Nijinsky, Vaslav Fomich

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(18891950), Russian dancer and choreographer.

The most famous Russian male dancer, Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky was also a choreographer, though madness cut short his career. Nijinsky, like his colleague Anna Pavlova, achieved international fame through his appearances with Sergei Diagilev's Ballets Russes in Paris, beginning in 1909. Trained at the Imperial Theater School in St. Petersburg, Nijinsky joined the Imperial Ballet in 1907, but left the troupe in 1911, his international career already well established. Onstage, Nijinsky's somewhat sturdy frame became a lithe instrument of unprecedented lightness and elevation. Noted for seemingly effortless leaps, Nijinsky's photographs also reveal the dancer's uncanny ability to transform himself from role to role. Nijinsky's first choreography, for L'Après-midi d'un Faune (1912), to Debussy's music, scandalized Paris with its eroticism, though the ballet's true innovation lay in its turn from the virtuosity for which Nijinsky had become famous. Nijinsky's choreography for Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps (1913) went even farther in demonstrating the choreographer's disdain for the niceties of ballet convention and his embrace of primitivism. Asymmetrical and unlovely, the work was dropped from the Ballets Russes repertory after some nine performances.

Nijinsky, once the lover of Diagilev, married in 1913 and was dismissed from Diagilev's company. After itinerant and often unsuccessful performances during World War I, Nijinsky was diagnosed a schizophrenic in 1919. The remaining years of the great dancer's life were spent mostly in sanitoriums.

See also: ballet; bolshoi theater; diagilev, sergei:pavlovich; pavlova, anna matveyevna


Buckle, Richard. (1971). Nijinsky. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nijinsky, Vaslav. (1999). The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, tr. Kyril Fitz Lyon; ed. Joan Acocella. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

Ostwald, Peter. (1991). Vaslav Nijinsky: A Leap into Madness. New York: Carol.

Tim Scholl