Was Nijinsky’s Diary the Work of a Madman or a Genius?

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The most infamous succès de scandale in the history of the ballet is, of course, the Ballet Russes’ 1913 production of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The production, particularly Stravinsky’s muscular, modernist score, caused a near riot in the audience—sophisticated or not, ballet fans weren’t ready to have their envelopes pushed quite so far.

The choreographer for The Rite of Spring’s debut was in his early twenties and better known as a peerless dancer. Vaslav Nijinsky, a Pole whom most people assumed was Russian, was a diffident man who was much teased, and, away from the stage, thought completely unremarkable. On stage, however, he was to dance what Hendrix was to the guitar and Rembrandt was to painting.

Today, it can be hard to understand why people got so worked up over a ballet highlighting a pagan interlude in which a young maiden sacrifices herself by dancing until she dies. But ballet a century ago was a more genteel affair. It is a little easier, though, to see the difficulties Nijinsky encountered a year before the Rite of Spring explosion when he choreographed and danced the principal role in a ballet set Debussy’s The Afternoon of a Faun, in which he mimed masturbation with a scarf.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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