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Hamburg Ballet: Nijinsky
Choreography: John Neumeier

 

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 10 February 2002 - Nijinsky, created in Hamburg in 2000, not yet seen in France, gave the Paris audience the opportunity to discover, or rediscover an excellent company, and to admire the choreographic skills of John Neumeier, Director since 1973. Inevitably, the company bears his unmistakable stamp, particularly in this ballet where he also designed the attractive costumes and decor, and where countless opportunities to shine were given to the dancers whether in the short solo roles, in the corps de ballet, or in the beautiful pas de deux, the choreographer's trademark.

However it was a very personal work and woe to the spectator, kept at a distance, who knew little of Nijinsky's life with Les Ballets Russes. Despite the fact that Neumeier intended to produce a work accessible to all, fortunate were those who arrived early with time enough to glance through their programme. At each stage of the action, there was a rustle of paper as people peered through the gloom to understand the happenings in front of them. Moreover, it was a ballet one admires from the outside, for the audience, who was not shown Nijinsky the genius, but only his descent into madness, remained uninvolved.

The stage is set the moment the spectator walks into the theatre, for instead of the auditorium of the Palais Garnier, one is immediately ushered into the glittering lounge of the Hotel Suvretta in St Moritz, with its white curved balustrades and crystal chandeliers. It is January, 1919 and the Red Cross gala where Nijinsky is to dance for the last time is about to begin. The guests arrive in twos and threes, accompanied by a young blonde woman in a long red dress, the countess Romola de Pulszky, whom Nijinsky had married a few years before. Vaslav Nijinsky, interpreted by 22 year old Alexandre Riabko, enters.

Nijinksy: John Neumeier
Anna Polikarpova, Otto Budenícek , Jirí Budeníceko in Nijinsky.
Choreography: John Neumeier
Photo: © ICARE

He begins to dance using his own experimental movements, anti-classical, but those watching don't like it, and applause only breaks out when he returns to an academic style. The point is made, and the rest of Act I deals with specific events in Nijinsky's life, including his relationship with Diaghilev, interpreted by Ivan Urban, a tall clean-shaven , handsome young man, who evokes rather than resembles the rotund moustached Russian impresario.

But it wasn't until the legendary dancer's meeting and marriage to Romola, the luminous Anna Polikarpova, that the ballet really began to take shape. Until then, it had seemed more like a series of tableaux inhabited by Harlequin, the Spectre de la Rose with his famous jump, the Faune, and the young man from Jeux, not forgetting the Golden Slave from Sheherazade, created in 1910 on the very same stage, subtle reminders of the artist's years of glory.


Apart from snatches of Chopin and Robert Schumann, the first part is set to Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade, representative of Nijinsky's magical beginnings with Les Ballets Russes. John Neumeier's reason for using the score, however, is more romantic as, according to the legend, Nijinsky danced Sheherazade for Romola on their wedding night.

Nijinksy: John Neumeier
Heather Jurgensen, Jirí Budenícek in Nijinsky.
Choreography: John Neumeier
Photo: © ICARE


Act II, introduced by two great orbs of neon light encircling the dancer, the recurring theme of Nijinsky's own drawings, is set to the Symphony No. 11, op.103 by Shostakovitch. It deals only with madness. Everybody's madness, including that of Nijinsky's young brother, interpreted by the extraordinary Yukichi Hattori, more acrobat than dancer. How many in the audience knew that Vaslav had a young sibling, incurably ill, who died in his arms? Hattori's very Asian features only added to the confusion here.


Nijinsky's descent into schizophrenia is accelerated by the outbreak of war, and soldiers march slowly across the back of the stage, but soldiers who, curiously, were half naked under their jackets. Petrushka, the symbol of Nijinsky's own suffering emerges from their ranks.

Nijinksy: Choreography: John Neumeier
Hamburg Ballet in Nijinsky.
Choreography: John Neumeier
Photo: © ICARE


Leonide Massine has replaced Nijinsky in Diaghilev's arms, and Romola, (again with reference to my programme notes), has an affair with a doctor, before sitting her husband on a toboggan , and pulling him back to where the ballet began, back at the Hotel Suvretta.

Although visually beautiful, the ballet was often hard going for the audience. It seemed that a whole bit was missing to hook onto for emotions. It was impossible to identify with any of the characters, possibly the least of Neumeier's worries, but I felt regret that he didn't cheat a little to help the audience. The numerous original and very lovely pas de deux weren't enough. The choreographer knows his subject too well, and included so many subtle references that for much of the time, it was very difficult to follow him. People finally sat back in their seats and simply appreciated the quality of the production.



The Hamburg Ballet will dance Nijinsky at the Hong Kong Arts Festival on 8, 9 March 2003 and at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia on 17, 18, 19 July 2003.

The Hamburg Ballet Web Site

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.

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