The Ultimate Culture Guide 2009: B

Ballets Russes

On May 17, 1909, there was a revolution in Paris. Inside the Théâtre du Châtelet, Sergey Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes gave its first performance, setting a new precedent for electrifying combinations of dance, drama, music, and design. Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Léonide Massine, Balanchine, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Picasso were just a few of Diaghilev’s collaborators, and although the Ballets Russes folded soon after his death, in 1929, its impact on 20th-century culture was irreversible.

To mark the centenary, dance troupes across the globe are offering revivals of some of the Ballets Russes’s best-known works: Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Biches by the Bavarian State Ballet; Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son by the Boston Ballet and American Ballet Theatre; Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps by the Hamburg Ballet, among others. And in October, Sadler’s Wells in London will present four of contemporary dance’s most talented artists—Javier de Frutos, Wayne McGregor, Russell Maliphant, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui—who will heed Diaghilev’s legendary instructions to Cocteau, “Etonne-moi.” In a series of performances, they’ll attempt to re-create the Ballets Russes’s artistic collaboration and experimental spirit.

Booker Man

Aravind Adiga, 34, won the most recent Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, The White Tiger. Hailed as “blazingly savage and brilliant,” it tells the story of a poor, low-caste Indian chauffeur who murders his employer and becomes an entrepreneur. In June, Adiga’s Between the Assassinations, a collection of linked short stories set in a small town in the south of India, is being published by Free Press.

How do you respond to critics who argue The White Tiger is an unfair portrait of modern India?

The book was meant to be controversial. In India today, there’s a taboo against depicting anyone poor in film or literature. If you break that taboo, you’re accused of showing the worst aspects of the country. Truth is, the vast majority of Indians are still poor. A lot of what is directed against the book comes from expats and is driven by a nostalgic, romanticized view of the homeland.

What did you think of Slumdog Millionaire’s eight Oscars?

There’s been a lot of euphoria here in Bombay that it won. But I can’t even see it as a work of art, because the entire debate has been, Is the depiction of poverty fair or unfair? The scenes in the slums have stunned many middle-class people in Bombay who don’t even realize they exist.

What was your reaction to the November terrorist attacks?

It was obviously very traumatic, and, I think, a landmark event in Indian history. It brought home the fact that the system of governance is totally corrupt and inept. There is a sense of anger, which could be an impetus for positive change. The fact is, it wasn’t a very sophisticated attack. The system let the country down completely.

Tell us about your new book, Between the Assassinations.

The stories take place between the killings of prime ministers Indira Gandhi, in 1984, and her son, in 1991—a period when many of India’s present problems were starting, including the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terror. The first story is about a poor Muslim boy, a train station coolie, who is asked by a man to spy on soldiers coming to town. The boy has to grapple with the temptation to do something wrong, and being poor and adolescent, he is filled with a lot of rage—he is trying to understand his identity as a Muslim in India. In the end he rejects the terrorist, and that, in a sense, is the real story: the daily heroism of very poor people who spurn the terrorists and keep India together.

Bridge Project

We can’t wait for what’s next from this three-year partnership between the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, Sam Mendes’s Neal Street Productions, and London’s Old Vic theater. Traveling productions of The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard—directed by Mendes and featuring ace performers Richard Easton, Ethan Hawke, Simon Russell Beale, Sinéad Cusack, and Rebecca Hall—stop at the Old Vic May 23 to August 15.

Boston Master

Clash “Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese” is a not-to-miss bout between the three great heavyweights of the Venetian Renaissance. The exhibition of 57 works—including major loans from Italy—looks at how the three masters influenced one another and how their rivalries helped shape their distinctive styles. On view at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts through August 16, the show moves to the Louvre Museum in Paris in the fall.