Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky (Вацлав Фомич Нижинский; transliterated: Vatslav Fomich Nizhinsky; Polish: Wacław Niżyński)was born on 12 March, 1889 in Kiev, Ukraine and died on 8 April, 1950 in a London clinic 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. Tombstone of Vaslav Nijinsky in Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris. The statue, donated by Serge Lifar, shows Vaslav Nijinsky as the puppet Petrouchka.
Vaslav was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent. Vaslav 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 characterisations. Vaslav 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.
Vaslav Nijinsky was born to a Polish dancer’s family of Eleonora Bereda and Tomasz Niżyński. Vaslav Nijinsky was christened in Warsaw. In 1900 he joined the Imperial Ballet School, where he studied under Enrico Cecchetti, Nicholas Legat, and Pavel Gerdt. At 18 years old he was given a string of leads. In 1910, the company’s Prima ballerina assoluta Mathilde Kschessinskaya selected Vaslav Nijinsky to dance in a revival of Marius Petipa’s Le Talisman, during which Vaslav Nijinsky created a sensation in the role of the Wind God Vayou.
A turning point for Vaslav 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. Vaslav Nijinsky and Sergei Diaghilev grew to become lovers, and Sergei Diaghilev, a controlling, dominant personality, became heavily involved in directing and managing Vaslav Nijinsky’s career. In 1909 Sergei Diaghilev took his dance company Ballets Russes, company to Paris, with Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova as the leads. The show was a great success and increased the reputations of both leads, as well as Sergei Diaghilev’s, throughout the artistic circles of Europe. Sergei 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.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s talent showed in Michel 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”. Vaslav’s expressive execution of a pas de deux from the “Sleeping Beauty” (Tchaikovsky) was a tremendous success; in 1910 he performed in “Giselle”, and Michel Fokine’s ballets “Carnaval” and “Scheherazade” (based on the orchestral suite by Rimsky-Korsakov). partnership with Tamara Karsavina, also of the Mariinsky Theatre, was legendary.
Vaslav 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 Sergie Diaghilev in order that Vaslav Nijinsky could be free to appear with his company, in the west, where many of his projects now centered around him. Vaslav danced lead roles in Michel 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.
Vaslav Nijinsky took the creative reins and choreographed ballets, which slew boundaries and stirred controversy. Vaslav’s 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). Vaslav 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 Igor Stravinsky’s radically modern scores. Unfortunately, Vaslav 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 Rodin, Odilon Redon and Proust.
Vaslav Nijinsky was never filmed while performing. When it was suggested to Sergie Diaghilev to record Vaslav Nijinsky’s performances on films for later generations, he declined, saying that the later generations would find a way to take care of themselves.
Sergie Diaghilev did not make this fateful journey, because he was told by a fortune teller in his younger days, that he would die on the ocean if he ever sailed. Without his mentor’s supervision, Vaslav Nijinsky entered into a relationship with Romola Pulszky, a Hungarian countess. An ardent fan of Vaslav Nijinsky, she took up ballet and used her family connections to get close to him. Despite her efforts to attract him, Vaslav Nijinsky appeared unconscious of her presence. Finally Romola booked passage on board a ship that Vaslav Nijinsky was due to travel on, and during the voyage Romola succeeded in engaging his affections.
Numerous speculations as to the true reason for their marriage have arisen, including the suggestion that Vaslav Nijinsky saw Romola’s title and supposed wealth as a means to escape Sergie Diaghilev’s repression.
Romola has often been vilified as the woman who forced Vaslav Nijinsky to abandon his artistry for cabaret fare, her pragmatic and plebeian ways often jarring with his sensitive nature. In his diary, Vaslav Nijinsky famously said of Romola “My wife is an untwinkling star …” They were married in Buenos Aires: when the company returned to Europe. Sergie Diaghilev is reported to have flown into a jealous rage because he and Vaslav Nijinsky were supposed to be lovers, and he fired Vaslav Nijinsky. Vaslav Nijinsky tried in vain to create his own troupe, but a crucial London engagement failed due to administrative problems.
During World War I Vaslav Nijinsky was interned in Hungary. Sergie Diaghilev succeeded in getting Vaslav Nijinsky out for a North American tour in 1916. During this time, Vaslav 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. Vaslav Nijinsky grew afraid of other dancers and imagined that a trap door would be left open.
Vaslav Nijinsky had a nervous breakdown in 1919, and his career effectively ended. Vaslav Nijinsky was diagnosed with schizophrenia and taken to Switzerland by his wife, where he was treated unsuccessfully by psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler. Vaslav Nijinsky spent the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s daughter Kyra married the Ukrainian conductor Igor Markevich, and they had a son named Vaslav. The marriage ended in divorce.
Vaslav Nijinsky’s Diary was written during the 6 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. Vaslav 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 Vaslav Nijinsky’s relationship with Sergie Diaghilev.
As a dancer Vaslav 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. Vaslav Nijinsky’s 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.
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