Alexey Brodovitch, BALLET, 1945

Dust jacket back and front

Dust jacket back and front

104 Photographs by Alexey Brodovitch
Text by Edwin Denby

Alexey (Vyacheslavovich) Brodovitch is best known for his outstanding work as graphic designer and art director for American fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar between 1934 and 1958. Russian-born [Алексе́й (Вячесла́вович) Бродо́вич] Brodovitch shows the true extent of his skills in this photobook, published by a small New York publisher in 1945. While Brodovitch’s background in design is obvious throughout, his style of photography is a refreshing break from tradition. Most contemporary ballet photography was stiffly-posed and carefully, theatrically, staged. Brodovitch loosened it all up. He used existing light, or pointed his 35mm camera directly into the blinding stage lights. He used long exposures, or over-exposed the film. He shot close-ups, or used uncommon camera angles. His approach was basically to use all the effects particular to photography (even ‘technically incorrect’ ones such as blur or fogging) to advantage. He was instrumental in inventing a new, and for this time revolutionary, visual language.

Brodovitch photographed the various Russian ballet companies which performed in America between 1933 and 1937. He uses the landscape format of the book as a stage, spanning from the opening images of the dancers preparing backstage, rehearsing and performing on stage until the final bow, which Brodovitch makes with the bold graphic statement THE END.

The photographs are all printed full page in gravure. Brodovitch’s graphic design is as delightful and playful as the photographs themselves.

The book includes an essay by Edwin Denby, spread over six pages. As well as dealing with the technical and emotional aspects of the book, it also provides historical background information on the Russian ballet in America prior to World War II.

From Edwin Denby’s essay: He {Brodovitch} says that for him, the Ballets Russes brought back impressions of his own boyhood in Russia, the memories of family theater parties and of poignantly butterfly-brilliant creatures on a magic stage. He was at home, one imagines, in the stage atmosphere the company created; he was not photographing strangers, he was photographing his family; and that is why his pictures have so intimate a tone.

Edwin (Orr) Denby was a poet, and one of the most influential dance critics of his time. He was extremely cosmopolitan, having been born in China, and educated at Harvard, and the University of Vienna, Austria. Despite plans to become a psychoanalyst, he studied modern dance at Vienna’s Hellerau-Laxenburg School, and later joined a dance company in Darmstadt, Germany. During the 1930s he appeared with dance troupes in Switzerland, making the move to the USA in 1936.

Most sources agree that only a few hundred copies of this book were printed. Despite its influence, it undoubtedly had a very small commercial release and distribution. Many copies appear to have been given by Brodovitch as presents. Most of his remaining copies were destroyed by two consecutive fires in Brodovitch’s Farmhouse in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania and his house in East Hampton, Long Island (where most of the original negatives of this series were also lost).

A simple grey cardboard slipcase / shipping box with blue labels on front and spine is known to exist. Due to the type of paper used, the dust jacket is now extremely fragile.

This book is one of Brodovitch’s greatest works.

The following seven performances divide the book:

Les Noces,
Les Cent Baisers,
Symphonie Fantastique,
Le Tricorne,
Boutique Fantasque (sic),
Septieme Symphonie,
Le Lac des Cygnes,
Les Sylphides and Concurrence

2 1/2 pages index

Photographs and graphic design by Alexey Brodovitch
Text by Edwin Denby


The book was republished by Errata Editions as part of their Books on Books series in 2011.
Errata Edition’s website:


Hard cover with dust jacket

144 pages

28.5 x 22.3cm