Synopsis

On January 19, 1919 at 5pm 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.

—John Neumeier

 

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 Scheherazade, 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, including L’Après-midi d’un faune, Jeux, The Rite of Spring (Le sacre du printemps), and later, Till Eulenspiegel.

A woman in red, Romola de Pulsky, who will later become Nijinsky’s wife, crisscrosses 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 du 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 himself—that has gone mad…

The Suvretta House performance, and my ballet, end with Nijinsky’s last dance: the War.

—John Neumeier

The Hamburg Ballet — John Neumeier: Nijinsky
Composers: Chopin, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich
Choreographer: John Neumeier

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