By Patricia Boccadoro
10 February 2002 - Nijinsky,
created in Hamburg in 2000, not yet seen in France, gave the Paris
audience the opportunity to discover, or rediscover an excellent
company, and to admire the choreographic skills of John Neumeier,
Director since 1973. Inevitably, the company bears his unmistakable
stamp, particularly in this ballet where he also designed the
attractive costumes and decor, and where countless opportunities to
shine were given to the dancers whether in the short solo roles, in
the corps de ballet, or in the beautiful pas de deux, the
However it was a very personal
work and woe to the spectator, kept at a distance, who knew little of
Nijinsky's life with Les Ballets
Russes. Despite the fact that Neumeier intended to produce a
work accessible to all, fortunate were those who arrived early with
time enough to glance through their programme. At each stage of the
action, there was a rustle of paper as people peered through the gloom
to understand the happenings in front of them. Moreover, it was a
ballet one admires from the outside, for the audience, who was not
shown Nijinsky the genius, but only his descent into madness, remained
stage is set the moment the spectator walks into the theatre, for
instead of the auditorium of the Palais Garnier, one is immediately
ushered into the glittering lounge of the Hotel Suvretta in St Moritz,
with its white curved balustrades and crystal chandeliers. It is
January, 1919 and the Red Cross gala where Nijinsky is to dance for
the last time is about to begin. The guests arrive in twos and threes,
accompanied by a young blonde woman in a long red dress, the countess
Romola de Pulszky, whom Nijinsky had married a few years before.
Vaslav Nijinsky, interpreted by 22 year old Alexandre Riabko, enters.
Polikarpova, Otto Budenícek , Jirí Budeníceko in
Choreography: John Neumeier
begins to dance using his own experimental movements, anti-classical,
but those watching don't like it, and applause only breaks out when he
returns to an academic style. The point is made, and the rest of Act I
deals with specific events in Nijinsky's life, including his
relationship with Diaghilev,
interpreted by Ivan Urban, a tall clean-shaven , handsome young man,
who evokes rather than resembles the rotund moustached Russian
it wasn't until the legendary dancer's meeting and marriage to Romola,
the luminous Anna Polikarpova, that the ballet really began to take
shape. Until then, it had seemed more like a series of tableaux
inhabited by Harlequin, the Spectre de la Rose with his famous jump,
the Faune, and the young man from Jeux, not forgetting the
Golden Slave from Sheherazade, created in 1910 on the very
same stage, subtle reminders of the artist's years of glory.
from snatches of Chopin and Robert Schumann, the first part is set to
Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade, representative of Nijinsky's
magical beginnings with Les Ballets
Russes. John Neumeier's reason for using the score, however, is
more romantic as, according to the legend, Nijinsky danced Sheherazade
for Romola on their wedding night.
Jurgensen, Jirí Budenícek in Nijinsky.
Photo: © ICARE
II, introduced by two great orbs of neon light encircling the dancer,
the recurring theme of Nijinsky's own drawings, is set to the Symphony
No. 11, op.103 by Shostakovitch. It deals only with madness.
Everybody's madness, including that of Nijinsky's young brother,
interpreted by the extraordinary Yukichi Hattori, more acrobat than
dancer. How many in the audience knew that Vaslav had a young sibling,
incurably ill, who died in his arms? Hattori's very Asian features
only added to the confusion here.
descent into schizophrenia is accelerated by the outbreak of war, and
soldiers march slowly across the back of the stage, but soldiers who,
curiously, were half naked under their jackets. Petrushka, the symbol
of Nijinsky's own suffering emerges from their ranks.
Ballet in Nijinsky.
Choreography: John Neumeier
Photo: © ICARE
Massine has replaced Nijinsky in Diaghilev's arms, and Romola, (again
with reference to my programme notes), has an affair with a doctor,
before sitting her husband on a toboggan , and pulling him back to
where the ballet began, back at the Hotel Suvretta.
visually beautiful, the ballet was often hard going for the audience.
It seemed that a whole bit was missing to hook onto for emotions. It
was impossible to identify with any of the characters, possibly the
least of Neumeier's worries, but I felt regret that he didn't cheat a
little to help the audience. The numerous original and very lovely
pas de deux weren't enough. The choreographer knows his
subject too well, and included so many subtle references that for much
of the time, it was very difficult to follow him. People finally sat
back in their seats and simply appreciated the quality of the
The Hamburg Ballet will dance Nijinsky
at the Hong Kong Arts Festival on 8, 9 March 2003 and at the Mariinsky
Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia on 17, 18, 19 July 2003.
Hamburg Ballet Web Site
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She
contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was
dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms.
Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.