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Bronislava Nijinska Early Memoirs


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I have just finished reading Bronislava Nijinska’s autobiography (her memoirs were translated and edited by Irina Nijinska, her daughter and by Jean Rawlinson) and I found it very interesting.  The memoirs start in Warsaw, then within the Russian Empire, with Bronia’s mother Eleonora Nicolaevnna Bereda.  It goes on to point out that Eleonora, along with her two sisters (Bronia’s aunts) Theordosia and Stephanie, despite not being of a theatrical family, entered the Wielki theater’s ballet school and became dancers.  Eleonora then meet and married Thomas Nijinsky.  The memoirs describe, in detail, three aspects of ballet at that time in Russia and in Europe.  First are the local private theaters and circuses where Eleonora and Thomas preformed in their own company and where Bronia and Vaslav Nijinsky, her brother, started to perform as children.  Then it is on to the Imperial Theatrical School and after their graduation from the school their time as artists of the Imperial Theaters in St. Petersburg.  And lastly their time with the Ballet Russe up until the beginning of the First World War.  In particular the early period of the family traveling around the Russian Empire, sometimes on boats on the Volga River, provided insight into an area of ballet that I was not aware of before.  These memoirs not only provide information on Bronia’s life, which  is what I was most interested in, but also on the life of her brother Vaslav Nijinsky, as well as in the later part of the book, on Sergei Diaghilev and on  many other dancers of the time including Anna Pavlova.  I feel the book was written well and I enjoyed reading it beyond the information it provided and I certainly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the development of ballet in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.  The only disappointment I have is that it did not cover in detail Bronia’s later work on her own ballets.  There are many photographs in it and at the end a list of highlights of Bronia’s ballets.

One thing I was surprised about was the difference between Bronia and Vaslav’s surnames, one being Nijinska and the other Nijinsky like their father’s.  Also, Bronia’s daughter Irina’s surname was the same as her mother’s (Nijinska), but her son Leo’s was the same as his father’s Kochetovaky.  Does anyone know if this was traditional in Polish or Russian culture?

Also, I have a question about Bronia’s ballet to Ravel’s Bolero.  There seems to be two versions of this.  One where the female dancer, originally Ida Rubinstein, is joined on the stage (table) by other dancers, part way through the dance and in another that dancer is alone on the table during almost the entire performance.  My question is which is the original chorography.

Tom,

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2 hours ago, Tom47 said:

One thing I was surprised about was the difference between Bronia and Vaslav’s surnames, one being Nijinska and the other Nijinsky like their father’s.  Also, Bronia’s daughter Irina’s surname was the same as her mother’s (Nijinska), but her son Leo’s was the same as his father’s Kochetovaky.  Does anyone know if this was traditional in Polish or Russian culture?

Slavic languages have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. This manifests itself in nouns, pronouns and adjectives. (And often in the past tense of verbs, which in the singular are determined not by "person" but by gender.)

Surnames that are "adjectival" or "possessive" often have masculine and feminine forms: Pavlov/Pavlova, Kristev/Kristeva, Karenin/Karenina, Kowalski/Kowalska

The -ová ending is used to feminize Czech or Slovakian surnames: Navrátil/Navrátilová. (Or even a surname that wasn't originally Slovakian: Gruber/Gruberová.)

And if a person's surname is a straightforward adjective such as Green, Short or Rich, men will use the masculine form and women will used the feminine.

These distinctions tend to get lost once a family moves to a country whose language doesn't account for gender differences in surnames. (E.g., Sondra Radvanovsky or Amanda Majeski)

Some "son of" surnames exist only in masculine form, including any surname ending in -wicz/-vich/-vych/-vić or -enko, to cite a couple of examples. 

As for why Nijinska's children used different surnames, that would be a personal and unusual choice.

Edited by volcanohunter
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2 hours ago, volcanohunter said:

Slavic languages have three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. This manifests itself in nouns, pronouns and adjectives. (And often in the past tense of verbs, which in the singular are determined not by "person" but by gender.)

Surnames that are "adjectival" or "possessive" often have masculine and feminine forms: Pavlov/Pavlova, Kristev/Kristeva, Karenin/Karenina, Kowalski/Kowalska

The -ová ending is used to feminize Czech or Slovakian surnames: Navrátil/Navrátilová. (Or even a surname that wasn't originally Slovakian: Gruber/Gruberová.)

And if a person's surname is a straightforward adjective such as Green, Short or Rich, men will use the masculine form and women will used the feminine.

These distinctions tend to get lost once a family moves to a country whose language doesn't account for gender differences in surnames. (E.g., Sondra Radvanovsky or Amanda Majeski)

Some "son of" surnames exist only in masculine form, including any surname ending in -wicz/-vich/-vych/-vić or -enko, to cite a couple of examples. 

As for why Nijinska's children used different surnames, that would be a personal and unusual choice.

Thanks! I find all of this fascinating. I do find it interesting that at least two of the Baryshnikov daughters (Anna and Alexandra) kept the non-feminized name. (I don't know about the third daughter.) A Russian-born American I follow on Twitter (because of his coverage of Chernobyl!) said once that this drives him nuts. I wonder how other Russian emigres feel about this!

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Nijinska's Early Memoirs is my favorite "ballet" book.  I cherish my copy and re-read its every few years.  At the. time of her daughter Irina's death in 1991 she was in the process of editing a sequel.  As far as I know, it wasn't completed.

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Atm711, I would very much like to read such a sequel as I am particularly interested in Bronia’s choreography,  I tried to google Nijinska’s Later Memoirs in hope of finding some information on it, but to no success.  Female choreographers are so rare that I would like to find as much information as I can on them.

 Tom,

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