Beside my other archives, I happen to own a rare collection of photographs dedicated to the history of the Russian ballet. One hundred years ago Sergey Dyagilev, the brilliant promoter, took the ballet company he had founded to Paris, and ever since Ballet Russe has been a well-known name. The talented new trend choreographers, Mikhail Fokin, Leonid Myasin, Vatslav Nijinsky and his sister Bronislava Nizhinskaya, George Balanchin and Serge Lifar, raised the art of the Russian ballet to its highest pitch. Brilliant scenic artists and ballet costume designers, Alexander Benois, Leon Bakst, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Nicholas Roerich, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, harbingered the new epoch in the art of scenic design. The endless row of Petrograd and Moscow Imperial Ballet stars went into exile to glorify the world scenes by their brilliant talent, excellent technique acquired through Russian ballet teaching methods, their profound artistry and bright and arresting images.

This exhibition introduces to St.-Petersburg audience the images of extraordinary artists whose names once adorned the best world's theatres' playbills, whose autographs were hunted for, whose performance overwhelmed the audience. During their careers still long enough to impress any ballet lover or historian, the Russian priestesses of Terpsichore sat for many a professional photographer, their portraits being published in magazines, handbills, playbills and newspaper articles. For this exhibition I selected about 200 rare photographs previously little published in Russia, that will introduce to our contemporaries the lives of the last century's ballet dancers many of who became world known celebrities.

The portraits of the divine Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina, the enigmatic Olga Spesivtseva, the brilliant Alexandra Danilova, the masterful Vera Nemtchinova, the talented Adolph Bolm, mark the period of history when the Russian ballet nourished on what had been raised in Russia. After Dyagilev's death in 1929 in Venice, his brilliant company broke up and only three years later two new companies were founded – "Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo" and "De Basil Russian Ballet". They were directed by two experienced managers – Leon Blum and Vassiliy Grigorievich Voskresensky, formerly Cossack colonel who became known in the ballet world as Colonel de Basil.

The two companies existed simultaneously, toured extensively both with new performances and reconstructions of Dyagilev repertory, and travelled half the world during the 1930s and the 1940s. They performed in Europe, Australia, North and South America. The young "baby ballerinas" trained in the best ballet studios of Paris – those of former St.-Petersburg Imperial Ballet primas Olga Preobrazhenskaya and Mathilda Kschessinskaya – were invited to dance the leading roles. Among them were the admirable Irina Baronova, the masterful Tamara Toumanova and the lyrical Tatyana Ryabushinskaya who were recruited to "De Basil Russian Ballet", while the "Russian Ballet of Monte Carlo" was enlarged by the graceful Natalya Krasovskaya and several male soloists – graduates of the mentioned ballet studios. After the end of the Second World War the interest in the famous Russian ballet companies subsided. The demise of Colonel de Basil was the last event in this period of history of the Russian ballet in exile.

One more touring company, "The Grand Ballet of Marquis de Cuevas", appeared in France in the 1950s. The pride of the company were the brilliant Nina Vyrubova, prima ballerina of the Paris Grand Opera, along with her contemporary, the Parisian star of Circassian descent Lyudmila Cherina, as well as the Parisian Andre Prokovsky, Lyubov Egorova's student.

The 1960s were marked with the cold war still going strong and the young talented Rudolph Nureyev's daring jump over the barrier of the Bourget airport in 1961. Dancing on various stages all around the world and working in the cinema, Nureyev became a role model for the whole generation of young dancers in the West. At the time of Nureyev's defection, Galina Samtsova, brilliant dancer from Kyiv, landed in Canada, to later become one of the English Ballet stars.

During the 1970s, Soviet Ballet's losses to the West became even more noticeable. The ethereal Natalya Makarova remained in London after the Kirov Ballet 1970 tour, in 1974 the fantastic Mikhail Baryshnikov did not return from Canada. The Kirov soloists Valery and Galina Panov left for Israel. The wonderful Bolshoi Theatre soloist Alexander Godunov stayed in New-York which inspired a great international scandal in 1979. Valentina and Leonid Kozlov also did not return to the USSR from this disastrous trip.

In 1980, Sulamiph Messerer, the former Bolshoi prima and the aunt of Maya Plisetskaya, and her son Mikhail claimed political asylum in Japan. In 1983, Bolshoi soloist Vladimir Derevyanko left for Italy, and soon Stanislav Chasov went to England. By the end of XX century, many USSR ballet stars ended up abroad, one should especially mention Alla Osipenko, Irina Kolpakova, Galina Mezentseva, Galina Shlyapina, Igor Zelensky, Elena Pankova, Irek Mukhamedov, Vladimir Malakhov.

I happen to have made personal acquaintance with many stars of the Russian ballet in exile, and worked with some of them. This fact finds proof in the rare collection of signatures on photographs to be included in the exhibition in ROSPHOTO premises. The audience will see the autographs of Dyagilev Ballet dancers: Valentina Kashuba, Anatoly Vilzack, Alexandra Danilova, the soloist of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre Alisa Vronskaya, Irina Baronova, Tatyana Ryabushinskaya, Tamara Grigoryeva, Tatyana Leskova and many others.

Photographs from the archive of Xenia Tripolitova whose memoirs entitled "The Little Ballerina" were recently published in Moscow, make a unique addition to this exhibition. I expect the audience to be delighted to see the most rare portraits of the little known stars of the Russian ballet in exile — Lilya Nikolskaya, Olga Stark, George Skibin, Andrey Eglevsky and many others.

I would like to dedicate this exhibition to the 100 year anniversary of Sergey Dyagilev's Saisons Russes. I think it will be a great present for aesthetes, ballet lovers, historians.

Alexander Vassiliev