Bronislawa Nijinska

Diaghilew, who made her famous, never could quite stomach the fact that she was the sister of his dear friend, a friend who left him without remorse. Strawinsky, who considered her to be the most successful choreographer of the Diaghilew-era when it came to the staging of his own works, described the awkward relationship between Diaghilew and Nijinska to Robert Craft thus: "Poor Bronislawa never did have any luck with Diaghilew. Because she had a bony and interesting face rather than that of a doll, Diaghilew never cast her for Petruchka. This had nothing to do with her level of technical proficiency, since the Nijinskis, brother and sister alike, were the most skilled dance couple one could possibly imagine. Nijinsky's marriage only exacerbated Diaghilew's prejudices against her; she looked like Nijinsky, she even had the same physical build with the same broad shoulders. She constantly reminded him of her brother, and it pained him to see that this person who dared resemble Nijinsky was a woman… In a way, her sex, her outward appearance and her name turned him against her. I always regretted this circumstance because apart from her and Fokine, most choreographers of my ballets were more concerned with executing rather than inventing steps."

Diaghilew's prejudice never did, however, stop her from contributing productions to the repertoire of the Ballets Russes which today are considered milestones in the development of the art-form. Born in 1891 in Minsk – a year after her brother Vaslav – Nijinska was raised in St. Petersburg where she attended the Imperial Ballet Academy and studied with Enrico Cecchetti. After graduating in 1908 she became a member of the Mariinski-Ballet, only to join Diaghilew's company in his first Paris-season of 1909. After the falling-out between Diaghilew and Nijinsky in 1913, in which unpleasant situation she sided with her brother, all parties concerned went separate ways. Bronislawa Fominischna, lovingly called Bronja by her colleagues throughout her lifetime, moved to Kiew during World War I where she danced at the opera, opened her own dance school and began choreographing.

Her second professional affiliation with Diaghilew began in 1921 with the splendid Sleeping Beauty production in London, in which she was involved as a dancer, director and choreographer. In the following years she created ballets which established her as a leading choreographer of the time: Strawinsky's Renard (1922) and Les Noces (1923), Poulenc's Les Biches, Auric'’s Les Fâcheux and Milhaud's Le Train bleu (all in 1925). Two of these ballets are considered no less than key choreographic works of the last century: Les Noces’und Les Biches. Little wonder, then, that she was the first women in Diaghilew's company to achieve international acclaim.

Throughout the following years Nijinska acted as choreographer for the latter's company, creating ballets which should cement her fame. Afterwards, she even expanded her activities by working with Ida Rubinstein's company in 1928/29 on Strawinsky's Le Baiser de la Fée as well as on Ravel's Bolero and La Valse. After working at the Opéra Russe à Paris, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, with Max Reinhardt in Berlin as well as founding her own company in 1932, Nijinska moved to California in 1938 where she opened a dance school. She also continued to accept offers for guest appearances from South America, the ABT, the Grand Ballett du Marquis de Cuevas and the Royal Ballet in London. She died on 12. Februar 1972 in Pacific Palisades, just after having completed the manuscript for her book 'My Brother, Vaslav Nijinsky'. It is no coincidence that she created her most significant ballets for Diaghilew: She was in need of, how shall we put it, an authoritarian figure to push her to her limits. In this she was like other Diaghilew-colleagues who, after the impresario's death, restlessly switched companies and only seldom reached the artistic heights of their former work – even Balanchine seemed to suffer the same fate before he met Kirstein in 1933 who invited him to work in the US, thereby establishing what would become the American ballet of today. This explains why she was overjoyed to have been invited by Frederick Ashton to restage her two most important creations with the Royal Ballet in the mid-60s. The renowned British company has ever since cherished Nijinska's Les Biches and Les Noces, and are aware of their historical responsibility in preserving these productions for future generations to enjoy.