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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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I’ve been searching for information on Broni Nijinsky's life after the end of her autobiography “Early Memoirs,” as well as information on her later choreographed works.  As a result of this I found two articles.  The first can be seen here: https://peoplepill.com/people/bronislava-nijinska/.  This article first summarizes Broni’s life from birth to 1934. The part I am most interested in starts with the heading “As a Choreographer.”  The article gives information on many of the over 70 ballets that Broni choreographed.  Included are Les Noces, Les Biches and Le Train Bleu, but I was most interested in ballets that I did not know about before or knew little of.  The one that stands out the most for me is  “Les Tentations de la Bergere” (1924), also known as “L’Amour Vainqueur.”  The music for this ballet is from the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th.  Another such ballet is “Le Baiser de la Fee” (1928), with music by Igor Stavinsky.  I am inspired to find out more about these ballets.  

Also, of interest to me are the women Broni worked with or was inspired by.  This includes the avant garde artist Alexadra Exter (b. 1882).  The two women met in 1917 in Moscow and worked together on a number of projects.  Two other female artists are Natalia Goncharova (b. 1881) and Marie Laurencin (b. 1883).  Then there was “Coco” Chanel (b. 1883) who designed the costumes for “Le Train Bleu” and the dancer Ida Rubinstein (b. 1885).  Broni worked in Rubinstein’s company for a time and choreographed the dance for Ravel's Bolero for her.  Another point of interest is that Broni, in 1922, danced the role of the faun in her brother’s ballet “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune.”  She knew this part well as she had helped Vaslav create it.

I found it a bit difficult to read this article as it jumped around some, but that may have been due to my computer.

The second article is shorter and can be found here: 

https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/12439/bronislava-nijinsky-choreography-of-bronislava-women-recollected.   It was written by Nadia Beard and is dated January 8, 2021.  In it the author writes about “Le Noces” and includes a video of that ballet.  Also covered is “Le Train Bleu.”  Of particular interest to me is the statement “In an era where static positions were the marrow of classical dance, Nijinska envisioned a modernist ballet, one which saw focus shift towards the movement which connected these positions.  Ultimately, she believed it was not the final posture that encapsulated the beauty of ballet, but the spaces in between.”

Tom, 

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1 hour ago, Tom47 said:

I’ve been searching for information on Broni Nijinsky's life after the end of her autobiography “Early Memoirs,” as well as information on her later choreographed works.  As a result of this I found two articles.  The first can be seen here: https://peoplepill.com/people/bronislava-nijinska/.  This article first summarizes Broni’s life from birth to 1934. The part I am most interested in starts with the heading “As a Choreographer.”  The article gives information on many of the over 70 ballets that Broni choreographed.  Included are Les Noces, Les Biches and Le Train Bleu, but I was most interested in ballets that I did not know about before or knew little of.  The one that stands out the most for me is  “Les Tentations de la Bergere” (1924), also known as “L’Amour Vainqueur.”  The music for this ballet is from the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th.  Another such ballet is “Le Baiser de la Fee” (1928), with music by Igor Stavinsky.  I am inspired to find out more about these ballets.  

Also, of interest to me are the women Broni worked with or was inspired by.  This includes the avant garde artist Alexadra Exter (b. 1882).  The two women met in 1917 in Moscow and worked together on a number of projects.  Two other female artists are Natalia Goncharova (b. 1881) and Marie Laurencin (b. 1883).  Then there was “Coco” Chanel (b. 1883) who designed the costumes for “Le Train Bleu” and the dancer Ida Rubinstein (b. 1885).  Broni worked in Rubinstein’s company for a time and choreographed the dance for Ravel's Bolero for her.  Another point of interest is that Broni, in 1922, danced the role of the faun in her brother’s ballet “L’Apres-midi d’un Faune.”  She knew this part well as she had helped Vaslav create it.

I found it a bit difficult to read this article as it jumped around some, but that may have been due to my computer.

The second article is shorter and can be found here: 

https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/12439/bronislava-nijinsky-choreography-of-bronislava-women-recollected.   It was written by Nadia Beard and is dated January 8, 2021.  In it the author writes about “Le Noces” and includes a video of that ballet.  Also covered is “Le Train Bleu.”  Of particular interest to me is the statement “In an era where static positions were the marrow of classical dance, Nijinska envisioned a modernist ballet, one which saw focus shift towards the movement which connected these positions.  Ultimately, she believed it was not the final posture that encapsulated the beauty of ballet, but the spaces in between.”

Tom, 

The Oakland Ballet restaged some of her ballets: https://oaklandballet.org/about/obc-history/

They performed Les Noces at the U of Maryland in 1982, which I was able to see. Very interesting report by Alan Kriegsman:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/style/1982/05/23/the-wonder-of-nijinskas-noces/e299ba5f-32ae-4054-ba65-45e315854cf8/

My suggestion: Classical companies all seem to be in a race to find female choreographers to offset the historic imbalance. Wouldn't it be nice if one of them set about reconstructing her ballets? At least two seem plausible: Les Noces and Les Biches.

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In her memoir America's Prima Ballerina, Maria Tallchief affectionately recounts her five year course of study with Bronislava Nijinska in Los Angeles before Tallchief joined one of the American ballet Russe companies.  Also her part in a Nijinska ballet that featured Cyd Charisse.

Quote

Chopin Concerto was also a hit [along with Rodeo]. An abstract ballet for a large ensemble choreographed in the academic classical style, Chopin Concerto is imbued with romance and emotion, Nijinska’s heartfelt response to the music, and it thrilled me. Unlike the de Mille, Chopin Concerto didn’t break new ground. It was utterly traditional. Danilova said in print, “The late ballets of Nijinska did not turn the pages of history. Yet they were very nice, very charming."

Camilla Gray's pathbreaking Russian Experiment in Art 1863-1922 (1962), an inexpensive Thames & Hudson paperbackis a great source book for the Russian artistic & cultural background that Nijinksa, Balachine, Diaghilev and Natalia Goncharova came out of, which is often given scant mention in US biographies. Stravinsky in the Kriegsman Washington Post article California links to says 

Quote

"Bronislava Nijinska ['s] choreography for the original productions of 'Renard' 1922 and 'Noces' 1923 pleased me more than any other works of mine interpreted by the Diaghilev troupe. Her conception of 'Noces' in blocks and masses . . . coincided with my ideas, as well as with the real – not realistic – decors."

You can see the "blocks and masses" and lines of force in some of the Soviet avant garde theater productions featured in Camilla Gray's book. Goncharova's – and likely some of Nijinska's – sources were Russian icons and children's books. 

Nice page on Goncharova at the Tate in the link below along with several of her paintings, most notably regarding Nijinska, Peasants Picking Apples.

https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/natalia-goncharova

Edited by Quiggin
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California, thank you for the links particularly the one on Les Noces.  When I first saw Les Noces (on video I have never seen it live) I was disappointed.  It was when I first became interested in ballet and I expected tutus and instrumental music.  Within the last year I read somewhere that it was about an arranged marriage.  I don’t know if that was Broni’s meaning, but it made a big difference in how I viewed it.  Now, it seems to be invoking a very structured culture.  The only emotion is at the end of the third sense when the bride and her mother are saying goodby.  Based on the music and the action it seems to me it seems that the bride is being led to a sacrificial chamber at the end. 

Volcanohunter, I have seen videos of Les Noces, Les Biches and also Le Train Bleu and would like to see other of Broni’s works.

Thank you Quiggin for the link to the article on Natalia Goncharova.  I am interested in female artists, partly because, like female choreographers, they are so little known.  There is a video in the article that I also found interesting.

Tom,

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