“Nijinsky” is the title of this “choreographic approach” to a dance phenomenon that has been part of Neumeier's life ever since the beginning of his career.
During his approximately ten years as a dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky set a new standard both technically and expressively, while in his choreographic work he pointed the way towards modern dance. His personal fate and mental illness that forced him to spend the last 30 years of his life in various asylums and in the keeping of his wife gave his short artistic career an even more awe-inspiring and sensational quality.
All three aspects – the dancer, the choreographer and the person Nijinsky – form the starting point for John Neumeier's latest creation. Neumeier, who as early as 1979 presented a short ballet “Vaslav”, is regarded as one of the leading Nijinsky experts worldwide. Nevertheless, it was not without reluctance that he took up the task of honouring through dance a dance legend: “In creating a work about a historical person, what aspect should we concentrate on? Who was he truly: The man? The artist? Which witness, what information can we trust, which theories should one follow? What point of view can we take towards the complex puzzle Nijinsky? An instinctive choice must be made…”
Two major works form the musical basis of the ballet: Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem “Scheherazade”, and the 11th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, subtitled “The year 1905”. Furthermore, there are two short piano pieces, used for the prologue – Chopin's C minor prélude and “Carnaval” by Schumann – as well as the adagio movement from Shostakovich's sonata for viola and piano, his last work.
“Nijinsky” is not a biographical ballet: “A ballet can never be a documentary”, Neumeier says. “It is basically a biography of the soul, a biography of feelings and sensations. Perhaps, a particular situation, historical or imagined, might be suggested. But this is not a narrative ballet. Perhaps it's not even one single complete ballet, but a series of choreographic approaches to the enormous theme: Nijinsky. In the end, it's important that it is a ballet, a work of art in itself, understandable, enjoyable, and moving – without having read a single word about Nijinsky.”
The ballet begins in a reconstruction of the “Festsaal” in the Suvretta-Haus, a hotel in St-Moritz, the room of Nijinsky's last performance as a dancer: it is a moment of transition, a place of memory and premonition.
The set and costumes have been designed by John Neumeier. To show various aspects of the person and performer Nijinsky, he has chosen to have several dancers represent fragments of Nijinsky's persona.