclaimed so dramatically for the many.

The audience and critics’ reactions were explosive, polarised and bordering on hysterical; oranges were thrown at the orchestra, boos, hisses and rapturous applause spilled into the streets, reviewers and artists clashed violently in print and even in court.

One hundred years on, history sees Parade as it was intended to be seen; risky, ambitious, rebellious, and truly revolutionary. This was a new kind of ballet – not a stiff tradition for the upper classes, but a vibrant, unpredictable, glorious event for everyone to enjoy. 

In the true spirit of the Russian Revolution, Parade tore down an old regime and gave a voice to the people.

Nicholas Zverev in Parade, 1917, costume by Pablo Picasso for Les Ballets Russes.

P.A.R.A.D.E. will be a flagship event in Wales’ Russia ’17 programme, which marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution. 

And like the original Parade, it will see a supergroup of artists and companies – NDCWales, Marc Rees, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rubicon Dance and Dawns i Bawb, plus internationally renowned choreographer Marcos Morau, graffiti artist Pure Evil,  architectural designer Jenny Hall, aerialist Kate Lawrence and composer Jack White – joining forces to recreate, with a Welsh twist, one of the most revolutionary episodes in 20th Century culture.

The action will begin, as it was depicted in the 1917 original, in the open air, where a call-to-arms for a political revolution is building momentum. Audiences will be swept into the foyer, passing extraordinary performances, soundscapes and installations before settling in the auditorium to watch the final performances; a fresh, modern reimagining of the original Parade directed by Caroline Finn, followed by Tundra by Marcos Morau.

Mixing politics, dance, history, art, graffiti, sculpture, circus, film and music, P.A.R.A.D.E. will not only be an unprecedented spectacle – a feast for the senses – but a reflection on Wales’ own modern history and its current political landscape. 

Image shows Pablo Picasso and scene painters sitting on the front cloth for the original Parade.