Vaslav Nijinsky (12 March 1889 or 1890 – 8 April 1950)
That incident was in 1901, so still early days and they probably just hadn’t got to know him properly yet. When they did, they would finally discover that, underneath that cold exterior, he was actually unremarkable to look at, reserved and something of an all-round dullard. Even so, he still had his moments. He was very much one of the gang in 1903 when a group of them, as they were being driven to the Marinsky Theatre in carriages, whiled away the time by shooting the hats off the heads of passers-by with their catapults, an adventure that would culminate in Vaslav’s expulsion, from which he was eventually restored but merely as a non-resident, on a month’s probation, and then only after a sound thrashing. And there we have it: the full house. If you happen to be serious about achieving fame and reputation amongst the pantheon, then first ensure that: your Dad’s a wash-out; you flunk it at school; you get bullied; and you get a good beating or two along the way. You’ll be halfway home already.
Christmas 1906 saw him promoted to King of the Mice in the Nutcracker and then, in April 1907, he was congratulated on his graduation performance by no less a figure than Mathilde Kchessinska of the Imperial Ballet, who invited him to partner her and thus pretty much guaranteed him a golden future. Quite literally, in fact, because the nobility often turned up to rehearsals for a looksee, including the main man himself, and every dancer that performed before the Tsar received a gold watch inscribed with the Imperial Eagle. Meanwhile, Nijinsky’s salary was 780 roubles a year, which, at current exchange rates, would be about £12.
Around now came another significant moment, for both career and life, when he chanced to run into Sergei Diaghilev, the celebrated and highly innovative producer of ballet and opera, who just happened to be running a little company of his own, known as the Ballets Russes (the Russian Ballet), which is a bit ironic really, seeing they didn’t do much of the actual dancing there, preferring instead to head off abroad, especially to Paris. Despite the big hat, the man was no fool: those Russian winters can’t half get a bit nippy. For a while, the pair became lovers. As it goes, Sergei himself had just got back from a triumphant 1908 season over there and was already formulating plans for another one the following year by gathering together a spectacular array of some of the greatest names around ballet at that time, in a company that would, naturally enough, include Nijinsky amongst its ranks.
Dying Swan but, true to form, she is mostly remembered for having a dessert named after her), along with Tamara Karsavina, who just happened to be Pavlova’s deadly rival, which was asking for trouble really. Then Fokine insisted that his pupil, Ida Rubenstein, appear as Cleopatre (she having notoriously stripped naked during the Dance of the Seven Veils in Salome, so you can see what was uppermost in old Fokine’s mind), so then Nijinsky insisted that his sister should have a part too. Diaghilev headed off to Paris to get things sorted that end but no sooner does he get back than Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch drops down dead and, unfortunately, he was where the cash for the project was supposed to come from. Then the permission to borrow scenery was withdrawn and finally they had to drop the opera through lack of funds. Still, as they say in the business, the show must go on. And it did. And, amazingly, it was a huge success.
Nijinsky then discovered that not only was he out of work but that he would now be due for his share of the compulsory Russian military service, unless something happened to turn up sharpish. The French came in with an offer of a position with the Paris Opera, though (typical of your French) that would not start for over a year, which was about as much use as garlic toothpaste, to be frank, and so, once again, it was left up to us British to ride to the rescue and come up with the goods: eight weeks as part of a mixed bill. In a Music Hall. His response was decidedly ungracious and ungrateful.
In 1914, he took the now (and astoundingly) pregnant Romola back to Vienna, where he was promptly put under house arrest, seeing he was an enemy Russian and the war was on. Only in 1916 did he (and many others) finally manage to negotiate an escape from the situation and, on 4 April 1916, he arrived in New York, where he at last started to make a bit of cash (a thousand dollars a show, they say), despite the fact that the ballet itself was bombing. But the glory days were already behind and, before long, he began to show signs of the schizophrenia that would see him in and out of asylums for the rest of his life and put an end to the dancing. Nijinsky died in a clinic in London on 8 April 1950.
"Nijinsky (1890-1950) photographed at Krasnoe Selo, summer 1907". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nijinsky_(1890-1950)_photographed_at_Krasnoe_Selo,_summer_1907.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Nijinsky_(1890-1950)_photographed_at_Krasnoe_Selo,_summer_1907.jpg
"Nijinsky in Scheherazade2" by unknown photographer, possibly Baron de Meyer (see also File:Nijinsky_040.jpg) - Library of Congress. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nijinsky_in_Scheherazade2.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Nijinsky_in_Scheherazade2.jpg
"Vaslav Nijinsky in Le spectre de la rose 1911 Royal Opera House" by Unknown - User scan of A History of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1732–1982, p. 70. ISBN 9780946338009.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vaslav_Nijinsky_in_Le_spectre_de_la_rose_1911_Royal_Opera_House.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Vaslav_Nijinsky_in_Le_spectre_de_la_rose_1911_Royal_Opera_House.jpg
"Talisman -Mathilde Kschessinska -Niriti -1909 -4" by Unknown photographer at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Peterbsurg, Russia - Photo comes from my own collection and was scanned by me. Mrlopez2681 01:44, 10 August 2006 (UTC). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Talisman_-Mathilde_Kschessinska_-Niriti_-1909_-4.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Talisman_-Mathilde_Kschessinska_-Niriti_-1909_-4.JPG
"Nijinsky Le Festin Michel Fokine" by Bert. A, photographe - http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=184525&imageID=NIJINSKY_2026V&total=19&num=0&parent_id=1056066&word=&s=¬word=&d=&c=&f=&k=0&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&lword=&lfield=&imgs=20&pos=3&snum=&e=w#_seemore. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nijinsky_Le_Festin_Michel_Fokine.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Nijinsky_Le_Festin_Michel_Fokine.jpg
"Sergei Diaghilev photo" by Sergei Blokh - http://ww1.prweb.com/prfiles/2005/06/04/248039/SergeiDiaghilev.jpg. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sergei_Diaghilev_photo.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sergei_Diaghilev_photo.jpg
"200px-Romola". Via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:200px-Romola.jpg#mediaviewer/File:200px-Romola.jpg
"Anna Pavlova in costume for the Dying Swan, Buenos Aires, ca 1928, by Frans van Riel" by Frans Van Riel (1879-1950) - http://nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an11030051-3. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_Pavlova_in_costume_for_the_Dying_Swan,_Buenos_Aires,_ca_1928,_by_Frans_van_Riel.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Anna_Pavlova_in_costume_for_the_Dying_Swan,_Buenos_Aires,_ca_1928,_by_Frans_van_Riel.jpg