I loved this biography of Vaslav Nijinsky! It isn’t an entirely happy book and it feels as though there is more to tell but it is a good starting point for anyone wanting to know more about this mercurial genius.
I started from the point of knowing a bit about Nijinsky and his involvement with the Ballets Russes from reading a biography of Anna Pavlova at Junior School. That in turn led me to finding out more about Ballet Russes, modern ballet and 20th century classical music. I hadn’t seen a biography of Nijinsky before so I was looking forward to reading this one.
To get the downsides out-of-the-way first it is a short book and, I think, an overview of a life rather than getting down to who Vaslav Nijinsky really was. I suspect this is because Nijinsky himself didn’t really know who he was and never really had the opportunity to work it out for himself. He seems to have been a chameleon who became what he needed to be to please the dominant person in his life at the time.
For me the best bits were about Nijinsky’s early life before Ballet Russes and after his marriage and fall out with Diaghilev. I knew pretty well nothing about either of these periods.
I think the history of his early life helps to make sense of what came later; the strong “Please People” driver, the drive for perfection and the work ethic. It also, I think, sews the seeds of the mental illness that blighted his later life.
The history of his life after marriage to Romola de Pulszky makes for unhappy reading. The “car crash waiting to happen” tussle between Romola and Diaghilev over control of Nijinsky was only ever going to have one victim – Vaslav! And it was horrible to read about the “cures” Romola put him through trying to find a cure for his schizophrenia.
Reading this biography is a bit like reading a Shakespearean tragedy; a man with an immense talent who appears to have it all and then is struck down at the height of his power.