Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky (Вацлав Фомич Нижинский; transliterated: Vatslav Fomich Nizhinsky; Polish: Wacław Niżyński) (March 12, 1889 – April 8, 1950) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent. Nijinsky was one of the most gifted male dancers in history, and 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.
A turning point for Nijinsky was his meeting Sergei Diaghilev, a member of the St. Petersburg elite and a wealthy patron of the arts, promoting Russian visual and musical art abroad, particularly in Paris. Nijinsky and Diaghilev grew to become lovers, and Diaghilev, a controlling, dominant personality, became heavily involved in directing and managing Nijinsky's career. In 1909 Diaghilev took his dance company Ballets Russes, company to Paris, with Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova as the leads. The show was a great success and increased the reputations of both leads, as well as Diaghilev's, throughout the artistic circles of Europe. Diaghilev had created Les Ballets Russes in its wake of public response, and with choreographer Michel Fokine, made it one of the most well-known companies of that time.
Nijinsky's 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 “The Feast”. 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 partnership with Tamara Karsavina, also of the Mariinsky Theatre, was legendary.
Then Nijinsky went back to the Mariinsky Theatre, but was dismissed for appearing on-stage during a performance as Albrecht in Giselle wearing tights without the modesty trunks obligatory for male dancers in the company. The Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna complained that his appearance was obscene, and he was dismissed. It is probable that the scandal was arranged by Diaghilev in order that Nijinsky could be free to appear with his company, in the west, where many of his projects now centered around him. He danced lead roles in Fokine's new productions Le Spectre de la Rose (Weber), and Igor Stravinsky's Petrushka, in which his impersonation of a dancing but lifeless puppet was widely admired.
Nijinski took the creative reins and choreographed ballets, which slew 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), Till Eulenspiegel (1916) and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring, 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 scores. Unfortunately, Nijinski's new trends in dance caused a riotous reaction at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées when it premiered in Paris. As the title character in L'après-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 accused by half of Paris of obscenity, but defended by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and Proust.
Numerous speculations as to the true reason for their marriage have arisen, including the suggestion that Nijinsky saw Romola's title and supposed wealth as a means to escape Diaghilev's repression.
Romola has often been vilified as the woman who forced Nijinsky to abandon his artistry for cabaret fare, her pragmatic and plebeian ways often jarring with his sensitive nature. In his diary, Nijinsky famously said of Romola "My wife is an untwinkling star ..." They were married in Buenos Aires: when the company returned to Europe. Diaghilev is reported to have flown into a jealous rage because he and Nijinsky were supposed to be lovers, and he fired Nijinsky. Nijinsky tried in vain to create his own troupe, but a crucial London engagement failed due to administrative problems.
During World War I Nijinsky was interned in Hungary. Diaghilev succeeded in getting Nijinski out for a North American tour in 1916. During this time, Nijinski choreographed and danced the leading role in Till Eulenspiegel. Around this time in his life, signs of his dementia praecox were becoming apparent to members of the company. He grew afraid of other dancers and imagined that a trap door would be left open.
Nijinsky had a nervous breakdown in 1919, and his career effectively ended. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and taken to Switzerland by his wife, where he was treated unsuccessfully by psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler. He spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums. Nijinsky died in a London clinic on April 8, 1950 and was buried in London until 1953 when his body was moved to Cimetière de Montmartre, Paris, France beside the graves of Gaetano Vestris, Theophile Gautier, and Emma Livry.
Nijinsky's daughter Kyra married the Ukrainian conductor Igor Markevich, 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. Obscure and confused, it is obviously the work of a schizophrenic, but in many ways reflects a loving nature, 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 a bitter exposé of Nijinsky's relationship with Diaghilev.
As a dancer Nijinsky was clearly extraordinary for his time. Towards the end of her life his dance partner Tamara Karsavina suggested that any young dancer out of the Royal Ballet School could now perform the technical feats with which he astonished his contemporaries. His main talent was probably not so much technical (Stanislas Idzikowski could leap as high and as far) as in mime and characterization; his major failing was that, being himself unable to form a satisfactory partnership with a woman, he was unsuccessful where such a relationship was important on-stage (in, say, Giselle). In epicene roles such as the god in Le Dieu Bleu, the rose in Spectre or the favourite slave in Scheherezade he was unsurpassed.
Written by Glenn J. Blumstein. Productions: The Kennedy Center (Washington, D.C. 1987); Teatr na Małej Bronnej (Moscow - 1997-1999); Występy w Teatrze Bagatela (Krakow, Poland, 1999)).
Written by Robert David MacDonald, Citizens' Theatre Company, Glasgow.
The screenplay was written by Edward Albee. The film was to be directed by Tony Richardson and star Rudolph Nureyev as Vaslav, 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 Pena as Vaslav, Leslie Browne as Romola, Alan Bates as Diaghilev and Jeremy Irons as Fokine. Pulzsky Romola had a writing credit for the film. Needless to say, she was portrayed completely sympathetically.
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.