One of the pieces I have been most keen to see at the 969 Festival at Wits University is Nijinsky’s War with dancer/choreographer Ignatius van Heerden.
Directed by Gopala Davies and this work starts before the audience enters the theatre with readings from Nijinsky’s diaries. This continues throughout and makes the work very text heavy at parts where nothing else it happening. It also makes for fascinating reading, or listening in the case of the audience.
Vaslav Nijinsky, the Polish Russian ballet dancer and choreographer rose to world prominence as a contemporary dancer in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. In 1912 he choreographed, danced, and was filmed in L’apres-midi d’un faune to music by Claude Debussy. This forms the first of three sections of the main choreography. The filmed version becomes the background against which van Heerden performs his choreography, sometimes directly in sync with Nijinsky, sometime using a mirrored or echoed style of the work. This work was extremely controversial because of the sexually suggestive final scene of this short work.
In Jeux, a work choreographed by Nijinsky in 1913, originally for three male dancers, but performed at Diaghilev’s insistence by Nijinsky and two female dancers, van Heerden uses the opportunity to outline a brief biography of Nijinsky’s sad life in which he married and was subsequently dismissed by Diaghilev who had been Nijinsky’s lover. He started an unsuccessful dance company of his own. During World War I Nijinsky found himself under house arrest in Hungary until 1916 when Diaghilev and other prominent people managed to get him released for an American tour. The stresses took their toll on Nijinsky and he was incarcerated in a mental asylum for the first time in 1919. Although he lived until 1950, he never danced again publicly and he spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions.
The third section of the work loosely looking at Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) to music by Igor Stravinsky is about Ignatius van Heerden and his homage to Vaslav Nijinsky.
The work is rich and one cannot possibly absorb it all in just one viewing. It is one of the works which won a Standard Bank Ovation at the 2017 National Arts Festival. I saw it at the 969 Festival at Wits University, curated by Gita Pather.
There are, in my opinion, no superlatives great enough for this work. I give it a resounding 10/10 and am very, very sorry that I am not available to see it for the second performance at this festival.