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Writing for CurtainUp
|A CurtainUp Review
By David Lipfert
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) continues to inspire writers and performers because of his extraordinary life and creative legacy. In Nijinsky Speaks which arrived in New York following six-month run in Los Angeles, Leonard Crofoot begins and ends his engagingly subjective look at perhaps the greatest male dancer of all time using quotes from The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (see book link at end). Crofoot handily fleshes out the personal and emotional aspects of key events in the dancer's career.
Highs and lows alternate with dizzying rapidity. Satisfaction over a successful audition for the competitive Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg was soon followed by the other students' painful jealousy. Adulation by the Russian public came to an abrupt end when Nijinsky was fired from the Imperial Ballet over his too- revealing costume in Giselle. Impresario/companion Serge Diaghilev quickly dropped him upon learning of his marriage to corps de ballet member Romola de Pulzky.
Nijinsky spent his final thirty years in an insane asylum under strict orders not to dance. During that period he kept a diary in which he described his creativity as divinely inspired and spoke of his special relationship with God. Crofoot does well to remind us of this side of Nijinsky, who is better known for his succession of protective relationships with men (first Prince Pavel Lvov, then Serge Diaghilev) and women (Romola de Pulzky).
As a choreographer, he changed the world of ballet with his first effort, Afternoon of a Faun, in which he reinvented archaic Greece. Like the Fauve painters a few years earlier, Nijinsky's angular hand and arm positions jarred the senses. No less a cultural icon than Rodin expressed his appreciation for the ballet. Crofoot animatedly describes the legendary scandal over the final scene: following an unsuccessful encounter with a group of wood nymphs, the lascivious faun of the title rubs against a smooth rocky outcropping to get satisfaction. It would take Igor Stravinsky's music to create a true riot in the Rite of Spring, to Nijinsky's equally revolutionary choreography.
Crofoot talks less about Nijinsky's dancing, which permanently altered the role of men in ballet as much as Anna Pavlova, one of his illustrious partners, did for women. Another famous partner, Tamara Karsavina, disappears in the background. Little is said about early dance successes with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes such as Scheherazade and Chopiniana (Les Sylphides). The character of Petrouchka, however, becomes the emblem of his existence at the asylum. Nijinsky blurred the dividing line between himself and his characters in a way that prefigured his eventual schizophrenia.
Crofoot divides his ninety-minute monologue into ten sections broken by dance sequences including tour jetes and entrechats as polished as his delivery. Although dance has featured prominently in his career, Crofoot presents these interludes more as an actor who dances than the reverse; his black lace street shoes confirm this impression. Diana Eden selected a white shirt, dark pants and suspenders to give a rather sober look. The set at the Harold Clurman Theater is equally spare -- matte black walls and a single chair. Director Dom Salinaro maintains a consistent rhythm avoids low spots frequently found in the monologue format.