The Australian Ballet

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The Many Faces of Nijinsky

John Neumeier's Nijinsky is a poetic evocation of the legendary dancer's madness. Starting with a real-life incident - Nijinsky's last-ever performance, in the ballroom of a Swiss hotel - Neumeier delves into this tragic artist's mind, surfacing memories and hallucinations. He uses Nijinsky's most famous roles, such as the Faun, Petrouchka and the Spirit of the Rose, to depict different aspects of Nijinsky's personality. The characters weave in and out of the ballet, evoking his sensuality, fragility and loneliness, his fear and despair as war approaches, his capacity for love.

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Kevin Jackson and Natasha Kusch. Photography Kate Longley

The Poet

Nijinsky's first memories, unspooling as he dances for his last audience, are at first triumphant ones. Les Sylphides was the ballet that introduced him to the West, kicking off his brilliant, bright-burning period as one of Paris' most fêted celebrities. His ballerina, Tamara Karsavina, is one of the many shades that flit through his troubled mind. Together, they recreate the soulful mood of Fokine's ballet - the Poet listening for his muse.


Chengwu Guo. Photography Jeff Busby


As Harlequin from the ballet Carnaval, Nijinsky is at his brightest and most crowd-pleasing, a jester leaping ever higher for the pleasure of his audience. His memories of this role and the rapturous response to it are in sharp contrast to the dark, stark dance he has just performed for the bemused audience at the Suvretta House hotel.


Brett Chynoweth and Adam Bull. Photography Jeff Busby

The Spirit of the Rose

Just as the Spirit of the Rose enchants a dreaming young girl in Spectre de la rose, so the young Nijinsky enchants Diaghilev, the much older impresario. Androgynous and fragile, leaping into the realm of impossibility, the Spirit of the Rose, like the painfully shy young dancer, seems not quite of this world.

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Jarryd Madden. Photography Jeff Busby

The Golden Slave

Paris went ga-ga for the "barbarous" exoticism of the Ballets Russes, which rose to its heights in the Oriental fantasy Schéhérazade. Nijinsky, as the Golden Slave, was taken to be as licentious as his character, and scurrilous rumours abounded about his promiscuity. In Neumeier's ballet, it is as the writhing, explosive Golden Slave that Nijinsky first catches the rapt attention of Romola, the fan that will become his wife.


Jarryd Madden. Photography Jeff Busby

The Young Man

Nijinsky's own ballet, Jeux, centred on the sportings of two Young Girls and a Young Man who have been playing tennis. According to Nijinsky's diaries, Diaghilev had suggested the idea, except as a homosexual trio. In Neumeier's ballet, the trio is as Diaghilev imagined it - and becomes a metaphor for the dark play of power, sexuality and favouritism in the relationship between dancer and mentor.

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Jarryd Madden. Photography Kate Longley

The Faun

The Afternoon of a Faun was Nijinsky's most sensual ballet, depicting the roused desire of a mythological creature - and his masturbation and orgasm over the scarf of the nymph he has been ogling. When Romola meets Nijinsky on board the ship, he is tentative, but the Faun knows no such hesitancy and plunges into the whirlwind courtship.


Brett Simon. Photography Kate Longley


In the dark second act of Nijinsky, when the dancer's mind is unravelling into terrible visions of war, memories of his damaged brother, and violence towards Romola, Petrouchka symbolises his anguish and helplessness, and his separation from humanity.