Pride Issue: ‘The Impresarios’

Published in: May-June 2023 issue.


WE ARE EVERYWHERE, of course, but LGBT people are famously well represented in the arts. And among those who make things happen in the performing arts, “the impresarios,” the LGBT presence is unmistakable. This is certainly the case for the period covered in this issue, essentially the Modernist era of the early to mid-20th century.

            It was a period in which the prevalence of gay people in the arts was so pronounced that it even earned an epithet—“the Homintern,” a play on Lenin’s “Comintern.” While this label implied a conspiracy on the part of homosexuals to dominate the arts—a dubious proposition—what can’t be denied is that they played an outsize role in a number of areas, not only as creative artists but also as founders of arts institutions.

            Evidence for the Homintern resides in the dramatis personæ of this period. Figures like Proust, Forster, and Auden towered over their fields of endeavor. Years ago, in this magazine, the late Ned Rorem set out to enumerate the truly great composers of the last century, and he concluded that at least half were gay (Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem, Virgil Thomson, and Ralph Vaughn Williams). Among women artists, figures from Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf to Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde have played similarly prominent parts.

            If there’s one individual who personifies the term “impresario,” it has to be Sergei Diaghilev, who started in Russia as an art curator for great museums and went on to found the Ballets Russes, in Paris, in 1907, which launched the careers of numerous dancers, including the great Nijinsky, who was also one of his many lovers. Allen Ellenzweig argues here that Diaghilev reimagined the dance as an integrated art form involving music, story, costume, décor, and choreography.

            Lincoln Kirstein was America’s answer to Diaghilev, cofounding a great dance company, the New York City Ballet, along with George Balanchine, who was Diaghilev’s last major choreographer. Martin Duberman tells the story of how Kirstein brought Balanchine to the U.S., and how they created what would become an American institution.

            A piece by Andrew Holleran tells the curious tale of writer-producer Arthur Laurents, who, when writing the screenplay for the Redford-Streisand vehicle The Way We Were, based the love affair on his own relationship with Tom Hatcher. But Laurents, who wrote West Side Story and numerous other plays and screenplays, not to mention directing and producing many plays and films, certainly merits the term impresario.

            Someone else who qualifies by the sheer breadth of her artistic reach is Léonor Fini, an Impressionist painter who worked in set and costume design for theater, opera, ballet, and cinema, even publishing three novels. Emily L. Quint Freeman traces Fini’s move from Argentina to Paris in a widening arc of artistic interests and accomplishments.