L’Après-midi d’un Faune : http://tinyurl.com/n4kceov
The first performance of L’Après-midi d’un Faune created a huge scandal. Nijinsky had caused scandals for what audiences perceived as indecency before, but nothing like this one. It was premiered in Paris, and one would expect sophistication from the Parisian audiences and critics, but it seems this ballet was just too much.
To begin with, this was no classical ballet. It was done in the style of a Greek bas-relief, as if it was coming to life. The choreography, by Nijinsky but with Diaghilev complete approval, was entirely innovative. The dancers were barefoot, moving heel to toe. Most of the dance was done in profile, like a Greek frieze, so the classical “positions” were eliminated.
The scenery and costumes, by Leon Bakst, were gorgeous. The Faun wore tights that were patterned after a dappled horse, and had vine clusters attached to it. He had a wig with short horns. The Nymphs who surrounded the Faun floated about in delicate fabrics for the dresses and veils. There were no white tutus and no pink shoes.
The story was based on Greek myths, but extremely simple. The Nymphs appear, dancing together and playing. The Faun observes them, proceeds to chase them, and finally tries to seize one of them. The Nymph manages to evade him, and runs away, leaving her veil. The disappointed Faun climbs a cliff in the background, lies down on the veil, and becomes immobile.
That is the end, and the curtain falls.
Except that on the first performance in Paris, Nijinsky did not remain immobile. As he lay down on the veil, he started moving in a sexual and suggestive way, and the audience began screaming, hissing, and protesting, while others were whistling and applauding. It was pandemonium.
As always, Diaghilev knew exactly what to do. Immediately, he gave the order to repeat the ballet, from beginning to end. The audience calmed down and watched for the second time – and ended with a huge, unanimous applause.
This did not end the story, though. The next day, the great critic, Calmette, wrote a scathing article in the Le Figaro newspaper. He was answered by the famous sculptor, Rodin, who not only loved the ballet but was also a personal friend of Diaghilev. The controversy spread, and Paris was divided into two camps regarding the scandal. The newspapers went on with many articles – and the result was a huge success of L’Après-midi d’un Faune.
When I first saw that there was a film that showed Nijinsky dancing L’Après-midi d’un Faune, I did not believe my eyes. What???? It is well known that Diaghilev did not permit filming Nijinsky, ever, under no circumstances. But here was this strange old video, and I watched with baited breath… all the while I was hoping that perhaps another video might exist, one that would show Nijinsky’s wild, almost unnatural leaps. No such luck – this was not real. It was nice to see Nijinsky moving, but the video is a modern work of combining still photographs, and making them move to the glorious sound of the Debussy piece. Nevertheless, even though you know it’s not real, the imagery is wonderful and enjoyable. The link, again, is http://tinyurl.com/n4kceov.