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Portrait of Bronislava Nijinska by an unknown artist.
Bronislava Nijinska was a leading dancer and pioneering female choreographer whose reputation has been somewhat hidden as she has been overshadowed by her brother Vaslav Nijinsky. She worked closely with her brother on his experimental choreography 1912-13 and was a key participant in his independent venture at the Palace Theatre, London in 1914.
Returning to Russia 1914-20 she was cut off from her brother’s activities and, unaware of his mental decline, she created her own solos, productions and established a school which she imagined she was creating material he could develop when they were re-united. During the War, first in Moscow and then Kyiv (Kiev) she began to collaborate with Alexandra Exter who was in the forefront of the Constructivist movement. They shared an interest in non-representational and utilitarian work
On returning to the West in 1921 Diaghilev summonsed Nijinska to enliven the staging of The Sleeping Princess and employed her as his principal choreographer for the next three years during which time she created her masterworks Les Noces and Les Biches. Her period with the Ballets Russes was noted for productions showing a modern life-style (including Les Biches and Le Train bleu), productions presenting a retrospective classicism (including Facheux) and choreographically the neo-classicism that would be developed further under George Balanchine. Diaghilev admired Nijinska but she worked more openly independently of Diaghilev’s advice than other choreographers resulting in her departure to undertake her own projects including restoring her links with Exter. In dance Nijinska was the most significant choreographer to introduce ideas from the Russian avant garde to the West.
Nijinska took on several male roles in the 1920s and 30s including the Faun in her brother’s L’Après-midi d’un faune (1922), Lysandre, the dancer in Les Fâcheux (1924) when Idzikowsky walked out of her production designed by Braque (1924), Pedrollino in Les Comediens Jaloux (1932) and Hamlet (1934). It has been noted that her Hostess in Les Biches is masculine in behaviour and choreography in a notably feminine ballet that subtly, if openly, dealt with gay issues. A number of her own productions were abstract works and she created productions that were not gender-specific.
Throughout the 1930s she ran her own companies, choreographed the Max Reinhart film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and at the outbreak of War in 1939 moved to the USA. Nijinska had been a great influence on both Anton Dolin and Frederick Ashton and when Ashton was Artistic Director of The Royal Ballet he invited Nijinska to revive Les Biches and Les Noces for the company leading to the restoration of her position in twentieth century ballet.
Unsigned charcoal portrait of Bronislava Nijinska with eyes lowered. Her hair is parted at the centre and gathered in a toll at her neck
Height: 52 cm, Width: 45 cm
Unsigned charcoal portrait of Bronislava Nijinska
Dance; Entertainment & Leisure; Portraits
Theatre and Performance Collection