I have been reading The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky by Joan Acocella. How much sadness touched this creative life! For those who don’t know, Nijinsky was a celebrated Russian dancer, considered one of the greatest of the 20th century. Unlike other male dancers of his time, he could dance en pointe, but his soaring career was tragically cut short by crippling schizophrenia.
Although apparently heterosexual, he was given for financial gain to a male Russian aristocrat by his mother and later offloaded onto Diagliev while still a teen. Ballet dancers were traded sexually as a common occurrence. When his sexuality started to be a liability for the dance company, he was again discarded, even cast off for falling in love with and ultimately marrying a woman.
The argument that schizophrenia occurs within family members only partially explains his sad tale. The struggle he made to continue practicing his art tells of a genius soul that did not mesh with the still Victorian world surrounding him. When performing a tableau at the Théâtre de Champs-Élysées, he closed the scene by … pleasuring himself on stage, he was accused of obscenity by those most ardent supporters.
His life from here spiraled from success to shame, and after being committed to multiple psychiatric hospitals, ceased to speak. At the end of his life, he encountered a band of Russian soldiers playing folk music in a camp. Moved by memories of home and his past life, he began to leap and dance one final, astounding performance. I’m astounded that despite his supposed mental incapacity that his memories of home and his youth pervaded one last time and reawoke the legendary dancer.
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