Afternoon of a Faun

courtesy of

courtesy of

A new documentary film by Nancy Buirski Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clercq recently had a week long run in San Francisco and tells the story of a brilliant American ballerina whose performing career was tragically ended after contracting polio. A principal dancer and muse for George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet, I think this review by Stephen Holden from the New York Times describes best Tanaquil’s all too short dancing life:

“As you watch grainy kinescope footage of dancers in a mirrored studio executing a pas de deux in the documentary biography “Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clercq”,  it is almost as though you are beholding mythological deities who have alighted briefly on the earth. Here today, gone tomorrow, they are like rare birds, seldom glimpsed, who remind us of the evanescence of all things, most of all physical beauty and the casual grace of youth. Therein lies a primal attraction of ballet: its evocation of the ecstatic moment is as fleeting as it is haunting.”

Trailer for Afternoon of a Faun:  Tanaquil Le Clercq

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Diana Adams dancing in Concerto Barocco for NYCB

The Return of Nijinsky – Part 2

To continue with last month’s entry, here is Part 2 of the acclaimed “Nijinsky” Ballet created by John Neumeier and performed by the Hamburg Ballet. Below (from SF Classical Voice and authored by Janice Berman), is the second part of an overview of the ballet:

The second act, initially becalmed, gains emotional fervor as it continues. The dancers’ energy and unity, vitality and control cannot be overstated. To the manic mix is added the menace, the intrinsic insanity, of wartime, represented, in the second act, by phalanxes of soldiers, slow-stepping along the backdrop, or forcefully leaping, coats over underwear, in a scene that simultaneously suggests an asylum, the horrors of battle, and Rite of Spring, wherein Nijinsky’s ballet (its choreography has been lost) caused a riot the night of its Paris premiere a century ago. There isn’t, incidentally, a lick of Stravinsky in Nijinsky. The music, beautifully conducted Wednesday by Simon Hewett, includes ballet excerpts from Chopin, Schumann, and Rimsky-Korsakov, as well as acres of scorched-earth Shostakovich, totally in keeping with the percussive anguish of the storyline, as Nijinsky loses more and more of himself. The eloquence of Riabko’s body is a wonder; he is pliant yet forceful to the last moment, when he shrouds himself in red and black cloth — a puzzling conclusion that, I learned later, represented Nijinsky’s final ballet, Wedding with God.

Nijinsky is a tour de force. We’ve taken in Nijinsky’s agonies, but we’ve also experienced a feast of the senses. Both are what Nijinsky was about.

Nijinsky’s own gifts as a dancer were stunningly represented in the work of Alexandr Trusch and Kiran West as Harlequin, Trusch again in Spectre de la Rose, Thiago Bordin, eerily replicating of Nijinsky’s smile in the famous photo as the Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Most crucially, Lloyd Riggins richly fulfilled the character role of the tragic Petrouchka, with Silvia Azzoni, cast in multiple roles, a particular standout as his partner.

Nijinsky has left us but one of his ballets, Afternoon of a Faun. His dancing exists only in photographs (well worth looking at) and commentary, and his dancing career spanned a mere 16 years. He spent more than half his life in mental hospitals and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. By any measure, this was a disastrous loss to the art form. And yet in the ballet Neumeier gives us an entire personality, a figure of passion and grace to add even more humanity to all that panic and despair.

Neumeier designed Nijinsky, using sketches by Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, both of the Ballets Russes. With Jeux, Afternoon of a Faun, Carnaval, Petrouchka, Scheherazade, Les Sylphides, and Spectre de la Rose, Neumeier skillfully intermingles those designs, the choreography, especially that by Fokine; historic, iconic photos, and contemporary performances. Cleverly, Neumeier gives us some choreography and imagery from the era, makes some up, and lets our hearts and minds fill in some more.

In all, Nijinsky is a tour de force. We’ve taken in Nijinsky’s agonies, but we’ve also experienced a feast of the senses. Both are what Nijinsky was about.