Books: The Genghis Khan of Ballet

DIAGHILEV by Richard Buckle; Atheneum; 616pages; $22.50

"I am, firstly, a charlatan, though rather a brilliant one; secondly, a great charmer; thirdly, frightened of nobody; fourthly, a man with plenty of logic and very few scruples; fifthly, I seem to have no real talent," wrote Sergei Diaghilev to his stepmother in 1895. It was an uncharacteristically harsh, but characteristically penetrating judgment. For two decades, until his death in 1929, Diaghilev's unscrupulous logic and charm dominated the stages of Europe. He founded and directed the Ballets Russes. He was the first to create theatrical...

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