La Création du Monde By Bellow, Juliet
A ballet inspired by a creation fable in Blaise Cendrars’s Anthologie nègre (1921), La Création du monde (The Creation of the World) was produced by Rolf de Maré’s Ballets Suédois troupe, premiering on October 25, 1923 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris. Together with the painter Fernand Léger, Cendrars proposed a ‘‘ballet nègre’’ in 1921 to de Maré and the troupe’s choreographer Jean Börlin. Börlin’s 1920 suite of solo dances Sculpture nègre signaled his interest in African art and artifacts then on display at the Musée d’Ethnographie and in galleries and private collections—an influence also visible in the stylized body-masks that Léger designed for La Création du monde. The ballet’s score was contributed by Darius Milhaud, a member of the group Les Six, known for infusing the European symphonic tradition with aspects of jazz and blues music. Freely mixing African and African American cultural references, La Création du monde grew out of European primitivism and typified the ‘‘negrophilia’’ which pervaded high art and popular culture in the 1920s. The ballet’s narrative, which resembled the biblical story of Genesis, purportedly drew from myths of the Fang peoples of West Central Africa, then part of French Congo. This theme of creation linked the French colonial enterprise with the regeneration of the nation in the aftermath of World War I.