Vol. 21 No. 1 Spring/ Printemps 2000

JEREMY LONG. The Final Performance of Nijinsky, St Moritz-Dorf, 1919. Vancouver: Tamahnous, 1998. 100 pp. Illus., $12.00 CDN paper.

MALCOLM PAGE

TRIC/RTAC is reviewing a play text for two reasons: the book includes an essay about Vancouver theatre in the 70s and the publisher is a theatre company. The Preface explains:

We wanted to publish a fine piece of dramatic writing that threatened to be forgotten, and to tell the public how important this play was in Tamahnous Theatre. Nijinsky, as the title was later abbreviated, was our original script. Through its various incarnations, two mountings and a film production, this play crystallized the Tamahnous Theatre. Nijinsky, as the title was later abbreviated, was our original script. Through its various incarnations, two mountings and film production, this play crystallized the Tamahnous 'style' more than any other production in the twenty-seven year history of the company. As well, Nijinisky was important because of what the play said about the artist's situation. (9)

Jeremy Long's "Author's Note" refers to influence of Grotowski, explains the connection between his writing and collective creation (in Vancouver in June 1972, an early date) and asserts that his script "is representative of a dynamic which reflected the rapidly evolving social, moral and economic structures of the late sixties and early seventies on the west coast" (12-13). Long wrote five plays for Tamahnous between 1972 and 1983. This, the first to be published, was performed by the company in 1972 and 1976. I saw the later production at Vancouver East Cultural Centre, and I realise that--though my memories are hazy--this probably makes the text more accessible for me. I recall a long silence when Nijinsky is expected to dance and stands motionless (Martin Sherman's When She Danced has a similar moment for Isadora Duncan). I believe this occurs on page 82, but the stage direction does not make this clear.

Long's play is rich. Some is semi-documentary, with scenes from Nijinsky's life, such as Diaghilev persuading him to leave Russia, experiences in Paris, planning a tour of South America, his marriage to Romola, fatherhood, and internment in Hungary during World War I. He is always an artist: "When I dance I feel that I don't belong to any company, to anybody, to anybody, that I am free" (32). Long's drama touches variously on gay relations, war, insanity, and Tolstoi's teachings. The piece is highly theatrical, with a chorus, a square dance, a direct address to the audience, an auction of Nijinsky's body and soul, and his patiently making up as Petrushka (perhaps his greatest role) for most of the play and then suddenly wiping it off.

[Photograph currently unavailable]

A British treatment of the man, Nijinsky: Death of a Faun, by David Pownall (London: Oberon, 1996) merits a mention. This eloquent monologue, a prose-poem, is intended for performance by an actor who is also a dancer. Set on the day in 1929 when Nijinsky heard of the death of Diaghilev, the story finds him in the chapel of a Swiss sanatorium. He is painfully aware that he will never dance again and he is preoccupied by his love/hate for Diaghilev.

Stephen E. Miller's essay, "Dancing with Nijinsky," accompanies the script. Miller was an ensemble member in 1972, and responsible for sound and lights in 1976. His reminiscences contribute to the largely unwriiten history of Vancouver theatre in the 70s. A group--mostly disgruntled UBC graduates, including John Gray and Larry Lillo--came together in the summer of 1971 to perform Dracula II. Deciding to continue, they presented a version of The Bacchae several months later, then, wanting a script by a Canadian author, they moved on to Nijinsky. Miller describes Tom Braidwood filming this in five days for $12,000, adding that no copies can now be found. He mentions taking the play to Toronto and on a month-long winter tour of B.C., but gives no itinerary, only a reference to performing on Quadra Island. He suggests a context of ten other alternative groups which were "coalescing" (86). Two of these, Gallimaufry and Savage God, have been documented in this journal, but the others can be sought only in fading memories and records which may well be lost. Miller is casual about dates, as the short existences of most of these ten range from the late 60s to the mid 70s. Miller's subject is the company's glory days. After some ten years the original collective dispersed and the 80s and 90s brought change and decline.

In the 70s, Tamahnous displayed a new energy, a new do-it-yourself spirit, an awareness of new forms very different from the regional theatres and their imitators. Tamahnous staged new plays, like Tarragon, which it created collectively, like Passe Muraille, and explored physical theatre, like One Yellow Rabbit--all this and Brecht too. Miller catches this freshness: "The breaking of barriers was a common theme in the early seventies--the barrier of the audience as passive observers, of allowing the audience to interact with and influence the experience: the barrier of forbidden (obscene) language, of being impolite, of posing awkward and offensive questions, of discussing politics and sex; the barrier of nudity; and barrier of beginnings and endings of a play, or whether to have a curtain, a proscenium, or a roof" (88-89).

Tamahnous intended this book to be the first of series of publications to commemorate the company, its writers and its times. Unfortunately, at the end of writing (July 2000), no further publications are announced.