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FOUND TEXT: Vaslav Nijinsky The Diary of Vaslav Nijinksy Editors' Note: The following excerpts are taken from The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, translated from the Russian by Kyrii FitzLyon and edited by Joan Acocella, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in early 1999. Joan Acocella is the dance critic for The New Yorker. She is currently writing a biographical/critical study of Mikhail Baryshnikov. Kyrii FitzLyon originally translated the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky for Sotheby's in 1979. THE DIARY OF VASLAV NIJINSKY/ Joan Acocella, Editor INTRODUCTION In early 1919, when he wrote the diary excerpted here, Nijinsky was twenty-nine years old. He was the most famous male ballet dancer in the world, and he was out of work and entering a psychotic break. He knew that something unusual was going on in his brain—"Everyone thinks I am ill," he wrote—and he seems to have begun the diary in order to show thathe was not mad but instead had risen to a new plane of understanding. He had received a message from God: that people should stop thinking and begin "feeling"—that is, that they should deal with one another through empathy and love, not through intellect and calculation. He intended to publish the diary in order to disseminate this teaching from God. At times, as the diary shows, he felt he was God. Nijinsky, born in 1889, was the second of three children of Thomas and Eleanora Nijinsky, a Polish couple who made their living as dancers on the touring circuit in Poland and Russia. He received his ballet training at St. Petersburg's famous Imperial Theatrical School, and in 1907, at age eighteen, he joined the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg. He would not remain there long, however. In 1908 he met Serge Diaghilev, the leading member of the capital's so-called World of Art group, which had revolutionized Russian art in the 1890s, liberating it from the political tendentiousness of the late nineteenth century. For several years, Diaghilev had been acting as a kind of cultural ambassador, presenting Russian painting, music, and opera in Paris. For 1909, he was planning a season of Russian ballet in Paris. He hired Nijinsky for the season. The two men also became lovers. Nijinsky was nineteen, Diaghilev thirty-five. That series of baUet concerts in Paris in 1909 was the genesis of the Ballets Russes, which under Diaghilev's direction became the most celebrated theatrical enterprise in Europe in the 1910s and 1920s. Before World War I, Nijinsky was the BaUets Russes' greatest star. He made his fame primarily in the baUets of Michel Fokine, Diaghilev's first "house" choreographer—works such as Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, Le Spectre de The Missouri Review · 111 la Rose, and Petrouchka. In these baUets Nijinsky not only displayed an unprecedented technical virtuosity; according to witnesses, he was also an utterly extraordinary actor, capable of emblematizing whole states of character and feeling in a single dance phrase. But Nijinsky wanted to be more than a dancer, and soon, with Diaghilev's encouragement, he began to choreograph. Between 1912 and 1913 he created three ballets—The Afternoon of a Faun, Jeux (Games), and The Rite of Spring (it was for the last that Stravinsky wrote his famous score)—that were far removed from the realm of suave, poetic sentiment in which his predecessors had operated. These dances used sharp angles, turned-in feet, bunched fists, "ugliness." Furthermore, they took on daring subject matter—notably, sex. They were Ught and dry (Jeux) or hammering and violent (The Rite of Spring). Only one of them, The Afternoon ofa Faun, survives today, but it alone testifies that Nijinksy was ballet's first modernist choreographer, the first to introduce into classical dance the kinds of experiment that Picasso, for example, was at that time making in painting. Nijinsky no sooner became a choreographer than he was separated from the only institution, the Ballets Russes, that at that time would produce choreography such as his. By 1913, when he produced The Rite of Spring, his relationship with Diaghilev had deteriorated. Probably, they were no longer lovers. In any case, Diaghilev was looking for another choreographer. That...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 109-134
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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