Almost everyone who has ever watched a ballet performance has heard of Vaslav Nijinsky. Nijinsky was a legend in his own time, and his fame has only grown. In fact, he is considered by many ballet aficionados to be the greatest male dancer of all time.
Nijinsky was born in 1890 in Kiev to Polish parents who were professional ballet dancers. He learned to dance as a child and toured with his parents’ ballet company in Russia. At the tender age of nine, Nijinsky was accepted into the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. There his extraordinary talent was soon recognized, and he was given starring roles throughout his teens.
Nijinsky, noticed by the producer and impresario Sergei Diaghilev, was hired as an 18-year-old phenomenon to join the Ballets Russes. When the dance company went on tour to Paris, Nijinsky astounded the French audiences with his skill. His athletic prowess, especially his leaping ability, and his brilliant acting thrilled everyone who witnessed his performances.
From 1909 to 1914, Vaslav Nijinsky reigned over the ballet world. In Russia, Europe, North, and South America, he performed leading roles with the premiere ballet companies. His reputation grew year by year, and audiences flocked to see him dance. Nijinsky’s performances in ballets such as “The Rite of Spring,” “The Minstrel,” and “Swan Lake” are legendary.
While on tour in South America in 1913, Nijinsky met and became romantically with a Hungarian noblewoman, Romola de Pulszky. They married in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eventually, the couple settled in Budapest, and the first of two daughters was born in 1914.
However, when the First World War commenced, Nijinsky was placed under house arrest in Budapest. He finally was released and allowed to travel in 1916, after the intervention of several statesmen. Nijinsky then went to the United States on a tour that was a financial failure, but he received rave reviews whenever he performed.
Sadly, Vaslav Nijinsky’s brilliant ballet career came to a screeching halt in 1919, when he suffered a nervous breakdown. His wife took him to Switzerland, where doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Alas, because no one was able to treat Nijinsky’s mental illness successfully, he could not continue his dancing career. Nijinsky spent most of the last 30 years of his life in psychiatric hospitals and asylums. He died in London in 1950 and was buried in Paris.
Despite the brevity of his dancing career, Vaslav Nijinsky remains an icon in the world of ballet. His star is undimmed, his artistic achievements are the stuff of legend, and ballet aficionados still speak the name Nijinsky with awe and reverence.