The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky

Nijinsky. The name alone conjures up a host of magical images—the sensual faun, the heartbroken clown, the androgynous slave, all the glamour and exoticism of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In a career brief even by dancers’ standards, Vaslav Nijinsky managed to create a legend that has grown to mythic proportions since his departure from the stage in 1917. He was the first to put the male dancer—as sexual presence—at the center of ballet, and his gravity-defying leaps, passionate characterizations, and revolutionary choreography have all become a golden part of dance history.

Yet Nijinsky has entered the world’s consciousness not only as a romantic embodiment of ecstatic movement but as a figure of the suffering romantic genius who burns brightly and briefly and is extinguished in his prime. Nijinsky’s suffering took the form of a mental collapse, a slide into schizophrenia that is recounted in almost unbearably raw terms in his famous diary. Produced in six short weeks between January and March, 1919, these four notebooks of propulsive writing—a mixture of penetrating observations and opaque, delusional incantations—record the terrifying, almost moment-by-moment experience of a mind losing its ability to negotiate reality. Under the influence of Tolstoy and the scrutiny of his wife, Romola, Nijinsky locked himself up in his Swiss villa and poured out a stream of vicious indictments and utopian visions, rehearsing old battles on the one...

(The entire section is 477 words.)