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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 28 December 1889Kiev, Russian Empire [now Ukraine]
Date of Death 8 April 1950London, England, UK  (kidney failure)
Birth NameVaslav Formich Nijinsky

Mini Bio (1)

Vaslav Nijinsky was one of the most important male dancers of all time.

He was born Vaslav Fomich Nijinsky on December 28, 1889, while his parents were on tour in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Kiev, Ukraine). His father, Foma (Thomas) Lavrentevich Nijinsky, and his mother, Eleonora Bereda, were of Polish-Russian heritage, they were celebrated dancers and had their own touring dance company. His father gave him his first dance lessons. Young Nijinsky made his stage debut at the early age of 5, in 1895, at Christmas pageant show in Nizhni Novgorod, Russia. There he had several stage performances with his little sister, Bronislava Njinska alongside his father and mother.

In 1900 Nijinsky was accepted at the Imperial School of Ballet in St. Petersburg on a 7-year scholarship from the State of Russia. From 1900

  • 1907 he studied dance and music at the Imperial School of Ballet,

graduating with honors as a ballet dancer. He made his professional debut on the stage of Mariinsky Theare in St. Petersburg. There his partners were none other than Anna Pavlova and Tamara Karsavina. Nijinsky performed as the leading star of Mariinsky Ballet, as well as a guest star at Bolshoi Ballet. He appeared as Albert in 'Giselle', and as the princes in 'Swan Lake' and 'The Sleeping Beauty'. His astounding performances were marked by the height and lightness of his leaps, impressive movements, and intense charismatic personality. Nijinsky's stage presence enchanted both critics and audiences. Nijinsky became the attraction for many important patrons, such as the Tsar Nicholas II, Grand Prince Vladimir Romanoff, and Prince Pavel Lvov. From 1907 - 1910 Nijinsky was the principal star of the Imperial Ballet at Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg. There he met impresario Sergei Diaghilev and became his protégé; Diaghilev heavily invested in development of Nijinsky's talent and ultimately made him one of the most respected dancers of all time.

In 1909 Sergei Diaghilev made Nijinsky the premier dancer with Ballets Russes. Nijinsky's complex relationship with Diaghilev would have a profound effect on his professional career as well as his personal life. In May 1909, on the sponsorship from Grand Prince Vladimir Romanoff, Diaghilev took Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova on their first and highly successful tour of Ballets Russes to Paris. During the seasons of 1909 - 1913 Nijinsky built his reputation having such great partners as Tamara Karsavina and Anna Pavlova under the leadership of Sergei Diaghilev and choreographer Mikhail Fokin. He also danced with Isadora Duncan in Paris, learning from her and absorbing from other influences and traditions. In 1913 Nijinsky made his debut as a choreographer for the Diaghilev's Ballets Russes with successful staging of ballets 'L'après-midi d'un faune' (1912, aka.. The Afternoon of a Faun), 'Jeux' (1913) on the music of Claude Debussy, and 'Le Sacre du Printemps' (1913, aka.. The Rite of Spring), for which Igor Stravinsky composed the famous score. At that time Nijinsky emerged as the most interesting and innovative male dancer who impressed audiences with his spectacular elevation in Grande Jeté, as well as his stage presence and his sensitive interpretations. In his performance of 'L'après-midi d'un faune' Nijinsky mimed masturbation with the scarf, causing an uproar known as "the greatest scandal of the cultural world" that split audiences and became the talk of Paris and beyond. However, Nijinsky said "I don't know what happened, I had an orgasm right there on stage" describing how he got that involved in his performance. He was defended by such figures as Auguste Rodin and Marcel Proust.

In 1913, while Diaghilev was away, Nijinsky was followed by a corps-de-ballet dancer Romola Pulszky, an obsessed fan, who clinged to Nijinsky and manipulated him to marry her. Being far too immature and unsophisticated, Nijinsky entered into a relationship that set him up to many failures in his life and career. He and Romola eloped in Buenos Aires. Nijinsky's unthoughtful marriage brought uncertainty in his life, causing him a cascade of many traumatic experiences, such as his split from Diaghilev and his failed performances, and eventually led to his decline. Nijinsky followed his wife's impulse to form an independent ballet company in London, albeit their project collapsed due to the lack of leadership and administrative skills. As Nijinsky's wife ended her dancing career, she became driven by her agenda to have her own ballet company with her husband as main attraction. Her persistence only caused him more failures and further exacerbated his trauma. 1914 she had their first daughter, Kyra, and a few years later, had their second daughter, Tamara. He and Romola tried again to create their own troupe, but failed to attract enough talent and money. Being driven by Romola's demands Nijinsky ended up giving performances far below his level, often without any direction and creative plans. Her efforts aimed at his separation from his cultural roots led to his removal from the Parisian cultural milieu, and he ended up living in his wife's country, Hungary. There Nijinsky suffered from another traumatic experience. In 1916, during the First World War, Nijinsky, baptized in Poland, but still a Russian citizen, was held as a prisoner of war in Hungary.

Sergei Diaghilev helped Nijinsky again and succeeded in getting him out of his internment, then hired him for the 1916-1917 season and sent him on tour with Russian Ballet Company in Noth America. On that tour Nijinsky was given a chance to be a choreographer and dancer in the leading role as Til Eulenspiegel in the eponymous ballet, that had a premiere in New York, in 1916. However, by that time his health was already damaged and he was emotionally labile and vulnerable. His erratic behavior and his tense personal relationships with his dancing partners on that tour had manifested some signs of dementia praecox that became apparent to members of the company. Nijinsky again split from Diaghilev's Ballet, then went on a string of cabaret gigs arranged by his wife. Her domineering personality and her demands again clashed with his artistic gift causing him several failed and substandard performances, frustration and further depression. Nijinsky's performances after his split from Diaghilev were never as good as before; also upon his wife's objections, he did not have an equally prepared dancing partner. His collaboration with his more successful sister, Bronislava Njinska, did not last, he also failed to find a good impresario, albeit that could be a hard task for anyone, except Diaghilev, during the war.

In December of 1917 Nijinsky learned that his property in St. Petersburg, where he enjoyed the best years of his life, was lost because of the Russian revolution, and he suffered another emotional trauma. He retreated in a Swiss villa in St. Moritz, owned by his wife's parents, where he lived in seclusion with his domineering wife and three-year-old daughter, Kyra. At that time he expressed his longing for ballet and started writing his diaries in Russian, but his writing was interrupted when his wife reported on his "violent" behavior and placed him in an asylum. In 1919, on Romola's arrangements, Nijinsky gave his last performances for a charity at a local hotel in St. Moritz, and at the same time he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and undergone a psychiatric treatment in Switzerland, being accompanied by his wife. For the rest of his life Nijinsky suffered from unstable emotions and mental problems; he spent many years in and out of mental hospitals. Although his wife was taking care of him in her own manner, which was described by witnesses as manipulative, Nijinsky wrote about his marriage "My wife is an untwinkling star..." Her own denial and insecurities of a failed actress led to a never-ending chain of conflicts with her famous husband. While she reported on his periods of anger, Romola clinged to Nijinsky against all advice to get a divorce, thus provoking anger again and again, and turning their irreconcilable differences into a vicious cycle, while maintaining the image of a victimized but devoted and caring wife of an ailing star.

At the same time Nijinsky, having expressed himself in writing of four volumes of his diaries, also made numerous drawings of dancing figures. He developed his original system of dance notation, but never danced for another 30 years. His handwritten diaries suffered from heavy editing by his wife, who cut the original drastically before the first publication in 1936, and the fourth book was never published. The original preface by Dr. Alfred Adler described his establishment of cooperative therapeutic relationship and the instilling of hope as central factor for successful treatment, but that original preface was not published and was not shown to Nijinsky. It was replaced by Romola with her version of Nijinsky's life. Romola, who was a homophobic, portrayed Nijinsky as a passive victim of Diaghilev's abuse, and described herself as a savior who changed his life. Meanwhile, Nijinsky was treated by the best doctors of his time, such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler. In 1945, when Nijinsky was living in Hungary, he met some Russians and spoke to them in his native language, one day he joined Russian dancers as they performed on a street, and danced with them, showing happiness, but soon he had to move with his wife to another country. Nijinsky's medical records showed some improvement of his mental status before he died of kidney disease, at age 60, on April 8, 1950. He was buried in London, until 1953, when Serge Lifar, in a bitter dispute with Romola, refused to accede to Romola's wish and moved his body to Cimetière de Montmartre in Paris, next to the graves of Gaetano Vestris and Theophile Gotier. Romola died of cancer in 1978, but Nijinsky's side refused to bury her together with him. In 2005, after a long legal battle, Nijinsky's sepulcher was opened on permission granted by Lifar's widow, so that Romola was re-buried next to Nijinsky, but her name was not on his tombstone.

Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Jean Cocteau, and Auguste Rodin made portraits of Vaslav Nijinsky during the peak of his career. A comprehensive biography of Vaslav Nijinsky, titled 'A leap into madness', was written by Peter Oswald, professor of psychiatry at the UCSF in California, with many documents related to Nijinsky's brilliant career, his disastrous marriage as well as his medical records and observations by foremost doctors such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adler. Nijinsky's original hand-written manuscript was written mainly in Russian and partially in French as a stream-of-consciousness narration about his traumatic experiences and hectic relationships between him, Diaghilev, and Romola. The diary remained a closely guarded secret until Romola's death, and was sold at an auction in 1979, for over $100,000, and finally, in 1994, it was acquired by the New York Public Library. It was published in 1999, after Nijinsky's daughters relented as holders of the copyright. Nijinsky's system of dance notation was deciphered in the 1980's.

Nijinsky's tombstone in Monmartre Cemetery in Paris has inscription SEPULTURE NIJINSKY VASLAV NIJINSKY NE A KIEV 28 XII 1889 MORT A Londres 8 IV 1950

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (1)

Romola de Pulszky (1913 - 8 April 1950) (his death) (2 children)

Trivia (3)

Brother of Bronislava Njinska
He was a protégé of impresario Sergei Diaghilev.
Developed an original notation for dance with his own illustrations. It was not available until after the death of his wife, Romola.

Personal Quotes (2)

My wife is an untwinkling star. (from the diaries of Nijinsky)
[Asked how he seemed able to hang in the air when jumping] Not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.

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