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January 15, 2012

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Nijinsky ballet about tormented genius

AFTER all the different "Swan Lakes" depart, a ballet about the legendary Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) - an early radical in 20th-century dance - will be staged next month.

"Nijinsky" created by John Neumeier in 2000 will be presented by the Hamburg Ballet on February 10-11. Neumeier is the company's artistic director.

Nijinsky, one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, was one of the few male ballet dancers at the time who could dance en pointe and his leaps were virtually gravity-defying.

He was charismatic, technically superb and very modern, introducing radically angular moves and at times exceeding the limits of traditional ballet and propriety. He was also a choreographer.

His career was cut short when he was diagnosed with schizophrenic and spent the last 30 years of his life in and out of psychiatric institutions.

Neumeier's ballet begins with Nijinsky's last performance in Switzerland on January 19, 1919, which Nijinsky himself called "a wedding to god." It stands as a moment of transition, a place of memory and premonition.

Rimsky-Korsakov's symphonic poem "Scheherazade" and Shostakovich's 11th Symphony ("The Year 1905") serve as the musical basis, while Chopin's "Prelude in C Minor" and Schumann's "Carnaval" are performed in the prologue.

Several dancers will represent aspects of Nijinsky's persona - genius dancer, choreographer and man who had both a long-time lover and a wife.

In 1979 Neumeier presented a short ballet "Vaslaw," which gained him a reputation as a leading expert on Nijinsky. But creating a full-length ballet was a daunting undertaking.

"In creating a work about a historical person, what aspect should we concentrate on? Who was he truly? The man? The artist? Which information can we trust, which theories should one follow? What point of view can we take toward Nijinsky? An instinctive choice must be made," says Neumeier.

"Nijinsky" is not a biographical, because "a ballet can never be a documentary," says Neumeier, calling it instead "a biography of the soul, a biography of feelings and sensations. A particular situation, historical or imagined, might be suggested, but it is not a narrative one."

The work is a series of choreographic approaches to the enormous theme: Nijinsky.

"In the end, it's important that it is a ballet, a work of art in itself, understandable, enjoyable and moving - without having read a single word about Nijinsky," says Neumeier.

The Hamburg Ballet, or Hamburg State Opera Ballet, was established in 1678 and is one of the four top ballet companies in Germany. American choreographer Neumeier became the director in 1973, injecting new life into the old theater, expanding the repertoire with his many creations, such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Othello," "The Odyssey" and "St Matthew's Passion."

"For me, there can be no abstract dance," says Neumeier. "Dance is always something which demonstrates the relationship, the contacts, contrasts and tension between people."

Date: February 10-11, 7:15pm

Venue: Shanghai Grand Theater, 300 People's Ave

Tickets: 120-680 yuan

Tel: 962-388


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