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National Ballet of Canada Amazing in John Neumeier's Nijinsky

by Joanna G. Harris
April 4, 2018
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Before you go to see the amazing production of John Neumeier's Nijinsky by The National Ballet of Canada at the San Francisco Opera House, April 3-8, do some research on Vaslav Nijinsky and Diaghilev’s Les Ballet Russes. Then the kaleidoscope of Nijinsky’s roles and the characters that appear in the ballet's first part will become clearer.

As a dancer Nijinsky appeared in Fokine’s ballets “Petrouchka,” “Le Spectre de la Rose,” and “Scheherzade.” Then under Diaghilev, who, as the program notes, regarded Nijinsky as his “love-protege,” Nijinsky became a choreographer. He choreographed “L’Apre midi d’un faune,” “Jeux” and then the shocking “Le sacre du printemps" to Stravinsky’s controversial original score. All this, Neumeier notes, implies that Nijinsky “broke new and original paths toward modern choreography.” But, as can be seen in the well dramatized opening sections of this production, audiences in the early 20th century were not pleased.

Neumeier sets the ballet in Nijinsky’s mind and has him imagining his various roles as well as the intrusion and humiliation the dancer suffered with Diaghilev’s love and estrangement. All this passes before the audience in a setting imagined at Switzerland's Suvretta House performance. We witness Nijinsky’s wife, his sister (the famous choreographer Bronislava), his brother, his mother and father, the ballerina Tamara Karsavina and the “new” dancer, Leonid Massine, who succeeded Nijinsky as Diaghlev’s lover and next choreographer for the Ballet Russes.

Nijinsky, as dancer was performed primarily by Guilliaume Coté, a brilliant dancer who was particularly moving in the second half of the program which took place in the mad house of Nijinsky's mind. All the events of his life, including World War I, death and infidelity haunt him. Coté was able to master a variety of gestures and acrobatic skills to portray his character's madness. The company around him, taking many roles, provided a set of gorgeous montage chorus stagings. All soloists deliver great performances: Heather Ogden as Romala, Jenna Savella as Bronislava, Dylan Tedaldi as Nijinsky’s brother, Evan McKie as Diaghilev, Sonia Rodriguez as Tmara Karsavina and Skyler Campbell as Massine. Also of note was the dancing of Naoya Ebe in various roles in the production.

The company, soloists and corps, deserve great appreciation and applause for this amazing production. Neumeier’s vision and choreographic design for the ballet is ingenious. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, under conductor David Briskin handled the variety of musical selections with great skill.
National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Cote as Nijinsky.

National Ballet of Canada's Guillaume Cote as Nijinsky.

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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