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You gu gu and I gu gu

Andrew O’Hagan: Vaslav Nijinsky, 20 July 2000

The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky 
edited by Joan Acocella and Kyril Fitzylon.
Allen Lane, 312 pp., £20, August 1999, 0 7139 9354 5
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Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age 
by Modris Eksteins.
Macmillan, 396 pp., £12, May 2000, 0 333 76622 9
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... Nijinsky began to lose his mind in a Swiss village in 1919. He was only 29 years old, still dazzling, animal-like, an Aschenbach vision on the Lido, a young man who could jump and pause in the air: but he began to spend all night in his studio scribbling the same things over and over, the doodlings of the incrementally mad ...

Half Snake, Half Panther

James Davidson: Nijinsky, 26 September 2013

by Lucy Moore.
Profile, 324 pp., £25, May 2013, 978 1 84668 618 4
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... and the white cuffs of the men rise in swells over the theatre like a flock of white doves.’ Nijinsky was hailed by the Figaro as the ‘dieu de la danse’. Not for the last time. The year before, Nijinsky had started a relationship with Diaghilev: ‘I trembled like an aspen leaf,’ he recalled in his diary, perhaps ...

God in the Body

Anne Hollander, 25 January 1996

Cahiers: Le Sentiment 
by Nijinsky, translated into French by Christian Dumais-Lvorski and Galina Pogojeva.
Actes Sud, 300 pp., frs 140, January 1995, 2 7427 0314 4
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... up to pace the floor. Its flavour is aptly illustrated by the shocking jacket photograph of Nijinsky undergoing a catatonic seizure at the age of 37, about eight years after he wrote this text. With his necktie neatly knotted, his face shaven and his hair combed, hands curled up, the greatest dancer of his epoch – some say of any epoch – stares into ...

God’s Little Sister

Gabriele Annan, 1 July 1982

Early Memoirs 
by Bronislava Nijinska, translated by Irina Nijinska and Jean Rawlinson.
Faber, 546 pp., £15, January 1982, 0 571 11892 5
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... dancer took her place. When the curtain came down on Act Three a messenger arrived to tell Thomas Nijinsky that he had a daughter. He already had two sons: Stanislav, aged four, and Vaslav, later le dieu de la danse, who was two. Bronislava Nijinska grew up to be one of the few choreographers of any period whose works are still performed all over the ...

No Beast More Refined

James Davidson: How Good Was Nureyev?, 29 November 2007

Rudolf Nureyev: The Life 
by Julie Kavanagh.
Fig Tree, 787 pp., £25, September 2007, 978 1 905490 15 8
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... One former Diaghilev dancer, Serge Lifar, spoke of an ‘époque Noureev’ and awarded him the Nijinsky Prize. But Lubov Egorova, the octogenarian Princess Trubetskoy, who had actually danced with Nijinsky, insisted that Nureyev had something more. Nureyev’s massive success put the Russian authorities in a quandary. He ...

At the V&A

Peter Campbell: The Ballets Russes, 4 November 2010

... stage cloths. There are records of how the dancers looked. Valentine Gross’s swift sketches of Nijinsky are important because they seem to say more than photographs about how he moved – Diaghilev wouldn’t let the ballets be filmed. Still photographs, on the other hand, like the one of Nijinsky as the Negro Slave from ...

Burn Down the Museum

Stephanie Burt: The Poetry of Frank Bidart, 6 November 2008

Watching the Spring Festival 
by Frank Bidart.
Farrar, Straus, 61 pp., $25, April 2008, 978 0 374 28603 3
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... extreme typesetting reflects extreme states of mind: the speaker here is the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, depicted in 1919 as he goes mad. If you read the books in order you will also learn early on about Bidart’s early life. Raised far from privilege, and far from the world’s great libraries, in and around Bakersfield, California, Bidart nonetheless ...

Dancer and the Dance

Susan Sontag, 5 February 1987

... the costumes by Chanel, the libretto by Cocteau. But the blow of the sublime was delivered by a Nijinsky or a Karsavina – by the dancer. According to Kirstein, it was only with the advent of a choreographer so complete in his gifts as to change dance for ever, George Balanchine, that the primacy of the choreographer over the performer, of dance over the ...

Lurching up to bed with the champion of Cubism

Nicholas Penny: Douglas Cooper, 20 January 2000

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: Picasso, Provence and Douglas Cooper 
by John Richardson.
Cape, 320 pp., £20, November 1999, 0 224 05056 7
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... the Vicomte de Noailles (7), an anonymous gym instructor (8), Igor Markevitch (9), Diaghilev (10), Nijinsky (11), Maurice Gendron (12): I was the daughter of 2, an immensely rich Belgian banker, and the granddaughter of 3, who was said to be the model for 4, and was also – would you believe it? – the great-great-granddaughter of 5. She contemplated ...

But the view is so lovely

Michael Wood: ‘Mr Wilder and Me’, 4 March 2021

Mr Wilder and Me 
by Jonathan Coe.
Viking, 245 pp., £16.99, November 2020, 978 0 241 45466 4
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... Maurice Zolotow’s 1977 biography of Wilder. Billy wanted to make a movie based on the life of Nijinsky. The producer he was talking to said: ‘Are you serious? You want to make a movie about a Ukrainian ballet dancer who ends up going crazy and spending thirty years in a mental hospital, thinking he’s a horse?’ Wilder replied: ‘Ah, but in our ...

Lost Jokes

Alan Bennett, 2 August 1984

... it included a piece about the first London visit of the Diaghilev ballet in 1911. A boy got up as Nijinsky, dressed as the faun in ‘L’Après-Midi’, dances behind a gauze, while downstage the practice pianist reminisces: Ah yes. Nijinsky. I suppose I am the only person now able to recall one of the most exciting of his ...

To the Great God Pan

Laura Jacobs: Goddess Isadora, 24 October 2013

My Life: The Restored Edition 
by Isadora Duncan.
Norton, 322 pp., £12.99, June 2013, 978 0 87140 318 6
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... way of saying that Duncan didn’t, couldn’t, live by halves. In many ways she was like Vaslav Nijinsky, Adam to her Eve in the sense that both left the encircled, Edenic world of classical dance – Duncan rejecting it completely, Nijinsky slipping out by way of his choreography – for a more modern and mortal way of ...

The Fred Step

Anna Swan: Frederick Ashton, 19 February 1998

Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton 
by Julie Kavanagh.
Faber, 675 pp., £12.99, October 1997, 0 571 19062 6
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... Ashton’s second teacher, had been pupils of the great Enrico Cecchetti, who had taught Pavlova, Nijinsky and Karsavina, among others, and whose emphasis on épaulement (expression in the upper body) would become an Ashton trademark. Rambert was a formidable musical theorist – she had assisted Nijinsky with the complex ...

Alan Bennett chooses four paintings for schools

Alan Bennett: Studying the Form, 2 April 1998

... the leg in the painting, that were not so much legs as hindquarters. Nureyev was often compared to Nijinsky and the comparison is apt. He was like Nijinsky but it was Nijinsky the horse. The last of my four paintings comes from the art gallery at Aberdeen, which has a particularly good ...


Anne Stillman: Jean Cocteau, 13 July 2017

Jean Cocteau: A Life 
by Claude Arnaud, translated by Lauren Elkin and Charlotte Mandell.
Yale, 1024 pp., £30, September 2016, 978 0 300 17057 3
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... dances, the violent bursting forth of Russian spring, and – at the centre of it all – Nijinsky, who had leaped into Cocteau’s life a few years earlier, with ‘sylph-like grace’ and the ‘endurance of a muzhik’. He was to have a miserable end, but in Cocteau’s imagination he remained ‘half-angel, half-leopard’ and Arnaud suggests that ...

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