In a year of incessant tug-of-wars on the national stage, outsiders may be shocked to see how Washington’s art, theatre, and diplomatic communities are working in tandem. While the National Gallery of Art continues to show the costumes of celebrated dancer Nijinsky in Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929: When Art Danced With Music, the Mladinsko Theatre Company is coming from Slovenia to perform their production of Nijinksy’s Last Dance, the celebrated work of Washington playwright Norman Allen.
This synergy of the arts is certainly no coincidence. DC Theatre Scene spoke to Norman Allen to find out who connected the dots and why. Mladinsko Theatre Company has toured Europe with their Slovenian translation of Nijinsky’s Last Dance since 2010. “I visited them in Slovenia to do a workshop, and saw that their production is really excellent,” Allen says. “It’s intimate and passionate; it’s avant-garde, but at the same time very simple.”
When the National Gallery announced the Ballets Russes exhibit, Russophile and ballet-lover Allen reached out to Cultural DC about presenting Nijinsky’s Last Dance at the Mead Theatre Lab. Ultimately, Cultural DC teamed up with the Embassy of Slovenia to bring Mladinsko’s production to D.C.
Allen is thrilled at the outcome of the collaborative effort. Audiences can dive into the world of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes—and he hopes they will.
“The National Gallery exhibit is so beautifully and theatrically designed. It’s like stepping into the Ballets Russes.” The exhibit features costumes and jewelry that Nijinsky wore on stage, and there are film projections of Nureyev dancing Nijinsky’s great roles. With the Mead Theatre Lab in walking distance from the National Gallery, you could go to the exhibit, eat dinner, and walk over to the play.
So why is a man who danced in Europe a hundred years ago still so captivating? “Nijinksy was a great artist and a wounded soul,” Allen says. “He has multiple layers of fascination. He was a great dancer, and great athlete. As a choreographer, Nijinsky’s work was revolutionary. He really laid the groundwork for modern dance.”
But Nijinksy’s Last Dance isn’t just about his public life. Nijinksy’s mental illness, as well as his tempestuous, fluid personal life feature greatly in the play. “You can read Nijinksy’s journals, and you’ll find that today he probably would have been called schizophrenic. “ As the dancer looks back on his life in Nijinksy’s Last Dance, Allen finds that his unraveling psyche takes on a larger significance. “Nijinksy in many ways becomes a metaphor for the switch in civilization that happens at World War I—he represents a sea change in history.”
While the exhibit at the National Gallery is on view through October 6, Mladinsko Theatre’s production is only here next week. This perfectly coordinated cultural exchange is a rare opportunity to dive into a forgotten world. The Ballets Russes was a hurricane of artistic innovation, bringing together the greatest dancers, composers, and designers to truly invent the modern ballet. And do not fear that “cultural exchange” is a euphemism for confusion—the original English text will be projected as supertitles over the stage.
Nijinsky’s Last Dance by Norman Allen will be performed Monday through Friday, August 26 – 30 at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint Gallery, 916 G St NW Washington, DC. Details and tickets.