Nijinsky’s War: Inspired

Ignatius van Heerden in Nijinsky’s War. Photo: Jan Potgieter.

Vaslav Nijinsky has inspired dancers and choreographers for a century. Nijinsky’s War is Ignatius van Heerden’s tribute to the iconic man and the impact he had on ballet and the dance world, as well as a personal refection on artistic greatness, self-doubt, and inspiration.

In form, director Gopala Davies and choreographer-dancer van Heerden evoke the sense of a fractured and tortured mind. There’s stimuli from all sides. A miniature video of a man, reading (presumably) The Diary of Nijinsky, is projected downstage against the corner of the stage. Although he’s only audible during the beginning, his image remains reading throughout – an ever-present part of the work’s progress.

The backdrop is filled by a video projection of edgy or abstract action throughout – which moves between being disturbing, bizarre and unsettling – from the reverse exposure pig masks, to the time lapse decomposing mouse and rabbit.

van Heerden is on stage moving, dancing with moments and imagery taken from Nijinsky’s influential works: Afternoon of a Faun, Jeux (Games), and The Rite of Spring. Sometimes he’s mirroring the screen’s image, sometimes driven by it, sometimes in opposition. And there’s audio, plus the handheld projector, which with every move casts hundreds of rapidly blinking eyeballs in green light onto the walls and roof, onto himself, onto us.

With this inundation of images and sound, Nijinsky’s War creates an atmosphere seemingly intended to reflect the state of Nijinsky’s mind – diagnosed schizophrenic, he spent the last thirty years of his life in and out of various institutes.

Then van Heerden turns the lens on himself. He’s been on a rather dark stage until now, but slowly the lights brighten as the focus turns to his life and journey as a choreographer. A suspended straitjacket has created a silhouette against the screen since the beginning; cleverly it appears as a figure of a man. van Heerden dons the straitjacket during his Rite of Spring scene. With him also wearing a beautiful, flowing long skirt, the conflicting garments evoke the idea of a battle – of Nijinsky’s deterioration, and of van Heerden’s struggles. They overlap now, the two men’s worlds… captivated too in the closing moments when van Heerden sits where the miniature man was (who we can assume was an imagined Nijinsky) and recites a letter in Russian.

Nijinsky’s War is a polished dance work. It’s disquieting and strangely moving… I’ve been waiting for something on the fringe that makes me feel there are ‘fringe’ works – provocative, pushing boundaries, working cleverly with form and imagery, or simply being offbeat – and I think I’ve found it in Nijinsky’s War.

— Sarah Roberson

Nijinsky’s War has two shows left. 02 July (today) at 16.00 and 03 July at 20.30. Book here.

Director: Gopala Davies
Choreographer: Ignatius van Heerden
Featured Artists: Ignatius van Heerden
Company: Leftfoot Productions

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