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3.6 out of 5 stars11
3.6 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 19 May 2013
I was in two minds about ordering this book when I read the reviews that were almost indifferent to the standard of writing. While I agree that in places the author can be a little indulgent and romantic in giving thoughts and feelings to characters which she cannot possibly know, at the same time she has done such extensive research that the quotes she uses are really original and throw interesting lights on the situation, for example a quote from an American provincial newspaper on events in Paris showing just how great the ballet's influence was worldwide. I have assembled a number of works on the Ballet Russes and was even fortunate enough to know Madame Rambert so this has been a very interesting read.
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A hundred years after Nijinsky was making his greatest impact - and leaps - in ballet, that most ephemeral of the arts, in a career that lasted only a few brief if brilliant years, cut short by an insanity that consumed most of his adult life, why do we still feel such fascination for this legendary figure? Lucy Moore sets out to answer this question in an absorbing and well-informed narrative. More than forty years ago Richard Buckle produced a very detailed life of Nijinsky, but it had to be written under the sharp gaze of Romola's eagle eye: clearly another assessment was overdue. The Ballets Russes was a collaborative effort; it drew in under Diaghilev, the great impresario - perhaps the greatest? -a stellar constellation of artist, composers, designers, dancers and choreographers: the temptation to wander off into equally fascinating areas of cultural history must have been great, but Moore keeps her eye firmly, penetratingly, on her subject. She tells the familiar story of the itinerant childhood, bullying at ballet school, his reluctant seduction by a Prince and then by Diaghilev, his struggles to be taken seriously by the great men around him, his emergence as a groundbreaking choreographer as well as star on the great European stages, the sensational marriage to Romola, and then the disastrous break with Diaghilev (who does not always come out of this too well), the privations of exile and the descent into madness. It's a tragic tale of a great spirit caught in a series of cages, breaking under intolerable pressures, which found expression not through words, sounds or pictures, but through the transience and articulation of movement - an art which is lost as soon as it unfolds. Nijinsky helped to revolutionise ballet (it was at a very low ebb in the West at the turn of the century); he brought the male dancer centre stage for the first time; and he created a new direction in choreography, one which opened up the whole field of modern dance. More widely, he embodied a new spirit of modernity, of gender, of style; and his later madness, reflected in the ramblings of an extraordinary diary, raised issues in psychiatry, in studies of the exile, in the connections between insanity and art. This biography is an elegant exposition of a complicated and iconic figure; it's a great introduction to the life of the dancer or, for those more familiar with the story, a welcome revisit to a seminal figure and period in the history of dance.
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on 23 June 2013
A fascinating, tragic subject whose life I had little idea of. While Moore does capture something of what it must have been like to see Nijinsky perform and the compelling life lived by all those who were part if the ballet russes, I thought the biography was poorly organised with some of the latter chapters added as afterthoughts when they should have been integrated into the main text. Moore also frequently refers to herself and her reactions which came over as rather amateurish. Her role as biographer surely is to enlighten us about the subject not remind us of who us writing the book? Nevertheless I enjoyed the read and was engrossed by Vassily and enthralled to find some grainy fragments of him dancing on utube. .
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on 22 August 2013
If you're a diehard admirer of Nijinsky and you have read all the other major works on him (Buckle, Ostwald; his own diaries; autobiographies by wife Romola, his sister Bronislava and dance partner Karsarvina) then there is nothing new in this book. It's a comprehensive account of Nijinsky's life and work but brings no new insights or revelations. Excellent for anyone new to the legendary dancer, his tragic life and his legacy, but a lacklustre addition to the collection for the diehard fans.
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on 13 January 2014
I came to this with few preconceptions as I didn't know much about the subject. I felt Lucy Moore told the story well, with about the right amount of detail about each period of Nijinsky's life. It left me wanting to know more about the other people in the narrative. I felt the more explanation of how mental illness was viewed at the time would have been apt, but overall a satisfying read.
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on 17 October 2013
I enjoyed reading this comprehensive biography of Nijinsky, his life and his career.
If you are interested in Ballet and the people who dance, this is a good read.
Some interesting details about choreography and the people who
contribute to the art of the Dance.
Most Enjoyable
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on 22 August 2014
Very informative but nothing whatsoever about Nijinski. I read the book and I still don't know what kind of person he was.
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on 20 December 2013
The book is gracefully written, full of insight, and a full portrait of a fascinating individual in a tumultuous time.
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on 11 July 2014
very disappointing. Read review in newspaper that said it was fantastic - not my view
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