One From the Archive: ‘Nijinsky’ by Lucy Moore ****

‘Nijinsky,’ writes Moore: ‘his name alone conjures up romance, exoticism, scandal and tragedy’.  Acclaimed historian Lucy Moore, who has written the first full-length biography of Nijinsky for decades, believes that he ‘transformed the world of ballet… as the first male star of the modern era, with critics and audiences hailing him the God of the Dance’.  She writes that he ‘had the same dramatic impact on ballet as the work of Picasso had on painting’. 9781846686191

Vaslav Nijinsky, born in 1889, is said by many to be the greatest dancer of the twentieth century, and was the shining star of the famous Ballets Russes.  For the first time in the scope of Nijinsky’s biographers, Moore has been able to take into account his personal diaries to further enforce her information.  She spans the course of his fascinating and incredibly sad life, until his death in 1950, and even touches upon the legacy which Nijinsky the dancer left behind.  She is conscious of his tough climb to the top, and those problems which beset him with every step forward.  When he began to train at the prestigious Tsar-owned ballet school at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, for example, he had trouble fitting in, despite his obvious talents.  As a Polish boy ‘with a strong accent, and notably poorer than the others, he was despised by his peers, ignored in all the school games and made to feel inferior at every turn’.

Nijinsky, who excelled at his craft and found fame in the Ballets Russes at an early age, was born into the ballet; his parents were both ‘gifted professional dancers’, and his younger sister Bronia joined the same company as him.  In his own diary, Nijinsky wrote that his parents ‘considered it as natural to teach me to dance as to walk and talk’.  At the start of the book, Moore sets out the family history of the Nijinskys, which is fascinating in itself.

From the very beginning, Moore’s writing is beautiful.  Her prologue is centered around the premiere of Nijinsky’s ballet ‘Le Sacre du printemps’, which was choreographed with two poets, and was first staged in Paris in 1913.  ‘Le Sacre du printemps’, and other ballets choreographed at around the same time, writes Moore, created ‘a revolutionary, entirely modern form of ballet, stripped of the tinselled artifice of previous generations’.  Amongst other elements – becoming the husband of a rather formidable woman named Romola, and the father to two doting daughters, for example – Moore wonderfully exemplifies the friction between Nijinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who schooled him in homosexual relationships.  Throughout, Moore is conscious of the social constraints which Nijinsky and his family would have struggled against, and uses them as a backdrop to the biography at every turn.  It is clear that she is so in control of her subject and in the information which she presents, and has used each one of her sources with clarity and consideration.

Photographs of Nijinsky and those who were close to him have been printed in glossy sections, and these are a lovely touch.  Moore has also included a comprehensive notes section and far-reaching bibliography, which those who enjoy ballet, or even just non-fiction in general, are sure to find invaluable.  Moore’s account of Nijinsky’s life has been called ‘mesmerising’, ‘captivating’, ‘timely’ and ‘hugely enjoyable’.  It is all of these things, and more.  Moore’s respect and admiration for Nijinsky shines through on each and every page, and one cannot help but think that she was perfect candidate to write such an enlightening biography of him.

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