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Vaslav Nijinsky
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Vaslav Nijinsky

Vaslav (or Vatslav) Nijinsky (; ; ; ; March 12, 1889[1][2]/1890[3]April 8, 1950) was a Russian danseur and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century.[3][4] He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations. He could perform en pointe, a rare skill among male dancers at the time (Albright, 2004) and his ability to perform seemingly gravity-defying leaps was also legendary. The choreographer Bronislava Nijinska was his sister. He also had a brother Stassik Nijinsky.[1]



Vaslav Nijinsky in Scheherazade.

Vaslav Nijinsky was born in 1889[1][2] or 1890[3] in Kiev, Ukraine, a part of Russian Empire as Wac aw Ni y ski, to ethnic Polish parents, dancers Tomasz Ni y ski and Eleonora Bereda. Nijinsky was christened in Warsaw, and considered himself to be a Pole despite difficulties in properly speaking the language as a result of his childhood in Russia's interior where his parents worked.[5]

In 1900 Nijinsky joined the Imperial Ballet School, where he studied under Enrico Cecchetti, Nikolai Legat, and Pavel Gerdt. At 18 years old he was given a string of leads. In 1910, the company's Prima ballerina assoluta Mathilde Kschessinska selected Nijinsky to dance in a revival of Marius Petipa's Le Talisman, during which Nijinsky created a sensation in the role of the Wind God Vayou.

A turning point for Nijinsky was his meeting Sergei Diaghilev, a celebrated and highly innovative producer of ballet and opera as well as art exhibitions, who concentrated on promoting Russian visual and musical art abroad,[6] particularly in Paris. Nijinsky and Diaghilev became lovers for a time,[7][8] and Diaghilev was heavily involved in directing and managing Nijinsky's career. In 1909 Diaghilev took a company of Russian opera and ballet stars to Paris featuring Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. The season of colorful Russian ballets and operas, works mostly new to the West, was a great success. It led Diaghilev to create his famous company the Ballets Russes with choreographer Michel Fokine and designer L on Bakst. The Paris seasons of the Ballets Russes were an artistic and social sensation; setting trends in art, dance, music and fashion for the next decade.

Nijinsky's unique talent showed in Fokine's pieces such as Le Pavillon d'Armide (music by Nikolai Tcherepnin), Cleopatra (music by Anton Arensky and other Russian composers) and a divertissement La F te. His expressive execution of a pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty (Tchaikovsky) was a tremendous success; in 1910 he performed in Giselle, and Fokine's ballets Carnaval and Scheherazade (based on the orchestral suite by Rimsky-Korsakov). His portrayal of "Petrouchka" the puppet with a soul, as he danced in blackface was a remarkable showmanship of his ability to transform into this characters. His partnership with Tamara Karsavina, also of the Mariinsky Theatre, was legendary, and they have been called the "most exemplary artists of the time".[9] Nijinsky in Le Spectre de la Rose Tombstone of Vaslav Nijinsky in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, showing year of birth as 1889. The statue, donated by Serge Lifar, shows Nijinsky as the puppet Petrushka.

Nijinsky took the creative reins and choreographed ballets, which pushed boundaries and stirred controversy. His ballets were L'apr s-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun, based on Claude Debussy's Pr lude l'apr s-midi d'un faune) (1912), Jeux (1913), Till Eulenspiegel (1916). In The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), with music by Igor Stravinsky) (1913), Nijinsky created choreography that exceeded the limits of traditional ballet and propriety. For the first time, his audiences were experiencing the futuristic, new direction of modern dance. The radically angular movements expressed the heart of Stravinsky's radically modern score. Unfortunately, Nijinsky's new trends in dance caused a riotous reaction at the Th tre de Champs- lys es when they premiered in Paris. As the title character in L'apr s-midi d'un faune the final tableau (or scene), during which he mimed masturbation with the scarf of a nymph, caused a scandal; he was defended by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and Marcel Proust. Violence broke out in the audience as The Rite of Spring premiered. The theme of the ballet centered around a young maiden who was sacrificing herself by dancing until she died. The theme, the difficult music of Stravinsky combined with the heavy, pedestrian movement of Nijinsky's choreography led to a violent uproar. This uproar didn't seem displeasing to Diaghilev.

In 1913 the Ballets Russes toured South America. Diaghilev did not make this journey, because of a superstitious fear that he would die on the ocean if he ever sailed. Free from supervision, Nijinsky became acquainted with Romola de Pulszky, a Hungarian countess. An ardent fan of Nijinsky, she took up ballet and used her family connections to get close to him. Despite her efforts to attract him, Nijinsky initially appeared unaware of her interest. They married while over seas which infuriated Diaghilev. When the company returned to Europe Diaghilev is reported to have flown into a rage, culminating in Nijinsky's dismissal.

During World War I, Nijinsky was interned in Hungary. Diaghilev with the help of King Alfonso XIII of Spain succeeded in getting him out for a North American tour in 1916. However, it was around this time in his life that signs of his schizophrenia were becoming apparent to members of the company. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and taken to Switzerland by his wife, where he was treated unsuccessfully by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler.

He spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums. During the last days of World War II, Nijinsky danced in public for the last time. He encountered a group of Russian soldiers decamped outside of Vienna, playing traditional folk tunes. Inspired by the music and his reunion with his countrymen, he leapt into an exquisite dance, astounding the men with the complexity and grace of his figures. The experience restored some of Nijinsky's capacity for communication, after having maintained long periods of almost absolute silence.[10] Nijinsky died in a clinic in London on April 8, 1950 and was buried in London until 1953 when his body was moved to Montmartre Cemetery, Paris, France beside the graves of Ga tan Vestris, Th ophile Gautier, and Emma Livry.


Nijinsky's daughter Kyra married the Ukrainian conductor Igor Markevitch, and they had a son named Vaslav. The marriage ended in divorce.

Nijinsky's Diary was written during the six weeks he spent in Switzerland before being committed to the asylum, combining elements of autobiography with appeals for compassion toward the less fortunate, and for vegetarianism and animal rights. Nijinsky writes of the importance of feeling as opposed to reliance on reason and logic alone, and he denounces the practice of art criticism as being nothing more than a way for those who practice it to indulge their own egos rather than focusing on what the artist was trying to say. The diary also contains bitter and conflicted thoughts regarding his relationship with Diaghilev.

As a dancer, Nijinsky was extraordinary for his time. His main talent was probably as much in his charisma and skill in mime and characterization as strictly technical ability (Stanislas Idzikowski could leap as high and as far).Nijinsky is responsible for changing the audiences perspective of the male dancer. He was a sensual performer and wore revealing costumes. He looked androgynous.

Nijinsky is immortalized in numerous still photographs, many of which were made by E.O. Hopp , who extensively photographed the Ballets Russes London seasons between 1909 and 1921. However, no film exists of Nijinsky dancing; Diaghilev never allowed the Ballets Russes to be filmed, because he felt that the quality of film at the time could never capture the artistry of his dancers, and that the reputation of the company would suffer if people saw it only in short jerky films.[11]

Cultural depictions

In plays

  • Clownmaker (1975) Richard Crane/Faynia Williams Edinburgh Festival Fringe First Award, transfer to London and New York
  • In 1974-75, Terence Rattigan was commissioned to write a play about Nijinsky and Diaghilev, as the BBC's Play of the Month. He completed the script and was very happy with it, but Romola Nijinsky objected to her late husband's being depicted as a homosexual. Rattigan, himself a homosexual, was sympathetic to her view and decided he did not want the work produced in his lifetime, so he withdrew it. He died in 1977; the play has never been staged.[12][13]
  • A Cavalier for Milady: A Play in Two Scenes [c. 1976] is a one act play by Tennessee Williams that includes a fantastical, non-literal appearance by Nijinsky. In the play, an adult woman named Nance (who is dressed a Victorian era child) has been left by her mother with a hostile "babysitter," who is distressed by the attention that Nance is paying to a Greek statue of a "naked man" (while keeping her fingers running on her lap). Eventually the babysitter leaves and an apparition of Nijinsky appears and comforts Nance about her mental state in a strange, touching interaction.
  • Chinchilla (1977) by Robert David MacDonald.
  • Nijinsky: God's Mad Clown (1986) by Glenn J. Blumstein.[14]
  • Ni y ski (2005) by Waldemar Zawodzinski.[15]
  • ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 5 (2011), actor/playwright Jade Esteban Estrada portrayed Nijinsky in this solo musical
  • Nijinsky - The Miraculous God of Dance (2011), Sagiri Seina performed the title role in the Takarazuka Revue production in Japan

In film

  • Nijinsky (uncompleted film, 1970)

The screenplay was written by Edward Albee. The film was to be directed by Tony Richardson and star Rudolf Nureyev as Nijinsky, Claude Jade as Romola and Paul Scofield as Diaghilev, but producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman canceled the project.

Directed by Herbert Ross, starring George de la Pe a as Nijinsky, Leslie Browne as Romola, Alan Bates as Diaghilev and Jeremy Irons as Fokine. Romola Nijinsky had a writing credit for the film.

  • The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (2001)

Directed and written by Paul Cox. The screenplay was based directly on Nijinsky's diaries and read over related imagery. The subject matter included his work, his sickness, and his relationships with Diaghilev as well as his wife.

  • Riot at the Rite (2005)

A TV drama, directed by Andy Wilson. Centers around the first performance of The Rite of Spring. Nijinsky is portrayed by Adam Garcia.

  • Nijinsky & Neumeier Soulmates in Dance (2009)

Documentary on influence of Nijinsky's work on the contemporary American choreographer John Neumeier. Produced by Lothar Mattner for WDR/ARTE.[16] By Jan Kounen

A French film directed by Jan Kounen about an affair between Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. Nijinsky is portrayed in scenes depicting the creation of The Rite of Spring. Character of Nijinsky played by Polish actor Marek Kossakowski.

In poetry

In novel

  • Vaslav (2010) by Dutch novelist Arthur Japin[17]
  • He's a regularly occurring background gag character in Aoike Yasuko's "Sons of Eve" or "Ibu no Musukotachi" manga as Heath Ethan's stalker. He is always depicted in women's ballet uniforms & frequently turns into a swan.

In music

  • In 2011, composer Jade Esteban Estrada wrote the song "Beautiful" for the musical, ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 5.
  • A verse of the song "Dancing" from the album Mask (1981) by the Bauhaus refers to Nijinsky "...Dancing on hallowed ground/Dancing Nijinsky style/Dancing with the lost and found..."
  • A verse of the song "Prospettiva Nevskj" from the Album "Patriots" (1980) by Franco Battiato quotes Nijinsky, his peculiar dancing style, and hints to his relation with Diaghilev "poi guardavamo con le facce assenti la grazia innaturale di Nijinsky. E poi di lui si innamor perdutamente il suo impresario e dei balletti russi "

In competitive skating

  • Since 2003 Evgeni Plushenko has performed Tribute to Vaslav Nijinsky in figure skating competitions all over the world. He earned across the board perfect 6.0s for artistic impression in 2003/ 2004, on Rus Nat Champ, St.Petersburg.


See also



External links

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