Perm, a million-resident city on the banks of the Kama River (the city’s name means “faraway land” in Finno-Ugric), was the childhood home of ballet impresario Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. Born in 1872, Diaghilev moved to St. Petersburg at a young age and there (when just 26) helped found World of Art – one of the first and most prominent Russian art journals (and before that a vibrant art movement) of the last century. Yet he is best known for being the creator of Ballet Russes, the ballet company that united some of the most distinguished names in Russian art: composer Igor Stravinsky, ballerina Anna Pavlova, and pioneer of the Russian avant-garde, Natalia Goncharova. In the words of Coco Chanel, Ballet Russes “introduced Russia to the West.”
For most of the last century, few could identify the former Diaghilev residence in Perm, or even knew of the building’s existence. The Diaghilev family, which had long lived beyond its means, was bankrupted in 1890 and left Perm for St. Petersburg soon thereafter. Later, their nineteenth century home (built in 1852), became a bank and then a women’s gymnasium*; in 1926 it was converted into Gymnasium Number 11 – an unremarkable, slightly unkempt school.
Diaghilev was living in Paris when the Bolshevik revolution t