The Performing Arts in the Belle Epoque

Diaghilev, Ibsen, Shaw, Bernhardt, Caruso, Melba, Isadora Duncan, Mata Hari, Marie Lloyd, Yvette Guilbert

1 - 29 November 2017
Wednesdays 10.45am - 12.45pm
The University Women’s Club, 2 Audley Square, London W1K 1DB
Patrick Bade
Full course (5 lectures) £249.00
Single lecture £59.00
(includes morning coffee, tea and biscuits)

Book your place now on The Performing Arts in the Belle Epoque Course

“Very stimulating and encouraging us to pursue further private study”

The Belle Epoque (c.1890–1914) was a period of extraordinary brilliance and glamour in the performing arts. No actors had ever been as famous as Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse, no dancers as famous as Pavlova and Nijinsky, no tenor as famous as Caruso and no pianist as famous as Paderewski. Much of the unprecedented celebrity of these artists has to do not only with their extraordinary talents but also with changes in society and innovations in technology – railways and steamships, photography, the telegraph and mass circulation newspapers and finally the gramophone and moving film. Under the influence of Wagner, Ibsen, Diaghilev and Isadora Duncan many artists saw themselves no longer as mere entertainers but as revolutionaries capable of transforming society. This course will examine the careers of these great artists putting them in the context of social and historical change and developments in the arts in general.

La Boutique Fantastique, L. Bakst
Programme 1910, Ballets Russes Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec, Yvette Guilbert, 1894

Course outline

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

The great Russian impresario rescued classical dance from the doldrums into which it had fallen and created modern classical ballet. A devotee of the Wagnerian ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art, Diaghilev impacted on the worlds of fine art, music, fashion and interior design. Among the great talents that he presented to the wider world were Nijinsky, Chaliapin, Bakst, Stravinsky, Massine and Balanchine.


While Ibsen, Strindberg and Shaw created modern theatre, theatrical Monstres Sacres such as Bernhardt, Duse, Rejane and Mrs Patrick Campbell stalked the stages of the world in vehicles created to show off their larger than life talents.


The Belle Epoque is generally regarded as a golden age of singing. The singers who were at their height between 1890 and 1914 such as Caruso, Chaliapin, Melba and Tetrazzini belonged to the first generation we can hear on record. They were also the last generation whose talents were unrestrained by the disciplines imposed by conductors and theatre directors.

Modern and Exotic dance

Alongside the revival of classical dance under the aegis of Diaghilev new and revolutionary forms of dance were created by a small band of charismatic women including Loie Fuller, Ida Rubinstein, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis and some notorious figures such as Mata Hari and Cleo de Merode.

Music Hall, Variety and Cabaret

The popular performing art forms of music hall and varieties also produced their gods and goddesses such Little Tich, and Marie Lloyd – the queen of the double entendre and Yvette Guilbert who was regarded as the voice of Paris and whose naughty songs delighted and scandalized the entire Western World.