Presented by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, “Bacchanale” received its world premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on November 9, 1939. With set, costumes and libretto created by Salvador Dalí and choreography by Russian ballet dancer Léonide Massine, the ballet caused quite a sensation in the New York dance world. “Bacchanale” was a ballet in one act using the Venusberg Bacchanale from the first act of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser as the score. The story line traced the mounting delirium of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria in which stories from Greek mythology, most prominently Leda and the Swan, mingled with historical figures like famed courtesan Lola Montez. Audiences were confronted by an assortment of bizarre images including dancing umbrellas, dancers with giant fish heads, and a set that was dominated by an enormous swan, with a large hole in its breast through which the dancers made their entrances.
The Surrealist art movement explored unique ways of interpreting the world, turning to dreams and the unconscious for inspiration. During the 1930s Surrealism escaped its radical avant-garde roots and transformed design, fashion, advertising, theatre and film. Horst P. Horst experimented with Surrealism, and his photographs of the period feature mysterious, whimsical and surreal elements combined with his classical aesthetic. He created trompe l’oeil still lifes, photographed the surreal-infused dress designs of his friend Elsa Schiaparelli and collaborated with the artist Salvador Dalí. Later in his career Horst would work closely with Dalí, creating hybrid works for The Dream of Venus and documenting Dali’s costume designs in his own recognizable photographic style.
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí, known professionally as Salvador Dalí, was a prominent Spanish surrealist born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. In the 1920s, he went to Paris and began interacting with artists such as Pablo Picasso and fellow surrealists Rene Magritte, Joan Miró and Man Ray. Dalí is perhaps best known for his 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory,” showing melting clocks in a landscape setting. Dalí’s work has had a lasting impression on art and society and continues to be a major influence on artists like Polish photographer Kasia Derwinska.