Ballet by John Neumeier

 

 
Music
  Frédéric Chopin
Prelude N° 20
Robert Schumann
"Carnaval" op. 26, 1st movement
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
"Sheherazade" op. 35, 1st, 3rd and 4th movement

Dmitri Shostakovich
Sonata for Viola and Piano op. 147, 3rd movement
Eleventh Symphony op. 103

 
  Choreography, Set and Costumes
based partly on original sketches
by Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois
John Neumeier

1 intermission - 2 hours 45 min.

 

World Premiere
The Hamburg Ballet, Hamburg, July 2, 2000

 

Original Cast    
Vaslav Nijinsky
  Jirí Bubenícek
Romola Nijinsky, the wife
  Anna Polikarpova
Bronislava Nijinska, the sister
  Elizabeth Loscavio
Stanislav Nijinsky, the brother
  Yukichi Hattori
Serge Diaghilev,
impresario and mentor
  Ivan Urban
Eleonora Bereda, the mother
  Joëlle Boulogne
Thomas Nijinsky, the father
  Carsten Jung
The Ballerina, Tamara Karsavina   Heather Jurgensen
The new dancer, Leonid Massine   Guido Warsany
Nijinsky - The Dancer
   
as Arlequin in "Carnaval"
  Alexandre Riabko
later Guido Warsany
as the spirit of the rose in
"Le Spectre de la rose"
  Alexandre Riabko
as the Golden Slave in "Sheherazade"
  Otto Bubenícek
as the Young Man in "Jeux"
  Guido Warsany
later Andrzej Glosniak
as the Faun in
"L'Après-midi d'un faune"
  Otto Bubenícek
later Carsten Jung
as Petrushka in "Petrushka"   Lloyd Riggins
Nijinsky's shadow   Yukichi Hattori
Alexandre Riabko

 

On Tour
2001 Hanover 2002 Copenhagen, Baden-Baden 2003 Hong Kong, Madrid, Paris, St. Petersburg 2004 New York, Orange County (CA), Reggio Emilia, Washington 2005 Tokyo 2009 Monte-Carlo 2011 Stuttgart 2012 Beijing, Shanghai, Brisbaine 2013 Chicago, San Francisco

 

CarnavalLe Spectre de la roseScheherazadeJeuxPetruschka

 

This ballet is based on the life and legend of one of the most exceptional artists of our century: Vaslav Nijinsky. As a dancer, Nijinsky experienced popularity, publicity and fame comparable only to that of Rudolf Nurejev during his times. It was as a choreographer however that Nijinsky established a new direction - a dance vision pointing the way towards modern choreography.

The character and destiny of Nijinsky inspired John Neumeier once before to create a short ballet: "Vaslav" in 1979. In 2000, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Polish-Russian dancer’s death, Neumeier celebrates Nijinsky and dedicates the full-length ballet to this extraordinary artist and mysterious human being.

 

"Nijinsky" is the title of this "choreographic approach" to a dance phenomenon that has been part of Neumeier's life ever since the beginning of his career.

During his approximately ten years as a dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky set a new standard both technically and expressively, while in his choreographic work he pointed the way towards modern dance. His personal fate and mental illness that forced him to spend the last 30 years of his life in various asylums and in the keeping of his wife gave his short artistic career an even more awe-inspiring and sensational quality.

All three aspects - the dancer, the choreographer and the person Nijinsky - form the starting point for John Neumeier's latest creation. Neumeier, who as early as 1979 presented a short ballet "Vaslav", is regarded as one of the leading Nijinsky experts worldwide. Nevertheless, it was not without reluctance that he took up the task of honouring through dance a dance legend: "In creating a work about a historical person, what aspect should we concentrate on? Who was he truly: The man? The artist? Which witness, what information can we trust, which theories should one follow? What point of view can we take towards the complex puzzle Nijinsky? An instinctive choice must be made..."

Two major works form the musical basis of the ballet: Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem "Scheherazade", and the 11th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, subtitled "The year 1905". Furthermore, there are two short piano pieces, used for the prologue - Chopin's C minor prélude and "Carnaval" by Schumann - as well as the adagio movement from Shostakovich's sonata for viola and piano, his last work.

"Nijinsky" is not a biographical ballet: "A ballet can never be a documentary", Neumeier says. "It is basically a biography of the soul, a biography of feelings and sensations. Perhaps, a particular situation, historical or imagined, might be suggested. But this is not a narrative ballet. Perhaps it's not even one single complete ballet, but a series of choreographic approaches to the enormous theme: Nijinsky. In the end, it's important that it is a ballet, a work of art in itself, understandable, enjoyable, and moving - without having read a single word about Nijinsky."

The ballet begins in a reconstruction of the "Festsaal" in the Suvretta-Haus, a hotel in St-Moritz, the room of Nijinsky's last performance as a dancer: it is a moment of transition, a place of memory and premonition.

The set and costumes have been designed by John Neumeier. To show various aspects of the person and performer Nijinsky, he has chosen to have several dancers represent fragments of Nijinsky's persona.

 

Synopsis

On January 19, 1919
at five o'clock in the afternoon in a ballroom of the Suvretta House Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Vaslav Nijinsky danced publicly for the last time. He called this performance his "Wedding with God".

My ballet "Nijinsky" begins with a realistic recreation of this situation. The choreography which follows, however, visualizes his thoughts, memories and hallucinations during this last performance.
 

PART I
Prompted by the imagined appearance of his former mentor, impresario and lover, Serge de Diaghilev, Nijinsky recalls images of his sensational career with the Ballets Russes.

Dancers, as aspects of his personality, perform fragments from his most famous roles.
"Harlequin", the Poet in "Les Sylphides", the Golden Slave in "Sheherazade" and the "Spectre de la rose" merge and mingle with characters from his private life.

His Sister Bronislava,later a choreographer, his older Brother Stanislav, trained also to be a dancer - but marked from childhood by signs of madness, and his Mother, the dancer Eleonora Bereda, who along with his Father Thomas were the children's first teachers, also appear in his dreamlike fantasy.

In another scene of the ballet, Nijinsky remembers his search for a new choreographic language. His experiments with movement result in his own original ballets "L'Après-midi d'un Faune", "Jeux", "Le Sacre du printemps" and later "Till Eulenspiegel".

A woman in red, Romola de Pulsky who will later become Nijinsky's wife, criss-crosses his confused recollections.
He relives their first encounter on a ship to South America and their abrupt marriage - an event causing the ultimate break with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.
 

PART II
Nijinsky's madness drives him more and more inside himself.
Memories of Childhood, Family, School, and the Mariinsky Theatre blend with nightmare visions of World War I - and his wife's infidelity.

The scandalous premiere of his ballet "Le Sacre de printemps" appears juxtaposed with the brutality of World War I and his brother Stanislav's death.

Romola is with him through difficult and bad times.

In Nijinsky’s eyes, it is the world around him - not "Nijinsky" that has gone mad…

The Suvretta House performance and my ballet end with Nijinsky's last dance - the War.
J.N.

 

Reviews

Imagine trying to imitate one of the greatest dancers and most famous stars who ever lived. You can't do it, of course, and nobody knows that better than Neumeier, who claims the historical Nijinsky as his lifelong inspiration and study. What he has done is to evoke incidents, roles, influences and people in Nijinsky's dazzling but short career as star of the Russian Ballet and his sad further life after descending into madness.
The ballet's starting point is the last time its subject danced publicly, before an invited audience in a Swiss hotel in 1919. Almost at once the choreography shows his already crazed mind and his remembered grace. There are glimpses of an uncanny virtuosity, a powerful expressiveness, anger, love, pride and fear. From this follow two long acts of phantasmagoria suggesting not only the great man's roles (several other dancers embody the best of them, and the choreography implies but does not directly copy the originals), but also his family, his relationship with Sergei Diaghilev as director, mentor and lover, the effect of the Great War, and much more besides.
Although immensely complex (you would need several viewings to take in every detail), the work is gripping at first sight, and reveals the quality of a company whose every member shares in the overwhelming total effect. Music by Chopin and Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich, powers the work on its way. Neumeier's own designs echo the great period of Benois and Bakst. This is very much an ensemble piece, but Jiri Bubenicek's command of the central role - he is on stage almost throughout - provides a solid focus. He is impressive equally for technique, style and drama and an amazing presence.
John Percival, The Independent
 

US Tour 2013

John Neumeier's "Nijinsky" aspires to be as original a full-length ballet as its hero, and it succeeds often enough to be both a stunning homage to a great experimentalist and a compelling theatrical achievement in its own right. Moreover, it is a remarkable show piece for Neumeier's very modern, very distinct Hamburg Ballet, which got its official Chicago debut over the weekend at the Harris Theater by performing this 2000 work.
Chicago Tribune

 

US Tour 2004

In German dance, the heart moves first
American troupes could learn from Hamburg Ballet's "Nijinsky" which bonds stellar technique to dramatic expression.
Neumeier deliberately breaks so many rules of dance storytelling that most of all his ballet seems a tribute to Nijinsky as choreographic pathfinder or perhaps an attempt to suggest the autobiographical memoir that Nijinsky himself might have staged - in his mind, at least - during his final years.
Indeed, The Hamburg Ballet teems with distinctive dancers who can look antique and contemporary, ethereal and sensual, gay and straight in multiple roles or - as with Lloyd Riggins as Petrushka - turn a cameo into a special event.
In life, there was only one Vaslav Nijinsky, but in each Hamburg Ballet performance last week of "Nijinsky", a John Neumeier dance-drama about this unique virtuoso and choreographer, there were seven: one enmeshed in the title character's tangled relationships, six representing the roles he created that came to define his legend.
Rare is the company that can field seven Nijinskys in a single night, but Hamburg did it, cast after cast.
In most other companies, the overwhelming sweetness, fire, technical precision and menace that Bubenicek commands would leave other dancers in the dust. But here, in a community of such accomplished, passionate, thinking Hamburg artists, he's simply the biggest news in an evening full of discoveries.
18th century choreographer-theoretician Jean-Georges Noverre, who considered ballet, most of all, to be "the art of impressing, by truly significant movements, gesture and facial expressions, our feelings on the minds of the audience." For all its complexity, "Nijinsky" reflects that commitment.
Lewis Segal, Los Angeles Times

A complex and unconventional two-act "dream" ballet, "Nijinsky" had its U.S. premiere at the Orange County Performing Arts Center greeted with a standing ovation. Thirty years was a long time to wait, but at least Hamburg Ballet finally got here.
Laura Bleiberg, The Orange County Register

Vaslav Nijinsky, ballet's most legendary superstar, is the subject of more than one ballet. But none has the vision, passion and detail that John Neumeier has poured into "Nijinsky", the two-act dramatic spectacular he presented with The Hamburg Ballet over the weekend.
It is a pity that this engagement, with outstanding casts on both Friday and Saturday nights, ended yesterday at City Center.
Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times

Dynamic, rich and gripping theater... Nijinsky, in his own works, the greatest virtuoso of his day rejected technical feats for a more stylized and coarsened approach. Though these works are, for the most part, lost - no authoritative record of them remains aside from photos, sketches and notes - Neumeier recreates their modern, angular look with great efficiency... The cast is excellent across the board. Strong classical training gives a crisp edge to the variety of dance styles that Neumeier incorporates... The course of this extraordinary evening, the shattering of a man, and the utter devastation of his existence, is made searingly plain.
Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post

 

A Choreographer and Nijinsky: Facets of a Fascination
by John Neumeier

Nijinsky
 

Photos

 
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