Nijinsky’s Last Jump

“God is beauty with feeling” insists Nijinsky, gazing searchingly at his audience. And that feeling, that complete connection between what is breath-taking and what is emotionally profound, is communicated by the dancer in every pose, every motion, every sweep of the arms and every jump. But if you know much about the Russian dancer on which Nijinsky’s Last Jump is based, you know before the piece starts that this intensity will only lead towards distress and pain.

The staging is perfectly sophisticated, sparse enough to allow for the progression of the story, but beautiful despite its simplicity.

This particular retelling of Nijinsky’s life is done through he as the sole character, but in narratives both of the man at the end of his life, played by James Bryce, and in the memory of his youth, played by Darren Brownlie. Bryce weaves the story from childhood to old age with touching care, a man wistful for what was and that could not continue to be. Into his arms he, on many occasions, holds the young Nijinsky, as if wishing to transport himself through time and give the vulnerable young dancer the care he ached for, as if that could have changed the end of his story. Old Nijinsky’s recollections endear the audience to both he and his youthful version, encouraging a profound empathy that is only made stronger by the portrayal of the young Nijinsky himself.

Brownlie dances with near shuddering alarm in every expression, like his own puppet inescapably manipulated, but he by an intensity of feeling that even he cannot totally comprehend and yet that dictates both the incredible upward trajectory of his career and the downward spiral as schizophrenia catches up with him. Although the young Nijinsky is not as compelling as his older counterpart when he speaks, he more than makes up for this slight disconnect in his motions. Concentrating a furious energy into stylized choreography, Brownlie easily reveals why Vaslav Nijinsky was so very renowned.

The staging is perfectly sophisticated, sparse enough to allow for the progression of the story, but beautiful despite its simplicity. The few pieces of furniture are dripping with vases of flowers, suggesting the incredible esteem and popularity the dancer enjoyed at his prime, and contributing to the aesthetic of elegance that was expertly created by the choices of sound designer Jesse Godolphin. The classical pieces transport the viewer to the imperial Russia in which Nijinsky began his ballet career, and persist in constructing the aesthetic even when he is not dancing.

Nijinsky’s Last Jump is, on the whole, an excellent example of utter synchronicity between facets of the show, with no part outshining each other but instead working together to tell the heartbreaking story of this 20th century dancer, the emotional pain he endured and the beauty he created.

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The Blurb

Nijinsky’s Last Jump combines theatre and dance to evoke the legendary 20th Century dancer Vaslav Nijinsky’s journey from global success to the desolate isolation of mental illness. As the passionate obsession of the young Nijinsky comes face to face with the searching inner life of the older Nijinsky, this sharp and tender show portrays a poignant intimacy of genius and madness, youth and age, both the performing and private self. Inspired by the rhythmic obsession of Nijinsky’s diaries, Young and Old Nijinsky consider their life together, on and off stage, trying to make sense of the loss of self.

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