Vaslav Nijinsky and Diaghilev: The Famous Paris Debut 1909 October 22 2021

Since the time of the gods and pharaohs, dance has had a crucial role in history, where rhythmic movements gave free rein to the exhibition of feelings and thoughts through the use of the body as an instrument of expression, accompanied by iconic costumes as a way of showing respect and admiration.

One of the most sophisticated, praised and highly complex dances in history to date is undoubtedly Ballet or also known as classical dance. In 1971, Fidel Sepúlveda, a Chilean researcher, philosopher and poet, suggested that Ballet is a combination of the total unfolding of the body in integrated choreographic harmony, with the costumes, music, scenography and libretto where the dancers enunciate their feelings in a subtle way without stopping it from being captivating.

Beaujoyeulx, pioneer of the ballets de cour or court dances, which were shows that involved music, themes, scenography and choreography in a single scene that could transmit in a poetic and beautiful way the feelings and thoughts of people through corporal expression.

Nijinsky autograph Signed Print Paris Debut 1909

Original Print for Vaslav Nijinsky's Paris Debut (1909) Signed by Him


Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe

In 1907, the famous dance academy called "Russian Ballet" was founded, founded by businessman Sergei Diaghilev at an early age of thirty-five, and managed to bring together the best dancers, composers, set designers, among other professionals in the area of entertainment all of Russia.

Anacob (2017) refers to Diaghilev as a member of the group “Mir Izkutzsva” or “The world of art” in English, which was a group made up of bourgeois intellectuals who love art in general from the city of Saint Petersburg, whose mission was to make the artistic movements of Russia known to the world of the arts that were developing in the rest of Europe.

The mission set out by the wealthy businessman Diaghilev was achieved two years after the founding of the dance academy in 1909 as Russian Ballet arrived in the Parisian city, breaking down barriers and opening it to a new style of dance.

Diaghilev arrived together with the teacher and French choreographer Marius Petipa and one of the most prominent Russian male dancers within the historical ballet, Vaslav Nijinsky, who imposed a new era in ballet by integrating French and Italian techniques together with the influences of Russian folk dances.

Nijinski Signed Ballet Slipper

Nijinsky Original Genuine Signed Ballet Slipper


Vaslav Nijinsky – Early Life and Career

Vaslav Fómich Nijinsky, considered one of the representatives of the dance revolution, was born in 1890 in the Russian country, son of Tomás Laurentiyevich Nijinsky, the fourth generation of Polish dancers and Eleanora Bereda, heir to a wealthy landowner.

Nijinsky posing

During his entire childhood and adolescence he grew up surrounded by dancing since his parents were founders of a dance company that toured Russia through tours. Both Vaslav Nijinsky and his brothers Stanislav Nijinsky and Bronislava Nijinska danced at an early age in the company of their parents.

[Photo] Nijinsky in his thirties (colorized)

At only nine years old, he was considered a child prodigy in dancing and his evolution as a dancer was increasingly notorious and amazing for everyone around him. At sixteen, he declined the proposal of his dance teachers to leave the academy since they claimed that the student had surpassed the teachers. This was one of the first signs of the greatness and talent that Nijinsky had in store for the world of ballet.

The opportunity for the young dancer Vaslav Nijinsky to debut is given on June 14, 1907 at the Maryinsky Theater in the city of Saint Petersburg with the ballet entitled “La Source” accompanied by his co-star Julia Sedova.

The success of the work was without a doubt monumental as ballet critics at the time praised the techniques, elegance, charisma and strength that the dancer showed on stage, something that they cataloged as a unique show worthy of admiration. Vaslav participated that same year in three more works, “Eunice”, “le Pavillon d'Armide” or the Armide pavilion and last but not least “Egyptian Nights”.


Diaghilev and Nijinsky arrive in Paris

In 1909, Diaghilev brought the Russian ballets to Paris. The businessman, who had enjoyed the works of the young dancer at the Saint Petersburg Theater, decided to hire him as principal dancer and choreographer to tour the French capital and achieve recognition world.

Nijinsky in Petrushka

Nijinsky in the title role of Stravinsky's Petrushka.

The first performance of dancer Vaslav Nijinsky with the Russian Ballet company in Paris was on May 18, 1909 at the “Chatelet” theater, opening a night full of magic and ovations with a new version of the play “The Armida Pavilion” with her dance partner Anna Pavlova.

Leaving on the cusp the Russian ballet and great performer that shocked France and its surroundings, as well as other audiences in various parts of the world of ballet, since Vaslav Nijinsky debuted in 1907 he performed only as leading roles until the date of 1911 in the main theaters Mariinsky and the Bolshoi theater in Moscow.

Nijinski in Petrushka

The Armida Pavilion” consisted of an act with three scenes, the scenography by Alexandre Benois was framed in the symbolist technique (plastic arts movement created in France) creating a work full of colors as if it were a dream, turning an enchanting garden with classical architectural influences in a symbolic space. Each scene represented a symbolic space that allowed the spectator to transport himself to a realm of color.

[Photo] Vaslav Nijinsky in dancing pose in Stravinsky's Petrushka

The story takes place in the reign of Louis XIV during a strong storm, Viscount René de Beaugency, finds refuge in a castle belonging to the magician Marquis de Fierbois, the Duke rests in a wing of the castle called Armide's Pavilion, Rene is hypnotized by a painting who was there, when he was asleep, he dreams that the people in the painting come to life, which were the sorceress Armide and her entourage performing dances.

The duke is enthralled with the beauty of Armide and falls in love with her. In the dream she gives him a scarf and, upon waking up, he keeps the scarf that they had given him, prisoner of his thoughts and feelings without knowing that it was real and collapses at the feet of the marquis.


The Debut's Reception

Nijinsky in role

Nijinsky in role

Isis Wirth (2007), a ballet critic, mentions in her article “The Armida Pavilion: that, days before the show, the Parisians were only intrigued to meet the prodigy Vaslav Nijinsky due to the reputation that he held and how highly-regarded he was as a talent.

The work that really kick started his rise to fame and countless opportunities to perform on other stages was played by Vaslav Nijinsky as Viscount René de Beaugency, who falls deeply in love with Armide, played by Anna Pavlova, when he sees her in his dreams, the enchantress of the painting, which fascinated all of Paris.

Nijinski in dancing pose

The story touched the hearts of the spectators, but it was the ballet choreography what fascinated the audience. Although all the dancers were excellent, they always stood out from the rest, overshadowing their dance partner.

[Photo] Nijinsky in Debussy's ballet "L'apres midi d'un faune"

This was also that played a big role in the upcoming events when it comes to the growth and development of Vaslav Nijinsky and the kind of monumental career that he was going to have in a very short period of time.

On the opening night the artist Nijinsky left the audience stunned with eagerness for more works. His capacity for expression, the lightness of his steps that gave the appearance that he was floating on stage, his dramatic performance, the imposing image that transmitted strength, mystery and a certain seductive charm earned him the title as the genius of ballet.

This was the beginning of a short yet powerful story about one of the greatest ballet dancers that the medium has ever seen and you cannot simply understand the medium without having a major grasp of who Nijinsky is and what he achieved in a very short period of time as a dancer.


What Happened After

In the course of 1909 the Russian Ballet dance company presented the work “The Armida Pavilion” in various theaters in Paris, thus influencing art trends such as music, fashion, plastic arts and especially in dance.

Wirth (2007) refers to Russian ballets as an artistic movement that shocked the dance, starting with the jumps, pirouettes as well as bows combined with Nijinsky's cabrioles made the audience explode in thunderous applause and fascination for the incredible act they had witnessed.

Nijinsky shown in performance

His unparalleled talent allowed him to create new characters that would be integrated into the ballets of Fokine (main choreographer) so that he could always appear on stage with different and creative roles.

[Photo] Nijinsky in Debussy's "L'apres midi d'un faune"

This was also quite interesting because it allowed him to show his creativity and at the same show how diverse he could be in terms of the many different characters that he could portray.

Nijinsky was not only gifted with grace, athletic qualities and natural talent for the discipline of ballet, but he was also capable of showmanship of the greatest order, which was clearly shown through the many different characters that he created, thus giving us a very unique perspective of a talent in the medium that had no comparison, at least not when compared with other people from his generation.

In 1909 he also participated in the play as Les Sylphides presented at the Moscow Marinsky Theater, followed by various plays over the years until 1912 such as Schéhézade, Le Specter, Swan Lake, Le Dieu Blue, La Rose, Narcise , Petrouchka together with his female companions Tamara Karsavina and Anna Pavlova.


The God of Ballet

Vaslav Nijinsky was considered as the god of dance, a title that was awarded to him in France after his debut in the Parisian city, and he was a person who revolutionized dance interpretation worldwide because the choreographies of his authorship were daring, original and magnificent.

Nijinsky posing in role

He appeared on many stages in Europe and America, he believed that in order to project feelings and for the audience to be emotional, he had to connect with the spirit of the character himself.

[Photo] Nijinsky in a performance pose

Sadly, Nijinsky’s life was filled with tragedy and a lot of obstacles as he went on to have multiple mental health issues, which is something that marked his career as the years went by. The once ballet starlet even had to endure a lot of strong episodes of schizophrenia for over thirty years, leading to him being in and out of mental institutions.

It’s a great example of how genius can be a part of madness and how one of the all-time greats of the world of ballet sadly had to go through a lot of many different episodes of mental health problems, which eventually led to a very tragic end to his life.

Nijinsky’s career was short and yet extremely powerful and influential throughout the years of the ballet industry. May of 1909 was the beginning of a genius with no equal, who managed to take ballet to a whole new level and clearly combine grace, technique and eloquence in a way never seen before.

From the very second he made his debut on Paris, both the public and the press fell to their knees and this led the rise of a phenomenal Russian talent that will forever in the lives and minds of everybody who has loved this discipline.

Although his end is a bit tragic, dying very far away from his native country, he is remembered as one of the best dancers in the history of ballet.

 Nijinsky and Ravel

Nijinsky and Ravel at the Piano



- Nijinsky, Vaslav - Large Signed Print Paris Debut 1909

- Nijinsky, Romola - Signed Book "Nijinsky by His Wife" 1935

- Nijinsky, Vaslav - Signed Ballet Slipper 1914

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