Jul 20, 2014

Serge Lifar: Gay Masculine Beauty during the Jazz Age

During the 1920s, the go-to guy for masculine beauty was a Russian ballet dancer named Serge or Sergei Lifar.

Born in Kiev, Russia in 1905, Lifar went to Paris in 1923 and joined the Ballet Russes as Sergei Diaghilev's newest protege-lover.  In 1925, he became lead dancer, to the consternation of previous protege-lovers who were no longer getting the best roles.

Ballet was big during the Jazz Age, maybe because it was the only art form that allowed audiences to see masculine biceps and bulges, and Diaghilev showed off Lifar's every chance he got.  In La Chatte (1927), Lifar entered the stage riding in a "chariot" formed entirely of men.

That didn't sit well with the other members of the ballet company.

In 1929, Diaghilev died, and Lifar moved on to become the director of the Paris Opera Company, where he staged and danced in his own creations, including a renovation of The Afternoon of a Faun in 1935, and Icare (1935), his masterpiece, about the Greek boy who flew too close to the sun.

But Lifar was famous far beyond the world of ballet.  He was photographed in newspapers and magazines. He was painted and sculpted.  He was on a stamp in the Ukraine.

He cavorted with artists, writers, and film stars, many involved in the gay culture of Paris Between the Wars, like Salvador Dali, Paul Valery, Jean Cocteau, Gertrude Stein, and Paul Robeson.

In 1944, during World War II, Lifar's collaboration with the Nazis got him "banned for life" from the Paris Opera.  He claimed that he was working as a secret agent (he returned in 1947).

And don't forget the "duel" he fought in 1958 with equally flamboyant ballet producer George de Cuevas.

Lifar was not openly gay, but his many liaisons with men were well known in the ballet world.  He also sought out the attention of wealthy women who served as his benefactors.

He died in 1986.

See also: The Chilean Bad Boy

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