Vaslav Nijinsky born 12 March 1890 (d. 1950)
Probably the greatest male ballet dancer of all time, Nijinsky's two greatest achievements, assisted by his impresario lover Sergei Diaghilev, were to bring the role of the male dancer to the fore, and to revitalise a world of classical ballet which had entered a period of decline.
Born in Kiev, Ukraine to Polish dancer parents, he was admitted to the St Petersburg Imperial School of Ballet aged 10, where he received an excellent general education as well as a thorough grounding in classical ballet. He was a brillant student and on graduation joined the Imperial Ballet as a soloist in 1907.
He had two love affairs with two Russian noblemen, Prince Pavel Dmitrievitch Lvov and Count Tishkievitch but then he met Sergei Diaghilev and joined the Ballet Russes - history was in the making. He went with the company to Paris in 1909 and became an international star.
Diaghilev used all his considerable skill and flair to create ballets which showcased his star and lover's incredible sensuality, athleticism and charisma, such as Petrushka, Daphnis & Chloe and Le Spectre de la Rose . He also gave Nijinsky the freedom and encouragement to choreograph to his own extraordinary vision. He created four ballets in all - L'Apres-midi d'un faune (1912) , Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring) (1913), Jeux (1913) and Till Eulenspiegel (1916) - each so technically innovative that Nijinsky could be credited with creating modern dance. His ballets were equally groundbreaking for their explorations of sexuality and sensuality.
In 1913 he married a young Hungarian woman, Romola Pulszky, who had travelled throughout Europe in pursuit of her dieu de la danse, whilst on tour in Buenos Aires. Devastated by his betrayal, Diaghilev dismissed his star from the company leaving Nijinsky stranded with wife and child and no career - furthermore, it was the First World War and Nijinsky was a Russian citizen in Hungary, and technically a prisoner of war.
Diaghilev attempted a reconciliation with Nijinsky, inviting him to rejoin the Ballet Russes on more than one occasion, but relations between the two former lovers and Nijinsky's wife frustrated every attempt to recreate his former success.
In the later years of the First World War signs of Nijinsky's mental illness became increasingly obvious to his wife and colleagues. In 1919 he suffered a mental breakdown. Increasingly unhappy with his marriage, his ruined career, and a world in turmoil, Romola committed him to a mental institution where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and subjected to years of drugs and experimental shock treatment. He became a broken man and spent the rest of his life drifting between institutions, even having to be rescued from one asylum when the Nazis began to inter the mentally ill. He died in London in 1950.
Some people are just too beautiful and extraordinary for life.
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