Nijinsky is a ballet about the life of a ballet dancer- the eccentric Vaslav Nijinsky, whose popularity was such that girls even stole his underwear. But underneath his virtuosity and glittering characters was a man fighting with his mental instability- and all this is beautifully represented in this production by The Australian Ballet.
The ballet itself opens with a recreation of Nijinsky’s controversial final performance- the piece itself depicting the dancer’s inner turmoil and struggles. As the crowd began to leave the performance Nijinsky switches to a performers smile and begins to leap and dance in the more traditional ballet. His once emotive choreography suddenly puppet-like and forced.
From there the ballet takes us on a journey through Nijinsky’s life and the people in it. The ballet features some of the most beautiful pair work between two male dancers- namely that between Nijinsky and his lover Diaghilev and the later duet with his brother Stanislav. The first is a push and pull of sexual tension, the more dominant Diaghilev leading Nijinksy in his movements and pulling him back, entangling them together. The second is amidst the epitome of Nijinsky’s madness, his interactions with Stanislav erratic and dangerous- Nijinksy throwing the other across the floor, only for Stanislav to return and leap into his arms, clawing into him. Both are fiercely raw and a beautiful representation of this ballet that features males in the majority of the leading roles (a somewhat rare occurrence).
The ballet is perhaps not for those of more classic tastes, as the dancing itself is a modern fusion of ballet and contemporary dance. But for those with an appreciation for both, then this is certainly the place for you. There is both starkness and colour, pirouettes and body rolls, and even the odd move reminiscent of breakdancing. It’s all set to a perfect collection of classical pieces that are as varied as the dance itself.
Callum Linnane is absolutely mesmerising in this performance as Nijinsky. He captures your gaze and holds it, not only in his effortless dancing but in his expression. He manages to depict Nijinsky’s rise and downfall with such realism that you believe him to be the man himself. Spending a great deal of the production shirtless there is a clear glisten of sweat across his chest and back, but the intensely physical dance seems to hardly have him breathing the slightest bit heavier. A truly wonderful performance to behold.
Alongside him Brett Simon creates a powerful Serge Diaghilev and Drew Hedditch’s performance as the troubled Stanislav Nijinsky is nothing short of riveting. He quivers and shakes and crawls along the ground, is thrown by Nijinsky and leaps into his arms, and with Hedditch the instability seems so heartbreakingly innocent and sad.
In equally wonderful performances are the dancers in some of Nijinsky’s famous roles, who appear and reappear throughout the production, in particular Brett Chynoweth as Harlequin and the Spirit of the Rose, and Critiano Martino as a captivating Faun and Golden Slave.
The big wow moment of course comes in the final moments; a desperate Nijinsky throws forward two rolls of fabric, one red one black. He frantically jumps across them, performing and performing even more so before piling the fabric to his chest and draping them across his body, proudly moving forward as the fabric tightens around his neck.
Nijinsky is a dramatic ballet that weaves a wonderful choreography of ballet and modern contemporary dance. And at its core is a powerful retelling of the life of one of ballet’s most celebrated dancers.
Nijinsky is captivating audiences at the Sydney Opera House until 28th November. For more information and to book visit australianballet.com.au
The reviewer attended the 1:30pm performance on the 12th November.