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Ballet by John Neumeier

Nijinsky

"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.


Music: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Dmitri Shostakovich
Choreography, Set and Costumes: John Neumeier

2 hours 45 minutes | 1 intermission

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

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

In the Repertory:
The Australian Ballet
The National Ballet of Canada

[Read more]
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.

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