Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Was It Really Like?

There are legendary performances in all areas of the arts.

In ballet, one was the opening night of 'L'apres midi d'un faune' in Paris in 1912.

The work was presented by Serge de Diaghilev's Ballets Russes at the Theatre du Chatelet. It was choreographed and danced principally by Vaslav Nijinsky. Set to mysterious other-worldly music by Claude Debussy of 1894. Inspired by a poem by Stephane Mallarme of 1876, in part ...

I adore you, rage of virgins o fierce Delight of the sacred naked weight slipping away Fleeing my fiery lip as it drinks, like trembling Lightening! the terror of the flesh: From the feet of the heartless to the heart of the timid one, abandoned together by an innocence Moist with wild tears or less unhappy vapours

Nijinsky was inspired in his choreography by the stiff stylized poses and actions depicted in the friezes of ancient Greek vase painting and sculpture. In a sense such a mode allowed the portrayal of sexual themes not possible in a more realistic presentation.

The sensation of this legendary night was caused mainly by the fact that the faun, after chasing one of nymphs ...

... and picking up a dropped drapery, ...

... placed the garment on the ground ...

... mounted it and proceeded to masturbate into it.

Uproar ... women fainted ... tiaras went askew ... . Gay guys probably got hard.

The newspapers went on full attack.

So I've always wondered what the ballet looked like in performance.

I've studied the photographs - but of course they only go so far.

There have been re-constructions, such as that by Colonel de Basil's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, with David Lichine as the faun - photographed by Max Dupain in Australia in 1940.

These images seem to say even less!

Now there are the more recent and well-intentioned reproduction stagings, like that at the Paris Opera - with of course location creds!

And there have been 'evocations' with new choreography such as the beautiful modern classical work for the New York City Ballet by Jerome Robbins in 1958. Later remounted for the Royal Ballet in London. And there's Maurice Bejart's take on the piece. Among many.

Then there was the sad concoction of a 'poem animation' by someone who should remain nameless. Before the subterfuge was exposed, I was so incredibly excited by this supposed discovery of new film of perhaps the greatest dancer of all time - in reputation at least.

I think the only performance that may give some sense of the original is some home footage (?) by one of Nijnsky's successors at the Ballet Russe - Serge Lifar.

Lifar with Tamara Karsavina in 'Romeo and Juliett' (?)

Lifar in 'Zephir et Flore' (1925)

Lifar joined the Diaghilev company in 1923, a year after their last mounting of the work by Bronislava Nijinska.

The film fragment is set outdoors - and begins just before the faun gets over -excited by the scarf. It does have the strong unapologetic erotic charge and complete narcissism that I have imagined in the Nijinsky performance on that opening night early last century.

Lifar wouldn't have seen the original but may have heard enough about it to create a viable re-creation.

And I certainly now think I have a much better sense of that extraordinary evening!


  1. Was the first clip the New York City Ballet version? It was just wonderful, Nick. Thank you for, once again, demonstrating that a gay blog need not be dedicated to hard cocks alone in order to be entertaining. You truly are the enlightened blogger. Love your dance and opera blogs, too.

  2. hey ken

    the first clip was the paris opera ballet - with charles jude as the faun

    i didn't put in the NY City ballet version - i'm sure it's easily found on youtube - it is truly lovely

    and many thanks for the appreciation - i like the blog to be varied and need your feedback to know others like this approach too

    take care


  3. PS Ken

    there is a 1955 NYC ballet with jacques d'amboise -

    there's also a royal ballet mounting of the same robbins work

    one by Bejart at

    it goes on and on - i put the paris one in cos it attempts to reproduce the work - whereas the robbins and bejart ones start from scratch more or less

    take care


    film of

    amd a version by maurise bejart

  4. There is also a wonderful animated version of L'apres-midi d'un Faune in the movie Allegro Non Troppo, very true to the spirit of the ballet scenario, but with a snarky sad twist.

  5. Hi Nick,

    After checking out the two links in your reply I am struck by how you absolutely made the right choice. The Paris Opera staging is simply delicious, and as much as I love the work of Jerome Robbins (I live upstate New York and have seen the NYC Ballet at their summer home in Saratoga Springs many times) his choreography is way off the mark, in comparison. So, too, Bejart. It's sometimes best to leave well enough alone.

    Thanks again.

    Oh.....and Maui Points of View ( is the site I built when I lived on Maui (for 21 years). I'm now back in Saratoga Springs.


  6. hey richard

    thanks very much for the pointer to the animated version - much appreciated - i'm off to youtube and google this very moment!


  7. hey ken

    yeah, the paris opera version allows you to imagine it's first night, 29 may 1912 - without taking any serious drugs! (ack. 'good will hunting')

    and what made you leave Maui - i've lived in places for long periods and then left and sometimes it's a strange experience moving on.

    be in touch


  8. One Who Lived To Regret It.January 25, 2009 at 6:58 AM

    Just another fan telling you what a great job you do on this blog, and the others that you have. It's really refreshing to visit; sometimes to learn something new, sometimes to laugh, and sometimes get aroused.

    Okay, I'm off to church to atone for my many and varied sins, not the least of which seems to be a growing addiction to CHBG&TOBME.

    Love from

  9. hey josh

    love your acronym (CHBG&TOBME) - looks like some new and very expensive medication - perhaps for tinea!

    i think all my sins would have me permanently in my local pew - on my knees doing something other than i usually do on my knees - see, incorrigible!

    glad you like the variety - encourages me - so thanks a lot a lot!

    love back