Faded grandeur and a tragic tale of the famous dancer Nijinsky, as described by Vivienne Becker, in this contemporary vision of photographs by Valery Katsuba.
This is a story about Vaslav Nijinsky, dieu de la danse, legendary star of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and one of the greatest talents at the centre of Fabergé’s world and Russia’s scintillating Silver Age. Our photo narrative, shot on location in St Petersburg, poignantly reinvents a true episode in Nijinsky’s early life which is recounted in “The Tragedy of Nijinsky”, a biography written by the dancer’s close friend and confidant Anatole Bourman.
It is a tale of two jewels, each representing riches of a different kind: one, true friendship and loyalty, the other glamour, wealth and decadence. Fabergé, goldsmith and jeweller to the Imperial Court, celebrated around the world, takes centre stage as the creator of the diamond jewel at the heart of the tale. As the photo-story took shape and gathered its own momentum, so our own story unfolded, breathing new life into history, and ultimately transforming the tragically sad ending to Nijinsky’s life into a parable of rescue and redemption.
In the spirit of Diaghilev, who conceived Mir Iskusstva and the Ballets Russes as a synthesis of the arts, bringing together artists from all disciplines, so ‘Nijinsky and the Diamonds’ was a collaboration of creative talent, photographer, stylist, set designer, couturier, ballet dancer, actress. Amongst the large Russian contingent in the team, adding another layer of authenticity, Grisha, in the role of Nijinsky, is a leading dancer with the Mariinsky Theatre. The setting was a dilapidated, ghostly St Petersburg palace of breathtaking faded grandeur, whose secretive shadows came to join in our storytelling, mischievously throwing flashes of light and casting shadows into our carefully composed tableaux. As “Nijinsky” performed a miraculous leap, a shadow, like a foot, appeared inexplicably and unbelievably, its tip touching the diamonds.
The photo-story begins with Nijinsky, young, fresh and innocent, a huge model of the amethyst ring by his side, glimpsed secretly through a half-open door. In a meeting with Prince Dmitri, in a room in his palace, Nijinsky is offered the diamonds as a gift from the secret princess just seen leaving the room; she wears Fabergé jewellery, including an original diamond egg pendant, and a couture dress design by Alexis Barrell. Her character, appearance and costumes are based on those of the beautiful and cultivated Princess Zénaide Youssoupoff, for whom Fabergé once designed an extravagant ballgown. Nijinsky is left to choose between the amethyst and the Fabergé diamonds, weighing up the attractions of each gem, the diamonds heavy and lustrous in his hands. As he deliberates, he dances, wearing a costume inspired by Nijinksy’s original costume for Spectre de la Rose. Finally, as he performs his legendary leap, suspended in the air, he rejects the amethyst in favour of the diamonds, representing his new life of wealth, finery and superficiality. He becomes “enslaved” by the prince’s lifestyle, transformed into the aristocrats’ pet, as he practises in the prince’s great room watched by high society acquaintances – a development abhorred by Bourman. Amongst the guests is Prince Dmitri’s close friend, a second prince who is based on the handsome, dashing and fabulously wealthy but dissolute Prince Felix Youssoupoff. These were the two princes who conspired to kill Rasputin, the mystic who exerted such a powerful influence over Tzarina Alexandra.
Together, the two princes lure Nijinsky into their decadent existence, out of touch with reality and sincerity, and leading the dancer even further away from his humble roots represented by the amethyst ring. As the saga progresses, Nijinsky is shown, in an interpretation of a masked harlequin costume from the ballet Parade, dejected, desolate and deeply troubled, dissatisfied with the emptiness of his glittering new life. As he falls, after attempting his legendary leap, his secret princess, the author of his discontent, appears by his side, revealing herself to him. He tells of his sadness, and as they talk, she becomes his saviour, lifting him up out of despair, and rescuing him from tragedy and destruction. The light within the diamonds illuminates his great artistic legacy, the light of hope and happiness, and his path forward into history.