Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Nijinsky's last jump

VASLAV NIJINSKY, the world-renowned dancer and choreographer of the Ballets Russes, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1919 and his career effectively ended. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and taken to Switzerland by his wife. He was to spend the rest of his life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and asylums. By the late 40s his mental and physical condition had worsened and he was reduced to a robot like state as if in a living coma. In an effort to revive him, his wife, Romola, decided to try one last thing that she thought could breathe some life in him. With the consent of psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler, she brought to the asylum a dancer dressed exactly like Nijinsky was dressed when he performed his famous ballet for "L'après-midi d'un faune" (The Afternoon of a Faun). The idea was that this dancer would re-enact in front of a seated Nijinsky the exact choreography of the master to help him maybe remember. The year was 1945.

Nijinsky had danced for the last time on the evening of Jan. 19, 1919. That same afternoon he also had began writing his famous diary. His last public performance, was a disturbing solo recital, ''Marriage With God,'' at a hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he and his family had taken up wartime residence. For the next 45 days, sometimes all night, the 29-year-old Nijinsky wrote feverishly in four leather-bound school exercise books. He stopped abruptly on March 4, when his wife, Romola, and her family, took him to Zurich to see the noted psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. The verdict: schizophrenia, a diagnostic term Bleuler had recently coined.

Fast forward, 26 years later. Nijinsky is brought into a large room of the asylum and is seated on a chair. He is wearing a suit with the jacket buttoned. Dr Bleuler, Romola and a photographer are also present. The door opens and the dancer dressed as Nijinsky dances in front of the man himself. Nijinsky stares. He turns his head. He smiles. He stares again intensely at the dancer…and then…he jumps in the air. It is a glorious jump for which Nijinsky was famous. And the camera shutter clicks. And he is captured as if floating in the air with his jacket buttoned. Immediately after, he resumes his position sitting on his chair and darkness descends once again to envelope his mind forever. But for that fleeting moment in time the power of art and his explosive talent managed to brake the confining walls of madness. Darkness was illuminated for an instance. Alas, the light flickered and was extinguished again.

This incredible moment of magic is captured on a black and white photograph which now belongs in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Nijinsky died of renal failure on April 8, 1950, in London.


  1. Hi,

    I'd like to know the name of the photographer (Nijinsky's last photo). I'd searched at Victoria and Albert site without success.


    Caio Franco

  2. Hi Franco,

    Thanks for your comment and sorry for my late reply. I have seen this photograph in the 2001 film/documentary "The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky" by Paul Cox. I am sure that you might find a reference at the end credits of the film. Then again, this film is not easy to find on DVD even though it is really worth looking for. I also looked at the Victoria and Albert site without any success. I hope this might be of some help. Thanks for visiting my blog.


  3. Hi all there!
    This photo was made on a private visit of Serge Lifar by a companion. I therefore asume it is without name or copyright at least

  4. Thank you for providing this information

  5. The Picture Nijinsky's last jump is by Jean Manzon ....

    Hamilton Moss

  6. Thank you Hamilton for providing this information. Much appreciated.