|Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in his 1911 role as the "Rose Ghost"|
from the ballet "Le Spectre de la Rose." (Also here, and another related article in French).
Click all images in this post to enlarge.
"Ô toi qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser
Toute la nuit mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe, ni De Profundis;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme
Et j’arrive du paradis."
("O you, who caused my death
Without the power to dispel,
All night long my fragrant specter
Will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing, I require
Neither psalms nor sacred rites;
This delicate scent is my soul
And I’ve come from paradise.")
- From the poem Le Spectre de la Rose by Théophile Gautier which inspired Michel Fokine's ballet about a young woman haunted by the spirit of a rose she had received at her debut. Later that night, while she dozes in a chair, the spirit of the wilted rose visits her in a dream. (Note: So much tends to be lost in mere word translations of French poetry... specifically: the poetry! I've seen several translations of this particular stanza but found myself dissatisfied with all of them. So, I tweaked it. In other words, if this translation is also problematic, the fault is mine.)
The rose (inset right) is named for a man... as many roses are. Did you know that? It's name is Fantin Latour, named for the French artist who was known for his elegant paintings of flowers... especially his roses. More of his work can be found here. There might, in actuality, be a variety of rose named Nijinsky - well, there ought to be - but, if so, I haven't found it.
"His dancing has the unbroken quality of music, the balance of a great painting, the meaning of fine literature, and the emotion inherent in all these arts. There is something of transmutation in his performances; he becomes an alembic, transforming movement into a finely wrought and beautiful work of art. The dancing of Nijinsky is first an imaginative triumph, and the spectator, perhaps, should not be interested in further dissection of it..."
- From "The Russian Ballet and Nijinsky" by Carl van Vechten found in Nijinsky, an illustrated Monograph edited by Paul Magriel, 1946. Also found within the pages of the book are the 3 b/w photos of Nijinsky as the Rose found inset left, inset right (below) and below the jump.
"In December 1917, Vaslav Nijinsky, the most famous male dancer in the Western world, moved into a Swiss villa with his wife and three-year-old daughter and started to go insane. This diary, which he kept in four notebooks over six weeks, is the only sustained, on-the-spot account we have by a major artist of the experience of entering psychosis. Nijinsky's diary was first published in 1936, in a heavily bowdlerized version that omitted almost half of his text. The present edition, translated by Kyril FitzLyon, is the first complete version in English, and the first version in any language to include the fourth notebook, written at the very edge of psychosis. It contains Nijinsky's last lucid thoughts - on God, sex, war, and the nature of the universe, as well as on his own broken life."
- A description of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. The New York Times has archived a small portion of the newer translation of the diary here.
"Nijinsky's Diary was written during the six weeks he spent in Switzerland before being committed to the asylum, combining elements of autobiography with appeals for compassion toward the less fortunate, and for vegetarianism and animal rights. Nijinsky writes of the importance of feeling, as opposed to reliance on reason and logic alone, and he denounces the practice of art criticism as being nothing more than a way for those who practice it to indulge their own egos rather than focusing on what the artist was trying to say. The diary also contains bitter and conflicted thoughts regarding his relationship with Diaghilev."
- Excerpt from the Wiki entry for Nijinsky.
"The man who is right is the one who feels but does not understand."
- A quote from Nijinsky's Diary found here.
An Uncommon Kind of Guy
If someone had told me years ago that one day in the far future I would fall in love with a man dressed as a flower, I would've probably just figured they (or I) had inhaled one flower too many. And, yet, that's just what I did one recent Pandemic night, as I gazed at a photo of the Russian dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky. The photo was found in a slim red book with the name "Nijinsky" written in a thin, black script on its spine; a book I might have easily overlooked had it not fallen under my creative radar earlier in the day. And what to my wondering eyes did appear, as I opened the book to a random page, but a photograph of Nijinsky in his role from the ballet "Le Spectre de la Rose"... that is, the ghost or spirit of the rose, which I learned had been inspired by a French poem of the same name.
Lovely, lovely, exquisitely lovely. As it so happens, roses (and spirits) figure prominently in a current art project of mine - a project devoted to the mysteries of the power of love - and, well, I'd be the last one to ignore the quirky habits of fate. Unfortunately, as I began reading the book (into the wee hours of the morning) it became apparent that I had another tragic artist on my hands and, worse still, another misunderstood "mad" artist. At which point I realized Nijinsky would eventually have to make his way to Trans-D... the home of the misunderstood "mad" artist.
As a young dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky (March 12, 1889 – April 8, 1950) was beautiful, graceful, luminous, beloved by both men and women, and considered the greatest dancer and most innovative choreographer of his time. This was during the latter years of the Fin de Siècle when all sorts of dark romanticism, spiritualism - and debauchery - transpired. Tragically, his life - and (allegedly) his mind - began to unravel around the age of 29 (apparently the shelf-life of many a brilliant flame). He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and was to spend his remaining 30 years in and out of mental institutions. Professionally, he would never dance again... reminding us (to our dismay), that, yes, for an artist, there are fates worse than death... and almost all of them are in some way related to institutions.
Nijinsky is and was most often referred to as gay: the stereotypical effeminate ballet dancer - and, while looking at his "Rose" photographs, you might've thought so, too - as if grace and beauty (and some great eye-shadow) are exclusively found in feminine form. This a fairly modern misconception. The classical world entertained a broader, unbiased perspective, glorifying both their pretty boys and pretty girls equally in art and poetry. Then again, in ancient Greece and Rome, one's sexual orientation wasn't the socially definitive issue it became in the modern world. In fact, no precise Latin words for "homosexual" or "heterosexual" existed. As for Nijinsky, well, he married a woman, fathered two children and employed a number of female prostitutes, while his few documented relationships with men - specifically Sergei Diaghilev, the founder of the renowned Ballets Russes in which Nijinsky found his fame - seem to be based predominately on Nijinsky's artistic opportunism and his partner's egocentric, abusive indulgences. "Love" did not seem to have been the operative term in their relationship. But, for Nijinsky, love was all. And, his feeling was so strong, he believed he was love's personification. In a letter to Diaghilev, Nijinsky wrote:
"You are the one who wants death and destruction, although you are afraid of death.
I love love, but I am not the flesh and blood, I am the spirit, the soul. I am love..."
Ultimately, whether Nijinsky was gay, bi, straight - or some permutation thereof - doesn't really interest us here. I'm more inclined to agree with Dorothy Parker's remark:
“Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common.”
So, let's just accept that Nijinsky was an uncommon kind of guy and move on...