This month sees the anniversary of Vaslav Nijinsky’s death. In celebration, The Classical Shop has compiled a selection of albums related to this controversial and boundary-pushing Russian ballet dancer and choreographer.
Here’s a little background to this extraordinary figure in ballet’s history.
Sergei Diaghilev formed The Ballet Russes in 1909. He brought Nijinsky in from the Mariinsky Theatre, who joined a tour of the West with Anna Pavlova. Here, Nijinsky performed in works showcasing his talent such as Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty; Arensky’s Cleopatra and Tcherepnin’s Le Pavillon d’Armide. After these performances he returned to the Mariinsky Theatre, but was dismissed from the theatre after a scandal. Many suspect that this may have been orchestrated to leave him free to perform in the West, as he then went on to perform one of his most famous roles as Petrushka (by Igor Stravinsky).
L’apres-midi d’un faune and Jeux, both works based on music by Claude Debussy were amongst the first to be choreographed by Nijinsky. They were both controversial but it was the performance of Stravinsky’sThe Rite of Spring in 1913 that really prompted a scandal at its premiere in Paris (it was not just the final scene of the production but the new ultra modern score that shocked audiences).
During World War I Nijinsky was released from Hungary to perform in a tour of North America where he performed the lead role as well as choreographing the production of Till Eulenspiegel (based on music by Claude Debussy). However, it was now that he showed signs of mental strain and in 1919 he suffered a mental breakdown. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and his wife took him to Switzerland, he was treated albeit unsuccessfully there, but this really was the end of his career.
The rest of Nijinsky’s life was spent in and out of asylums and psychiatric hospitals and he died in a clinic in London. A grizzly fact from his death - when he died, a doctor cut open his feet hoping to be able to explain his ability to perform his amazing leaps by showing different bone or formation to that of an average man but was disappointed to discover there were no differences!