VASLAV NIJINSKY  1889-1950 

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"Portrait of Vaslav Nijinsky"

Аuthor Rinat Kuramshin

Vatslav Fomich Nijinsky (1889-1950) is a Russian dancer and choreographer, a dance innovator. The “God of Dance”, the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the “King of the Air” – this is how he was called. He could dance en pointe, a rare skill among male dancers at the time and was admired for his seemingly gravity-defying leaps. In 1907, Nijinsky graduated from college and was hired by the Mariinsky Theater where he became a premier. Vatslav Nijinsky danced with such prima ballerinas as Matilda Kshesinskaya, Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina. He was fired from the Mariinsky Theater by demand of the Royal family because his costume in Giselle caused a scandal.

 Shortly after firing, Nijinsky joined Sergey Diaghilev’s company. The short period of cooperation with the Russian Ballets was most fruitful in the creative life of the dancer. In Paris he danced the repertoire that he had danced with the Mariinsky Theater: the Armida’s Pavilion, the Chopiniana and Silphide, the Egyptian Nights or Cleopatre, the Swan Lake, the Feast etc. Also, Nijinsky participated in M. Fokin’s new ballets: the Carnival, the Scheherazade, the Orientalies, the Spirit of the Rose where he surprised the Parisian audience by a fantastic jump into the window. He also danced parties in the Petrushka, the Blue God and the Daphnis and Chloe.

The apex of Nijinsky’s performance art was the third Diaghilev’s Ballet in 1911. At that time in London a shortened version of the Swan Lake was performed where M. Kshesinskaya and V. Nijinsky took part.

Nijinsky in each role of an oriental slave, a Russian clown, Alekhine or Chopin, created a bright and unique character with such great transformations that it was hard to believe that it was one and the same actor. Which of the roles reflected his own nature – that was a mystery for everybody. Everything was changing: the face, the skin, even his height. When he was dancing, everybody was mesmerized by his images and forgot about Nijinsky as a person. Once Vatslav appeared on the stage, an electric current ran over the audience hypnotizing people with perfection of his talent. That was the magic of his art. For Vatslav, dance was more natural than speech. He was so much himself and happy when he was dancing. When he stepped on the stage, nothing existed for him except for his role. He was enjoying the movements and the ability to dance. Nijinsky took the creative reins and choreographed ballets which pushed boundaries and stirred controversy. His ballets were L’après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun, based on Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune) (1912); Jeux (1913); and Till Eulenspiegel (1916). These introduced his audiences to the new direction of modern dance.

Photo. "V. Nijinsky in the ballet "Scheherazade"

Photo. The Theater Chatelet.

France, Paris

Photo. V. Nijinsky in the ballet "Afternoon rest of the Faun"

Photo. A. Pavlova

and V. Nijinsky

V. Nijinsky was a great dancer, but when he directed performances he was not very sure. It took him quite long to create a dance. He would often ask Diaghilev for support and was unsure asking his advice on every pas. His rehearsals were very long. His most famous performance was the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy staged in 1912. In Paris, the Afternoon of a Faun was booed by the public for “hideous movements of erotic animality and gestures of terrible shame”. The ballet was accepted more favourably in London, Vienne, Budapest and Berlin. The second modernistic staging by Nijinsky was the Rite of Spring staged in 1913 by Stravinsky’s music with sketches of costumes and decorations painted by Rerikh. In The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) Nijinsky created choreography that exceeded the limits of traditional ballet and propriety. The radically angular movements expressed the heart of Stravinsky’s radically modern score. The theme of the ballet, based on pagan myths, was a young maiden who sacrificed herself by dancing until she died.

The ballet was also accepted ambiguously by the public. The Spring was acknowledged a masterpiece only ten years later. Before 1913, Nijinsky was the premier dancer at Diaghilev’s troupe. Nijinsky was the first who was brave enough to individualize male ballet parts. His body control, plasticity, inimitable jumps made him a famous dancer with a phenomenal physical talent.

Having left Diaghilev, he decided to arrange an enterprise of his own. Nijinsky gathered a company of seventeen people and signed a contract with the Palace Theater in London. The repertoire consisted of Nijinsky’s performances. He also re-staged M. Fokin’s performances. Nevertheless, the tour was not successful and ended in a financial failure which caused a nervous breakdown and the beginning of the dancer’s mental illness. He was on the stage for the last time in 1917. Vatslav Nijinsky was an icon for the entire Europe. He was admired by O. Rodin, F. Shalyapin, I. Duncan, Ch. Chaplin and other contemporaries. In 1971, M. Bezhar dedicated the Nijinsky, God’s Mad Clown ballet (music by P. Henry and P.I. Chaikovsky) to Nijinsky.