Nijinsky, a ballet by John Neumeier performed The National Ballet of Canada
The National Ballet of Canadian performance of John Neumeier’s Nijinsky opened last Tuesday April 3 for its short run at the S.F. Opera House, through Sunday April 8, at 2:00, and it’s not to be missed. While I love ballet, I don’t go that often. Yet I followed my intuition and bought balcony tickets for the premiere and I have never been so grateful for my 6th sense as I stood with the crowd calling bravo as the curtains billowed and the dancers made their final bows.
It begins with an oddly cool set as the great Nijinsky performs his strange innovations for a parlor room of clapping and sometimes tittering audience- but shortly the set pulls back and from then on in there is nothing cool about this ballet. As Nijinsky recedes into his memory through his famous dances to his decent into madness, while the world explodes into the first world war, we are watching a Frau Angelico come to life. Yes, its medieval in its sensibility. Shadow and light create the illusion of a giant stairway, or a pool of light cast from a giant disc, revealing Fra Angelico, Bosch and Bruegel in the flesh. The set moves through every shade of grey to encompass all gamut of possible movement; grace, jump, twitch, flat foot, crash and arabesque, including, in the second set, disembodied voice as dance, as in mad laughter. Figures slowly roll across the floor like slugs being pulled by the moon, bodies crash to the floor from balconies, shapes I have never seen before, yet were oddly familiar, stumble, as the Dieux de la Danse descends, a person too sensitive to be able to withstand the insanity of the first world war.
Please don’t read me wrong, this ballet is far from indulgent, and forgive me, Im not that familiar with the world of ballet. But it’s not John Neumeier’s first rodeo. He set his first work for the National Ballet of Canada, Don Juan, for Nureyev in 1972, and has received numerous rewards, including the Prix Benois de la Danse, in 2016, for Lifetime achievement.
After the ballet I went down to the information stand to find out if the production was traveling. A small group of us were gathered around the “info man” as he explained that the first run of this ballet was performed in San Francisco in 2013 by the Ballet of Hamburg to mixed reviews. We all agreed that the world has caught up in its madness- its time is now. And no, tragically, it’s not traveling.
Foot note: the cheaper seats in the balcony are a perfect place to get the grand scope, though Im biased, that’s all Ive seen. But I’d suggest not waiting for the final show, because I can’t imagine how these dancers will have the stamina to go full force for a complete week. But of course, they will.