Serge Lifar: A Life with Ego & Dance

 DATELINE: Collaborator

 Lifar with Diaghilev & Stravinsky.

The French documentary is entitled A Revolution in Dance, and that is applied to Serge Lifar, a danseur and ballet maître who went from the era of Diaghilev to the dawn of Nureyev.

With covert and sly methods, the teenage Lifar managed to put himself before the grand Maestro—and caught the eye of the aging powerbroker. It led to an education, seven years of stardom in the Ballets Russes, and a future however Lifar chose to go.

After Diaghilev’s death in Venice, Lifar went to the Paris Opera House and made himself a home for thirty years. Literally, a home. He was there day and night, choreographing and plotting.

His outrageous demeanor became the stuff of social life and gossip columns. It was only incidental that he made ballets—and innovative ones too, Icare, based on the Greek legend of Icarus.

For a dozen years, he was the staple of the Opera House and transformed the focus of the Paris scene on dance. Then, the roof fell in: sort of.

When the Nazis captured Paris in 1940, Lifar was a stateless person—and played ball with Joseph Goebbels. He even met Hitler, at least twice we know of, and he allegedly refused to go to Berlin to start a corps de ballet there. We suspect Lifar would never deny Hitler directly. It led to charges later that he was a Nazi collaborator. He was even seen parading around in a Nazi uniform and the theatre for his performances were Aryan Nazi officers who loved his shows.

After the war, a tribunal banned him from dancing in France—but he wheedled his way out of that guilty verdict and was back on stage by 1947. You could say he overstayed his welcome, remaining a principal danseur until his mid-50s when his bones creaked over the stage.

When he finally retired, he was still a tabloid sensation, a good headline and an outrageous media person until he was 81 and the new era had fairly forgotten this legend.