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The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky

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Movie propaganda

In the grip of madness, Nijinsky fled to St Moritz in an attempt to escape his overbearing mentor Diaghilev. It was during that time that Nijinsky was able to lucidly capture his feelings in his writing, thus making Cahíers a rare and precious document.

Nijinsky portrays the dancer through the use of visual imagery seen from his point of view, reflecting salient moments of his life through the characters he was dancing at the time - petrouchka, the faun, the blue god, the golden slave, and others. as the voice of Nijinsky, Sir Derek Jacobi reads from the diaries.

Celebrating Nijinsky the dancer, the film explores the mind of a genius on the outer verge of reason.

Theatrical propaganda posters

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky image

Target demographic movie keyword propaganda

  • Film diary biography drama dance ballet Nijinksy

Persons of interest

  • Derek Jacobi .... Nijinsky
  • Delia Silvan .... Romola
  • Chris Haywood .... Oscar
  • Hans Sonneveld .... The Doctor
  • Oliver Streeton .... The Psychiatrist
  • Jillian Smith .... Emilia
  • Kevin Lucas .... Diaghilev
  • David Gallasch .... The Critic
  • Aanya Whitehead .... The Maid
  • Gabriella Joy Smart .... The Piano Player
  • Paul Grabowsky .... Music
  • Paul Cox .... Screenwriter
  • Paul Cox .... Director

Cinematic intelligence sources

Intelligence analyst

Special Agent Matti

Theatrical report

Uhhh... art.

The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is a selection of images played against the spoken word. The former includes historical photos, costume sketches, character recreations, non-representational imagery and dance. The latter is a man reading some diaries. If you're a cynic, you'll say that this film is like sitting in a cinema listening to someone reading some letters. If you're a multimedia enthusiast you'll say that it's like the work of Sydney artist William Yang (although he often does his thing live).

Whatever the case, you've got to be a real admirer of the genre to watch 1½ hours of it. There's no story, there's no plot, there's only one character and he's not exactly sane (technically speaking, he's a fruit loop). The diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is definitely reserved for the chardonnay set.

Fine arts students may also attend.

Security censorship classification

M (Adult themes)

Surveillance time

90 minutes (1:30 hours)

Not for public release in Australia before date

Film: 25 April 2002

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Production notes
"I'm a dancer. You will understand me when you see me dance" - Vaslav Nijinsky

In December 1917, Vaslav Nijinsky with his wife Romola and three year old daughter Kyra, retreated to a villa in St Moritz to await the end of the war. His relationship with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes had been severed and with war raging throughout Europe, it was impossible for Nijinsky to find other engagements. By the armistice in Movember 1918, Nijinsky, the most celebrated male dancer of the western world, had suffered a severe mental breakdown. In notebooks he recorded his intense inner turmoil.

Known as "the god of the dance" Vaslav Nijinsky is probably the greatest male dancer of all time. Bringing the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky to the screen has been a consuming passion and labour of love for most of writer and director Paul Cox's career, having first been inspired with the idea over 30 years ago, when he heard Paul Schofield read parts of the diary on the radio.

Says Cox: "It reminded me of Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother... here was another person who, on the edge of insanity, managed to say what he felt, not what he thought. It really intrigued me, and that's one of the reasons I made Vincent - the life and death of Vincent van Gogh. Nijinsky goes even further into that so-called insanity, where people are really much closer to the truth of who we are, where we're travelling to and why we're here."

Born in Kiev, Russia in 1888, Nijinsky entered the imperial school in St Petersburg in 1898, and upon graduation in 1907 became a soloist with the Maryinsky Theatre. Moving in the aristocratic circles of St Petersburg, he met Sergei Diaghilev. Under his influence and dictation Nijinsky became his protégé, and ultimately one of the most respected dancers of all time.

Not a documentary or a traditional feature film the diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is best described as a cinematic poem. As long-term Cox friend and collaborator Chris Haywood says: "With this film Cox has achieved a level of filmmaking which is unsurpassed. Vincent was a step towards it. Using a very subjective form of filmmaking, he has actually visualised Nijinsky's diary."

With the shoot spanning 18 months in locations ranging from the French highlands, the Adelaide lowlands, Russian steppes, Spain, Holland and inner Paris, Paul Cox did almost everything himself - the writing, directing, filming and editing.

Haywood compares the shooting of the film to an artist's palette "Paul uses a lot of natural light, and watching him shoot the film was akin to observing an artist mixing his colours. What he has done in the editing process is put those colours onto the canvas. It is as if an impressionist has painted it."

In his time, Nijinsky was considered a performing chameleon, and Cox used a number of different dancers to portray him through the characters he danced.

Says Cox: "There are at least 25 Nijinskies in the film - sometimes male, sometimes female. As he was a man of many disguises, and so many characters came out through the photos that are left behind, I thought you can't have just one person playing Nijinsky.

"It's not a film about the dance, but a dancing film."

Few of Nijinsky's ballets have remained intact, so Cox had help from Alida Chase in particular, in recreating some of the famous dances. One of the reconstructed ballets that most notably dealt with Nijinsky's life is the story of Petrouchka - the puppet dancing at the hands of his master.

Says dancer/choreographer Leigh Warren, who is one of the dancers portraying the character Petrouchka in Nijinsky: "It is one of those complex and tragic stories where everybody loves somebody else. I believe the choreographer wove in a second strata to the obvious storyline, which was of what was really going on... that Nijinsky was the puppet and Diaghilev was the magician who pulled his strings. I think it was a warning to Diaghilev to 'be careful, don't push this person too far'. It must have been a real plea, but we'll never know if Diaghilev got the message. But sadly we do know what the tragic results were.

"I think that if anyone can give us a feeling of who Nijinsky really was, it is Paul Cox" continued Warren.

Music is a very important element in every Cox film, as he believes music to be at the basis of all creativity. Quite often, he has the music in place at the start of a film. In this case, there was a lot of existing music from composers including Debussy, Weber and Stravinsky, which was an integral part of Nijinsky's performances. Long time Cox-collaborator Paul Grabowsky has woven these famous pieces together with his own original compositions.

Another element important to the film was the recreation of costumes of the Ballets Russes. Says costume designer Jilly Hickey: "The costumes are based on original designs commissioned by Diaghilev - I altered them a touch to include Paul's style and feel, but the costumes bear a striking resemblance to the originals."

Producer Aanya Whitehead says she came aboard feeling incredibly moved by the strength and the message of Paul Cox's script: "It almost felt like a spiritual document in terms of life, kindness and humanity," she says.

"Nijinsky's words shock and create passion - they make you react totally through your heart and your emotion. I believe Paul has set out to interpret the love Nijinsky had for mankind" she continued.

Executive producer Kevin Lucas, who also appeared as Diaghilev in the film, says "Nijinsky was a very complex person. At the beginning of the 21st century, he still stands as a great artist, and someone who was totally passionate about finding the "truth".

Says Paul Cox: "Nijinsky has really humbled me, because I agree with the sentiments he is expressing, about god, love, living, ageing and dying."

When Vaslav was first confined to an asylum he said to Romola: "Femmka, have courage; do not despair. There is a god."

He never danced again but lived another thirty years, withdrawn from the world in a reality of his own.

Vaslav Nijinsky died on 8 April 1950.

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