A statue of Vaslav and Bronislava Nijinsky by Giennadij Jerszow
Did Nijinsky possess supernatural powers?
Vaslav Nijinsky was a legend even during his own time. There were several occasions where people were wondering if his performance was not helped by supernatural powers. His leaps, in particular, seemed to be so incredibly high, and lasted so long, that people felt he was flying, or floating, defying gravity.
It is most unfortunate that we cannot see any old films in which he appears – apparently Diaghilev did not allow anyone to film during Nijinsky’s performances – so the only evidence we have is word of mouth and memoirs. However, Nijinsky’s sister, a great dancer and choreographer in her own right, left some clues.
For example, his level of energy and his ability to focus were extraordinary. Here is how Bronislava described his practice habits:
“While Vaslav, apart from the others, practiced his dance exercises alone, I observed him from a distance. He executed all his exercises at an accelerated tempo, and for never more than forty-five to fifty minutes; that would be his total practice time. But during that time he expended the strength and energy equivalent in other dancers to three hours of assiduous exercises… Vaslav seemed more intent on improving the energy of the muscular drive, strength, and speed than observing the five positions… He worked on the elasticity of the whole body in the execution of his own movements. Even when holding a pose, Vaslav’s body never stopped dancing. “
Another point is, why couldn’t the greatest dancer of his time, perhaps even the entire twentieth century, lift his legs very high? Here is a paragraph by Bronislava that explains the one flaw he had exhibited:
“In his adagio exercises, in the développé front , he could not raise his leg higher than ninety degrees; the build of his leg, his overdeveloped thigh muscles, as solid as a rock, did not permit him to attain the angle possible for an average dancer.“
And the most important, here is the explanation for his supernatural leaps. Perhaps people should have taken a clue from the strange fact that he was one of the few male dancers, ever, who could dance en pointe, but no one connected the two facts.
“In the allegro pas he did not come down completely on the balls of his feet, but barely touched the floor with the tips of his toes and not the customary preparation with both feet firmly on the floor, taking the force from a deep plié. Nijinsky’s toes were unusually strong and enabled him to take this short preparation so quickly as to be imperceptible, creating the impression n that he remained at all times suspended in the air. “
Source: Nijinska, 1982, pp. 293-4