Vaslav Nijinsky

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Vaslav Nijinsky
Wacław Niżyński
BirthplaceKiev, Russian Empire
ballet dancer, choreographer

Nijinsky, Vaslav

(vəsläf` nyĭzhēn`skē), 1890–1950, Russian ballet dancer and choreographer; brother of Bronislava NijinskaNijinska, Bronislava
, 1891–1972, Russian ballet dancer and choreographer; sister of Vaslav Nijinsky. She studied at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg and then joined the Mariinsky Theatre.
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. Nijinsky is widely considered the greatest dancer of the 20th cent. and was ballet's first modernist choreographer. He entered the Imperial Ballet School, St. Petersburg, in 1900 and made his debut in 1907. He traveled to Paris (1909) and, as premier danseur in DiaghilevDiaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich
, 1872–1929, Russian ballet impresario and art critic, grad. St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, 1892. In 1898 he founded an influential journal, Mir Iskusstva [The World of Art].
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's Ballets Russes, was the first to dance the leading roles in Petrouchka, Les Sylphides, Scheherazade, and The Spectre of the Rose, all choreographed by FokineFokine, Michel
, 1880–1942, Russian-American choreographer and ballet dancer, b. Russia. He studied at the Imperial Ballet School (1889–98) and danced at the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg.
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, and in ballets he himself choreographed—The Afternoon of a Faun (1912), The Rite of Spring (1913, for which StravinskyStravinsky, Igor Fedorovich
, 1882–1971, Russian-American composer. Considered by many the greatest and most versatile composer of the 20th cent., Stravinsky helped to revolutionize modern music.

Stravinsky's father, an actor and singer in St.
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 composed the famous score), Jeux (1913), and Till Eulenspiegel (1916). Nijinsky developed a system of dance notation that was not deciphered until 1984; since then a number of his reconstructed ballets have been performed. Often considered the greatest male dancer of the 20th cent., Nijinsky was noted for his intensity and eroticism as well as for his superb technique, particularly his jeté and elevation. His relationship with Diaghilev was stormy, ending bitterly when the dancer married. In 1919, Nijinsky's career was abruptly terminated by disabling schizophrenia. He lived in retirement in England and Switzerland until his death.


See his 1919 diary, ed. by his wife, R. Nijinska (1936, rev. ed. 1963, unexpurgated tr. ed. by J. Acocella, 1998); biographies by R. Nijinska (1933 and 1952, repr. 1968) and R. Buckle (1971); studies by L. Kirstein (1975), B. Van Norman (1986), and M. Hodson (1996); catalog for the exhibition "Nijinsky: Legend and Modernist" (2000).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Nijinsky, Vaslav


(full Russian name, Vatslav Fomich Nizhinskii). Born Feb. 28 (Mar. 12), 1889, in Kiev; died Apr. 11, 1950, in London. Russian ballet dancer and choreographer.

Nijinsky attended the St. Petersburg Theatrical School until 1907, at which time he was accepted as a soloist at the Mariinskii Theater. He was dismissed by the theater in 1911. From 1909 to 1913 and again in 1916 and 1917, Nijinsky was a principal dancer and choreographer with the Russian Seasons and the ballet company organized by S. P. Diaghilev.

Nijinsky danced the lead roles in M. M. Fokine’s productions of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, N. Cherepnin’s Le Pavilion d’Armide and Narcissus, Arenskii’s Egyptian Nights, Schumann’s Chopinana (Les Sylphides) and Le Carnaval, and Weber’s Le Spectre de la rose. In Paris he staged Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun in 1912 and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps and Debussy’s Jeux in 1913. Nijinsky staged R. Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel in New York in 1916.

As a dancer, Nijinsky revived the art of the male dancer, combining extraordinary jumps and pirouettes with expressive plasticity and pantomime. An innovative choreographer, he expanded the vocabulary of the ballet.


Lunacharskii, A. V. V mire muzyki: Stat’i i rechi, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1971.
Fokine, M. M. Protiv techeniia: Vospominaniia baletmeistera. Leningrad-Moscow, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.