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Joanna G. Harris
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War Memorial Opera House
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Neumeier's Nijinsky a fascinating ballet

by Joanna G. Harris
February 13, 2013
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
How does one go about recreating the life and work of a genius?

Choreographer John Neumeier gave it a go in his ballet Nijinsky based on the life of legendary dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky performed by his Hamburg Ballet February 13 at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House.

Nijinsky is best known as the prodigy of Ballet Russe impresario Serge Diaghilev, for creating such innovative ballets as 1912's L'après-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun, based on Claude Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune), 1913's Jeux and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)and Till Eulenspiegel(1916) and for being a madman who spent a portion of his life incarcerated in a Swiss sanatorium.

Neumeier, whose work was last seen in San Francisco in a production of The Little Mermaid, created for the two-act Nijinsky a montage of scenes depicting Nijinsky's final public performance in 1919 at the Suvretta House Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

The ballet depicted Nijinsky looking back on his life and career.

In its first act, Neumeier recreated scenes from the various ballets that made Nijinsky famous. There are remembrances of Fokine's Carnaval, Scheherazade and Petroushka.

For this opening night performance, Alexandre Riabko was phenomenal in the title role: he sustained long scenes of intense dramatic activity and fulfilled each with bravura.

The cast list was extensive, as members of the Hamburg Ballet portrayed members of the Ballet Russe, Nijinsky's family and the "world outside".

The ballet's second act concentrated on the relationship between Nijinsky's wife, Romola (portrayed by Héléne Bouchet), his doctor (Edvin Revazov) and "world outside" which continued to both praise and humiliate Nijinsky.

For the ballet, Neumeier chose an elaborate set of musical works that included Shostakovitch's "Symphony No. 11 in G minor" and "The Year 1905, Op. 103".

While some of scenes of Nijinsky's madness seemed to go on a bit long, there was much to be admired in an extensive pas de duex between dancers Riabko and Bouchet. To this reviewer though, watching more of Nijinsky's former dance roles would have been more intriguing and valuable. Only Petroushka was evident in this act, a fitting choice since that character, like Nijinsky himself, was confined.

In Nijinsky, Neumeier has created a fascinating ballet which hopefully will become part of the San Francisco Ballet's repertory. It is to be applauded.
Alexandre Riabko, Anna Polikarpova and Otto Bubenicek in Neumeier's Nijinsky.

Alexandre Riabko, Anna Polikarpova and Otto Bubenicek in Neumeier's Nijinsky.

Photo © & courtesy of Holger Badekow

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