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Bronislava Nijinska's Ballets: Recent, Upcoming Performances?

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Does anybody know of any upcoming performances of Nijinska ballets, in the Americas or elsewhere?

Les Biches was beautifully revived in Munich a couple of seasons ago. It's already been almost ten years since the Mariinsky brought us Les Noces. The Liepa Foundation's recon of the 1928 Bolero was a few years ago. DToH revived Rondo Capriccioso in 1989. We haven't seen Le Train Bleu in ages. Cuba maintains parts of her Fille Mal Gardee, as edited by Alonso. Then we have "The Three Ivans" and her other emendations to Sleeping Beauty-1921.

It's a shame that today's ballet scene seems to prefer Peter Pans and Alices, Frankensteins and Draculas, above reviving the very great historical works of Nijinska...one of the very few female ballet (truly "ballet") choreographers in history.

Judging by what I've recently seen of Mme Nijinska's large archives at the Library of Congress, copious detailed notes exist of long-dormant ballets that could be reassembled without great difficulty. The Russian notes accompanying drawings of her fascinating Pictures at an Exhibition, for ex...with bell-ringing monks swinging across the stage on ropes! Cent Baisers...Baiser de la Fee...Impressions de Music Hall...Chopin Concerto...Brahms Variations...some of the works performed in her ca-1968 company that included Anna Marie and David Holmes. So much has been preserved. Set and costume designs are here, too.

A possible project for the "new" Washington Ballet? The documents are right here, in DC.

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I've learned to appreciate Les Noces through the years, especially the vigorous mass dancing in the fourth movement.

See Les Biches and you'll fall in love with it, Birdsall. Guaranteed.

The other ballets that I've seen performed are very different from Noces. Nijinska's creativity and variety boggle my mind, the more that I dig into the collection. Also, I totally "see" what influenced Ashton, such as the quick pointe work, use of torso to propel movement, continuous flow of movement within dances, the Cecchetti port de bras, etc., in most of her works and notes. Certain poses occur in Nijinska that Ashton often borrowed, most notably the one of "arms up" with bent elbows and wrists, as if asking "Huh?" to the audience. Nijinska sketched it a lot! We later see it in Ashton, e.g., the Blue Skater in Patineurs, the four young ladies in Les Rendezvous, etc.

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The Royal Ballet has had both Les Biches and Les Noces in its repertory since the 1960's when Ashton persuaded Nijinska to mount the ballets for the company. They have been revived from time to time with Les Noces reappearing with greater regularity than Les Biches. Les Noces was last revived about four years ago and should be due for a revival in the not too distant future. Les Biches was last revived in 2005 and I sincerely hope that it will be revived again before Yanowsky retires as she is the best hostess that I have seen since Beriosova who was selected for the role by Nijinska herself. There is a short clip of Yanowsky in the role that turns up from time to time on YouTube. She has the chic sophisticated wit that the role requires. Both are truly great ballets and if the only ballets you ever see by Nijinska are these two then you realise that the woman was a genius. "Genius" is a much over used word in the context of the creative arts but absolutely accurate in the case of Nijinska.

I also saw the "reconstruction" of Bolero and I did not find it very convincing. Perhaps I have not seen enough of her work although I have seen the Les Biches, Les Noces, the finger variation devised for the Sleeping

Princess which de Valois had danced and of course the Three Ivans who used to feature in the Royal Ballet's Sleeping Beauty . While great choreographers don't repeat themselves ad nauseam there are often some common threads throughout their work. With Ashton it tends to false footing the audience by setting up a pattern of repeats which suddenly changes while Balanchine, it seems to me, is for ever reworking Petipa models real or imagined. As far as Bolero is concerned it did not ring entirely true. Some of the groupings looked right but in its entirety it looked wrong. I regret I can't be more specific as it is several years since I saw the reconstruction.

Out of interest does anyone know who mounted Les Biches for Munich ?

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Benesh notation expert Diana Curry staged Les Biches in Munich/2009. My only complaint was with the musical tempi being slowed down at the spots when the corps ladies perform entrechats in unison. Conductor Ovsianikov purposely slowed it down (at dancers or stager's request?), which kills the opening segment, IMO. The stagings in Rome, London and Ballet de Nancy used the correct brisk tempo throughout the opening section, which corresponds to the recording of the score by Poulenc himself.

Stagings of "new" (unfamiliar) Nijinska works ground to a halt when the choreographer's daughter, Irina, passed away in the early 90s, yet she left behind a very large amount of documents to allow proper reconstructions. Nobody seems interested in picking up the work. Irina's two children and their children are in other lines of work.

The LoC also has the Russian manuscript of the 2nd part of Nijinska's memoirs - from ca 1920 through the early 50s... "The Creative Years"....

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Muntagirov danced a solo (reconstructed I assume) from Le Train Bleu as part of the collection of pas de deux/solos/excerpts the Royal included in its second program at the Koch theater last year. It was quite clever, but I take it the whole ballet is not revivable. I would be happy to see it.

I saw Les Biches with the Royal--it must have been the 2005 revival mentioned by Ashton Fan--and I, too, loved Yanowsky. I also saw it many years ago with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Neither time do I recall seeing a moment that I had read about (probably in Kochno's book) in which a couch is turned around to reveal two women together, Don't know if the descriotion was wrong or if Nijinska excised the moment when she revived the ballet. It does seem to me a ballet that should absolutely be kept alive.

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Good news! Train Bleu is totally revivable. It's on DVD, in fact. See POB's "Picasso et la Danse" program on amazon.com.

Re Biches: The two "Girls in Grey" emerge from the wings to dance their duet. Five corps girls hide behind the turned -around sofa & peek over the top at times to see what's going on.

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Good news! Train Bleu is totally revivable. It's on DVD, in fact. See POB's "Picasso et la Danse" program on amazon.com.

Re Biches: The two "Girls in Grey" emerge from the wings to dance their duet. Five corps girls hide behind the turned -around sofa & peek over the top at times to see what's going on.

Thank you--I should keep better track of what's on DVD etc.

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Oakland Ballet had both Train Bleu and Noces in its repertory -- they had an anniversary gala recently and I seem to remember there was some Nijinska on the program, but cannot recall what it was -- anyone here have knowledge.

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I believe that Anton Dolin, the original "Beau Gosse", taught the solo to Stephen Beagley. and I assume that is the source of what Muntagirov danced. I saw Muntagirov dance the solo when he was with ENB in a programme that included Lifar's Suite en Blanc et Noir. I think Muntagirov made it look far more interesting than it appears on the POB recording of "Picasso and the Dance". In fact I know that he almost persuaded me that it might be worth seeing the whole ballet whereas I recall being singularly underwhelmed by Le Train Bleu when I first got the DVD and played it. It isn't just the contrast between a recording and a live performance. Muntagirov's account of the solo gave it the quirky and lively detail that I associate with Nijinska's choreography, on the recording the choreography seems to have been smoothed out.

I can't make up my mind whether the problem is that the ballet is weak or whether the fault lies with those staging it or whether the problem is largely one of miscasting.. In the end I think it is a combination of all three. The ballet is a slight piece but it seems to me that on the DVD it has been completely undermined by casting beautiful classical dancers in the four main roles rather than using demi-character dancers for at least three of them. At the time that the ballet was created Diaghilev was no longer able to rely on a st eady supply of Russian trained dancers and as a result of this, and the fact that Massine's ballets dominated it, the general style of the company's repertory was demi character. I am not sure but I think that Lydia Sokolova who created the role of the female swimmer must have been a demi character dancer as well as she was London born and trained.Originally called Hilda Munnings she owed her name to Diaghilev who I believe conferred it on her in recognition of the quality of her performances in Massine's ballets.

The choice of cast may help to explain the general dullness of the recorded performance I refuse to believe that the role of the tennis player which must be based on Suzanne Lenglen which Nijinska created for herself was merely larky. I don't expect another "Hostess" but I expect something with a little more substance even if it is only something that original audiences would have recognised as referring to Suzanne Lenglen the great French tennis player.

In my opinion the performance of Le Tricorne is similarly undermined by beautiful dancers dancing beautifully without instilling any real fire or characterisation into the roles that they are playing.. Massine was a demi-character dancer and in Tricorne that matters. Some years ago SWRB/BRB staged a revival of Tricorne and it was a matter of luck whether you saw a dead or a living ballet.. I understand that the cast led by Michael O'Hare made the ballet live whereas the cast I saw was drawn from the company's more classical dancers and the revival as danced by them looked more like an exhumation than a revival. It seemed to be little more than an excuse to show the Picasso designs on stage rather than the staging of a viable theatrical piece. I had the same feeling about performances by London Festival Ballet in the early 1970's.

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In my opinion the performance of Le Tricorne is similarly undermined by beautiful dancers dancing beautifully without instilling any real fire or characterisation into the roles that they are playing.. Massine was a demi-character dancer and in Tricorne that matters.

And the original production included Felix, who was truly authentic.

I understand from those who understand that the Joffrey staging was quite wonderful. But there you are -- while there were many people in the company at that time who were excellent dancers, they were all individuals.

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Felix Garcia provided Massine with the material that he needed to make Tricorne but he did not appear in it. It is said that it was the shock of discovering that he was only wanted for source material rather than as a performer that prompted his descent into insanity There is more than one account of this story but all versions agree that Garcia was certified insane and placed in a mental hospital where he died.

I think that the problem with reviving Massine's and Nijinska's works is that demi-character ballets of this type are not really in the active repertory of the sort of ballet company that is likely to have the resources to stage a revival and such companies rarely have enough dance actors that these works require. If dancers spend the bulk of their time dancing abstract ballets and nineteenth century classics they will concentrate their efforts on perfecting their technique rather than developing their ability to create characters through dance. A company dancing a classically based repertory will recruit dancers best suited to its core ,

repertory. It is unlikely to recruit demi-character dancers and as a result when we see these rarely performed ballets in performances they are danced by performers who are unlikely to be able to meet the choreographer's demands. The dancers we see will probably iron out the precise gestural details in the choreography as they depart too far from the classical norm Unlike a regular repertory work where an audience is likely to be able to distinguish between a weak ballet and a weak performance we shall almost certainly ascribe any failure of the ballet in performance to the choreographer rather than the dancers and their coaches.

I find that there are elements missing in the performances of both ballets on this DVD. The four main characters in Train Bleu lack the clear delineation of character derived from gestures and body language that I associate with Nijinska's choreography. while the main characters in Tricorne are all rather bland. They are fuzzy in outline and generic rather than specific,milk and water rather than fino or amontillado. Le Tricorne is an evocation of Spain in its music, choreography and design, not an ethnographical or folklorist's account of the country, its people and culture. The ballet is divided into sections and where each one begins and ends should be clear. This lack of clarity may be the fault of the cameraman as much as those staging the ballet.

Massine said that he knew that he needed more than perfect technique for the role of the Miller and that it was the image of an angry bull about to attack that enabled him to unleash the energy required for the role. There is no evidence of that in this recording. nor is there much evidence of the allure of the Miller's Wife.

As Tricorne received its premiere in London in 1919 I wonder whether the Royal Ballet will consider reviving it in 2019 and who would be cast in a revival? Alexander Campbell or Matthew Ball might be good in it. I think it unlikely as Kevin O'Hare seems more interested in new works than reviving anything from the Diaghilev repertory. It will be interesting to see if he is tempted,

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Some of the problems with restaging Nijinska's ballet might be the phrasing. Alexandra Danilova said that it was hard to remember her choreography – that the dance phrase could begin in the middle of a musical phrase and end in the middle of the next – they didn't coincide.

OT: When I used to visit my aunt in Pacific Palisades, we would pass Nijinska's little house. It was not far from other cultural landmarks – Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester's at the edge of another crumbling cliff – and the glass one of Rae and Charles Eames, off Chautauqua on the way to the beach. I later learned Thomas Mann also lived not far away – and that Susan Sontag interviewed him there when she was a high school student...

Nijinska's (and later her daughter's) house:


Maria Tallchief, who as her student very successfully danced in some of Nijinska's ballets at the Hollywood Bowl in 1940 (along with Cyd Charisse), quotes Danilova saying, "the late ballets of Nijinska did not turn the pages of history. Yet they were very nice, very charming."

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Thank you so much, Quiggin. The folks at the LoC theater archives have been very helpful but your info/recollections are especially nice.

Still, my original Q remains: Is any Nijinska ballet due to be performed next season? I've done my research and opened up the websites of 50+ companies in the Americas and Europe, finding nothing! Washington Ballet and a few others are yet to announce.

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I did come across this photo - and what a cast!


Looks like Balanchine danced Prince Charmant in at least one of the programs later in spring. He also may have helped reset the Petipa choreography ( can't remember where I read that, need to double check).

Picasso was at rehearsals in Monte Carlo that spring 1925 and was "never without a sketchbook" according to a note in "Picasso in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art". In the sketch linked below the male looks a little like Leon Woizikovsky. (Irving Penn in the late forties photographed Ballets Russes dancers in a similar big foot way.)

And of course Picasso earlier designed the curtain for Nijinska'a Le Train Bleu (to tie this albeit tenuously back to topic.)


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