EARLY MEMOIRS by Bronislava Nijinska
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EARLY MEMOIRS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dancer-choreographer Nijinska completed her memoirs just before her death in 1972, leaving instructions that they be published as two books, with the first one--events through 1915--to focus more on brother Vaslav Nijinsky than on Nijinska herself: ""I want to re-create for the reader my image of Nijinsky as a person and as an artist. . . ."" So here, for the first time in such detail, is the great dancer's 1890s childhood; his training from St. Petersburg's rigorous Imperial Theatrical School (but also from circus acrobats and Jackson & Johnson, black American tap dancers touring Russia!); his bitter reaction to his parents' separation; his frequent illnesses; his practice techniques; his first student performances (in step-by-step closeup); his first seasons as an Imperial Theatre Artist (with Pavlova in The Blue Bird: ""Standing on half-toe, his wings softly fluttering, he creates the impression of remaining hovering above her""); his meeting with Diaghilev, his feuds with the ballet establishment; his first choreography, L'AprÉs-Midi d'un Faune, created at home, using Bronia for the model (as with other ballets); dashes with not-so-adventurous Diaghilev on tour, with Bronia as go-between (""I was desolated to realize how much Diaghilev had come under the influence of the ballet critics and balletomanes from St. Petersburg""); yet another version of the final Diaghilev break and the sudden marriage which ushered in Nijinsky's decline; and the non-Diaghilev ""Saison Nijinsky"" in 1914 London, the last time brother and sister danced together. Throughout, Bronia is near-worshipful about Vaslav's genius, discreet-to-a-fault about his private life (an occasional footnote by dance critic Anna Kisselgoff is helpful here). But she nevertheless maintains a sane, decent, stringently observant tone which is persuasive, making this a central source for all future Nijinsky/Diaghilev scholarship. Just as appealing, however, are Bronia's non-Nijinsky recollections--about her parents' careers as ballet-circus troupers, her headstrong decision to follow Vaslav when he broke with the Establishment, her artistic idealism, her shrewd efforts to make other dancers' roles work on her unconventional body . . . and, above all, her unconsummated love affair with the great singer and philanderer Chaliapin, a small romance of epically innocent, classically passionate proportions. An important addition to the history of dance, then--and, though neither especially well-written nor intimately engaging, a document of considerable personal force and integrity.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1981
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston