Sunday, June 7, 2009

Vaslav Nijinsky

Vaslav Nijinsky was a ballet dancer who danced at the beginning of the 20th century. He rose to fame as the lead in Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The Ballets Russes was to become one the most successful and important dance companies of that epoch. Its fame was brought about largely by the dancing of Nijinsky. He had by all accounts and extra-ordinary leap that could spring him to great heights, even allowing him to 'pause' for a time in the air. The Ballets Russes was to commission scores from Debussy and Stravinsky, and Nijinsky used their work to choreograph his own works, such as 'The Right of Spring' and 'Afternoon of a Faune' (based on the poem by Stephane Mallarme). Some of these works by Nijinsky were to create a number of scandals, and could be considered in many respects the pre-cursor to many modernist trends in dance that were to follow.

What interest me in Nijinsky is that, at the end of his career, Nijinsky was to succumb to schizophrenia. He was diagnosed schizophrenic by Eugene Blueler, the professor who coined the term schizophrenia itself. As he began to descend into schizophrenia he kept a diary. This interests me, as I have had my own diary, 'Diary of a Schizophrenic', published by Chipmunka Publishing ( Nijinsky's diary is has all the hallmarks of the schizophrenic mind. There are delusions of self-reference (where the sufferer believes ordinary events refer specifically for their benefit). There are characteristic linguistic difficulties such as 'clanging' and 'bizarre associations'. He relates perceptual experiences that may indeed be hallucinations.

After compiling his diary, Nijinsky was to spend the remaining 30 years of his life in and out of institutions. He was unable to care for his own needs, and his wife Romola took care of him.

Nijinsky is considered by many to have been the greatest dancer of the 20th century. His life provides much interesting material for those wishing to understand the cross-over between creativity and schizophrenia.

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