Top positive review
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Doesn't replace the Richard Buckle biography
on 10 June 2013
A beautifully written book and one that effortlessly conjures up the atmosphere of the time as a backdrop to the events of Nijinsky's life. The well-researched writings of Richard Buckle and Bronia Nijinska are fleshed out with the (frequently paranoid) recollections of Nijinsky himself, written as he teetered on the edge of mental collapse. The result is a heart-rending narrative.
There are casualties, though - none greater than Diaghilev, who comes across as petty and vindictive and whose sole concern seems to be not the presentation of Russian art to the West (he was arguably the greatest impresario of the 20th century), but simply the seduction and then breaking of Nijinsky.
There are niggling errors, of the type that will probably only annoy dance historians -
• Olga and Anna Fedorova were not sisters - they were not related at all.
• Karsavina's first marriage was certainly not "loveless", as her letters attest (check my own Karsavina biography).
as well as the changing of dates to heighten the impact:
• a detailed description of Nijinsky taking class with Cecchetti during the historic 1909 Paris season - although Cecchetti did not join the Ballets Russes for another 2 years.
• a wonderful account of Nijinsky's performance as Harlequin in Carnaval at its Paris premiere in 1910 - a role he didn't take over for another year.
My main concern, however, is that the author has slanted ballet history in order to serve the myth of Nijinsky, the tortured genius. He was without doubt an exceptional dancer, with extraordinary gifts, but judging by contemporary reviews during the great pre-war Ballets Russes seasons, he never overshadowed Pavlova, and certainly not Karsavina, who was acclaimed by the press and public just as ecstatically.
Having listed out my complaints, however, I have to say that the book is an enjoyable and worthwhile read, and the handling of Nijinsky's descent into madness is compelling and emotional.
Just don't forget to read Richard Buckle's wonderful biography.