Simply Ballet History

Vaslav Nijinski

Vaslav Nijinski was the male star dancer of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the early 20th Century (More on the Ballets Russes in another post!)

After graduating from the Imperial Ballet school, he was accepted straight into the second company rank at the Imperial Ballet in 1907, but left to join Diaghilev’s revolutionary new Ballets Russes in 1909.

Pictured here in his costume from “The Blue god” (depicting the Hindu god Krishna), Michel Fokine’s choreography was supposed to display the virtuoso dancing of Vaslav Nijinsky, however mainly consisted of a series of poses inspired by Hindu sculpture.

Vaslav Nijinski poses as the blue god
Nijinski Costume the blue god National Galley Australia

The ballet premiered in 1912, and continued in the company’s repertoire until it was danced during Colonel De Basil’s Original Ballet Russe tour of Australia (1939-1940).  In a bizarre twist of fate, a cane basket full of costumes was left behind at a theatre.  In the early 1990’s, the National Gallery of Australia purchased the basket unknowingly in a clearance auction, only to discover a treasure trove of authentic early 20th Century Ballets Russes costumes.  The pieces have been lovingly restored and are now on display at the National Galley in Canberra, including Nijinski’s ‘Blue god’ costume.

Vasalav Nijinski himself had a sad end to his dancing career.  After trying his hand at choreography (not super successfully…) his virtuosity was not enough to repair a falling out with Sergei Diaghilev.  He was let go from the company and endeavoured to start his own troupe, however the start of World War 1 forced him to settle in Switzerland.  His mental health deteriorated, being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1919 he was admitted to a mental asylum and never danced in public again.