A psychiatrist's lackluster account of the troubled dance genius. Ostwald (Psychiatry/U.C. at San Francisco) offers a...


VASLAV NIJINSKY: The Leap Into Madness

A psychiatrist's lackluster account of the troubled dance genius. Ostwald (Psychiatry/U.C. at San Francisco) offers a chronological account of Nijinsky's 61 years, which he has culled from Nijinksy's own notebooks, medical records, interviews, and previous biographies. He cautions us on Nijinsky's wife Romola's works: "". . .largely ghostwritten by Lincoln Kirstein, and one must be careful interpreting the content"" because Romola herself had significant neuroses which (of course!) shaded her recollections. As for The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, Ostwald dismisses that as a ""truncated and badly translated version. . .rearranged and censored."" But Ostwald's own plodding account, especially on Nijinsky's childhood and performing years, suffers both from oversimplification and stating of the obvious: ""Vaslav Nijinsky is a good example of someone with exceptional talent who was nutured by his environment, became a child prodigy, was catapulted to fame, fell ill, and went mad."" Moreover, he tends toward conjecture and is out of his depth in analyzing Nijinsky's professional achievements: ""One can also assume that certain ideas incorporated into Nijinsky's controversial ballets, for example the hyper-extended wrists in Jeux. . . may have been derived, at least in part, from conscious or unconscious memories of pathological movements. . ."" Ostwald is far better on the later life, when as Nijinsky's condition deteriorated, his activities were circumscribed within the boundaries of the severely mentally ill. Here, Ostwald stays with a straightforward medical/psychiatric account of Nijinsky's downhill course to death from kidney disease. But what would have been of interest as the most unique feature of this work, an appendix containing a formal diagnosis of Nijinsky's psychosis as understood by modern psychiatry (in fact, Ostwald's realm of expertise) was not included in the review galleys; and such interpretation is largely missing from the body of the work. Some insight into Nijinsky's last years, then; but this largely misses the mark.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Lyle Stuart/Carol

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1990