Nijinsky (film)
Nijinsky is a 1980 American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 biographical film
Biographical film
A biographical film, or biopic , is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people. They differ from films “based on a true story” or “historical films” in that they attempt to comprehensively tell a person’s life story or at least the most historically important years of their...

 directed by Herbert Ross
Herbert Ross
Herbert Ross was an American film director, producer, choreographer and actor.-Early life and career:Born Herbert David Ross in Brooklyn, New York, he made his stage debut as Third Witch with a touring company of Macbeth in 1942...

. Hugh Wheeler
Hugh Wheeler
Hugh Callingham Wheeler was an English-born playwright, screenwriter, librettist, poet, and translator. He resided in the United States from 1934 until his death and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. He had attended London University.Under the noms de plume Patrick Quentin, Q...

, whose screenplay
A screenplay or script is a written work that is made especially for a film or television program. Screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression, and dialogues of the characters are also narrated...

 centers on the later life and career of Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky
Vaslav Nijinsky was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations...

, used the legendary dancer's personal diaries and his wife's 1933 book Life of Nijinsky as his primary source materials.


The film suggests Nijinsky was driven into madness
Insanity, craziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including becoming a danger to themselves and others, though not all such acts are considered insanity...

 by both his consuming ambition and self-enforced heterosexuality
Heterosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the opposite sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, heterosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, physical or romantic attractions to persons of the opposite sex";...

, the latter prompted by his romantic involvement with Romola de Pulszky, a society girl who joins impresario
An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas; analogous to a film producer in filmmaking, television production and an angel investor in business...

 Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Diaghilev
Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev , usually referred to outside of Russia as Serge, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.-Early life and career:...

's Ballets Russes
Ballets Russes
The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company from Russia which performed between 1909 and 1929 in many countries. Directed by Sergei Diaghilev, it is regarded as the greatest ballet company of the 20th century. Many of its dancers originated from the Imperial Ballet of Saint Petersburg...

 specifically to seduce Nijinsky. After a series of misunderstandings with Diaghilev, who is both his domineering mentor and possessive lover, Nijinsky succumbs to Romola's charms and marries her, after which his gradual decline from artistic moodiness to complete lunacy begins.

Principal cast

  • Alan Bates
    Alan Bates
    Sir Alan Arthur Bates CBE was an English actor, who came to prominence in the 1960s, a time of high creativity in British cinema, when he demonstrated his versatility in films ranging from the popular children’s story Whistle Down the Wind to the "kitchen sink" drama A Kind of Loving...

     ..... Sergei Diaghilev
  • George de la Peña
    George de la Peña
    George de la Peña is an American ballet dancer, musical theatre performer, choreographer, actor, and teacher. He was born in New York City, New York, U.S....

     ..... Vaslav Nijinsky
  • Leslie Browne
    Leslie Browne
    Leslie Browne is an American ballet dancer and actress.She was born Leslie Brown, the daughter of Kelly Brown and Isabel Mirrow. She had two brothers and one sister; her brother Kevin is a film producer. At the age of seven she began dancing, and would be trained at her father's studio in Arizona,...

     ..... Romola de Pulsky
  • Carla Fracci
    Carla Fracci
    Carla Fracci is a ballet dancer and actress. Her career highlights include Nijinsky, Giselle , Complete Bell Telephone Hour Performances: Erik Bruhn 1961-1967.-FAO Ambassador:...

     ..... Tamara Karsavina
    Tamara Karsavina
    Tamara Platonovna Karsavina was a famous Russian ballerina, renowned for her beauty, who was most noted as a Principal Artist of the Imperial Russian Ballet and later the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev...

  • Ronald Pickup
    Ronald Pickup
    -Life and career:Pickup was born in Chester, England, the son of Daisy and Eric Pickup, who was a lecturer. Pickup was educated at The King's School, Chester, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and became an Associate Member of RADA.His television work began with an episode...

     ..... Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

  • Vernon Dobtcheff
    Vernon Dobtcheff
    Vernon Dobtcheff is a French and British actor.Dobtcheff was born in Nîmes, France, to a family of Russian descent. He attended Ascham Preparatory School in Eastbourne, Sussex, England, in the 1940s, where he won the Acting Cup...

     ..... Sergei Grigoriev
  • Frederick Jaeger
    Frederick Jaeger
    Frederick Jaeger was a German-born actor who found success working in British television.Jaeger was born in Berlin, but moved to England following Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany. He graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1948, and became a British citizen two years later...

     ..... Gabriel Astruc
    Gabriel Astruc
    Gabriel Astruc was a French journalist, agent, promoter, theatre manager, theatrical impresario, and playwright whose career connects many of the best-known incidents and personalities of Belle Epoque Paris.- Biography :...

  • Janet Suzman
    Janet Suzman
    Dame Janet Suzman, DBE is a South African-born-British actress and director.-Early life:Janet Suzman was born in Johannesburg to a Jewish family, the daughter of Betty and Saul Suzman, a wealthy importer of tobacco....

     ..... Emilia Marcus
  • Siân Phillips
    Siân Phillips
    Jane Elizabeth Ailwên "Siân" Phillips, CBE, is a Welsh actress.-Early life:Phillips was born in Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen, Neath Port Talbot, Wales, the daughter of Sally , a teacher, and David Phillips, a steelworker-turned-policeman...

     ..... Lady Ripon
  • Alan Badel
    Alan Badel
    Alan Fernand Badel was a distinguished English stage actor who also appeared frequently in the cinema, radio and television and was noted for his richly textured voice which was once described as "the sound of tears".-Early life:...

     ..... Baron de Gunzburg
  • Colin Blakely
    Colin Blakely
    Colin George Blakely was a Northern Irish character actor. He was considered an actor of great range.-Early life:...

     ..... Vassili
  • Ronald Lacey
    Ronald Lacey
    Ronald Lacey was an English actor. He made numerous television and film appearances over a 30 year period and is perhaps best remembered for his villainous roles in Hollywood films, most famously Major Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.-Career:Lacey attended Harrow Weald Grammar School and...

     ..... Leon Bakst
    Léon Bakst
    Léon Samoilovitch Bakst was a Russian painter and scene- and costume designer. He was a member of the Sergei Diaghilev circle and the Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes...

  • Jeremy Irons
    Jeremy Irons
    Jeremy John Irons is an English actor. After receiving classical training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Irons began his acting career on stage in 1969, and has since appeared in many London theatre productions including The Winter's Tale, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the...

     ..... Mikhail Fokine
  • Anton Dolin
    Anton Dolin
    Sir Anton Dolin was an English ballet dancer and choreographer.Dolin was born in Slinfold in Sussex as Sydney Francis Patrick Chippendall Healey-Kay but was generally known as Patrick Kay. He joined Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1921, was a principal there from 1924, and was a principal...

     ..... Maestro Cecchetti
    Enrico Cecchetti
    Enrico Cecchetti was an Italian ballet dancer, mime, and founder of the Cecchetti method. The son of two dancers from Civitanova Marche, he was born in the costuming room of the Teatro Tordinona in Rome. After an illustrious career as a dancer in Europe, he went to dance for the Imperial Ballet in...

  • Hetty Baynes
    Hetty Baynes
    Henrietta S.L. "Hetty" Baynes is an English actress. She began her career as a ballet dancer at the Royal Ballet School and made her professional debut at 12 in Rudolf Nureyev's The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden....

     ..... Magda

Principal production credits

  • Producers
    Film producer
    A film producer oversees and delivers a film project to all relevant parties while preserving the integrity, voice and vision of the film. They will also often take on some financial risk by using their own money, especially during the pre-production period, before a film is fully financed.The...

     ..... Harry Saltzman
    Harry Saltzman
    Harry Saltzman was a Canadian theatre and film producer best known for his mega-gamble which resulted in his co-producing the James Bond film series with Albert R...

    , Nora Kaye
    Nora Kaye
    Nora Kaye was an American ballerina called the Duse of Dance after acclaimed actress Eleonora Duse. She also worked in films as a choreographer and producer....

  • Musical Conductor
    Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...

     ..... John Lanchbery
    John Lanchbery
    John Arthur Lanchbery OBE was an English, later Australian, composer and conductor, famous for his ballet arrangements.-Life:...

  • Cinematography
    Cinematography is the making of lighting and camera choices when recording photographic images for cinema. It is closely related to the art of still photography...

     ..... Douglas Slocombe
    Douglas Slocombe
    Douglas Slocombe OBE, BSC, A.S.C. is a British cinematographer who has enjoyed a long career in the British film industry...

  • Production Design
    Production designer
    In film and television, a production designer is the person responsible for the overall look of a filmed event such as films, TV programs, music videos or adverts. Production designers have one of the key creative roles in the creation of motion pictures and television. Working directly with the...

     ..... John Blezard

  • Art Direction
    Art director
    The art director is a person who supervise the creative process of a design.The term 'art director' is a blanket title for a variety of similar job functions in advertising, publishing, film and television, the Internet, and video games....

     ..... George Richardson
  • Costume Design
    Costume design
    Costume design is the fabrication of apparel for the overall appearance of a character or performer. This usually involves researching, designing and building the actual items from conception. Costumes may be for a theater or cinema performance but may not be limited to such...

     ..... Alan Barrett
  • Ballet mistress
    Ballet Master
    Ballet Master is the term used for an employee of a ballet company who is responsible for the level of competence of the dancers in their company...

     ..... Irina Baronova
    Irina Baronova
    Irina Mikhailovna Baronova , FRAD was a Russian ballerina who was one of the Baby Ballerinas of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, discovered by George Balanchine in Paris in the 1930s...


  • "Invitation to the Dance
    Invitation to the Dance (Weber)
    Invitation to the Dance , Op. 65, J. 260, is a piano piece in rondo form written by Carl Maria von Weber in 1819. It is also well known in the 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz...

    " from Le Spectre de la Rose
    Le Spectre de la Rose
    Le Spectre de la Rose is a ballet of the Ballets Russes based on a poem by Théophile Gautier. The music, by Carl Maria von Weber, was his 1819 piano piece Invitation to the Dance, in the 1841 orchestration by Hector Berlioz. Choreography was by Michel Fokine and set and costume design by Léon Bakst...

    by Carl Maria von Weber
    Carl Maria von Weber
    Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school....

  • Scheherazade
    Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov)
    Sheherazade , Op. 35, is a symphonic suite composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, sometimes known as The Arabian Nights, this orchestral work combines two features common to Russian music and of Rimsky-Korsakov in particular: dazzling, colourful...

    by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
    Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
    Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was a Russian composer, and a member of the group of composers known as The Five.The Five, also known as The Mighty Handful or The Mighty Coterie, refers to a circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the years 1856–1870: Mily Balakirev , César...

  • Prelude à l'Après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy
    Claude Debussy
    Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

  • Jeux
    Jeux is the last work for orchestra written by Claude Debussy. Described as a "poème dansé" , it was originally intended to accompany a ballet, and was written for the Ballets Russes of Serge Diaghilev to choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. Debussy initially objected to the scenario, but...

    by Claude Debussy
    Claude Debussy
    Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

  • Carnaval
    Carnaval (Schumann)
    Carnaval, Op. 9, is a work by Robert Schumann for piano solo, written in 1834-1835, and subtitled Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes . It consists of a collection of short pieces representing masked revelers at Carnival, a festival before Lent...

    by Robert Schumann
    Robert Schumann
    Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

  • The Rite of Spring
    The Rite of Spring
    The Rite of Spring, original French title Le sacre du printemps , is a ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky; choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky; and concept, set design and costumes by Nicholas Roerich...

    by Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Stravinsky
    Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

  • Prince Igor
    Prince Igor
    Prince Igor is an opera in four acts with a prologue. It was composed by Alexander Borodin. The composer adapted the libretto from the East Slavic epic The Lay of Igor's Host, which recounts the campaign of Russian prince Igor Svyatoslavich against the invading Polovtsian tribes in 1185...

    by Alexander Borodin
    Alexander Borodin
    Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin was a Russian Romantic composer and chemist of Georgian–Russian parentage. He was a member of the group of composers called The Five , who were dedicated to producing a specifically Russian kind of art music...

Production notes

  • This was Herbert Ross' second film to focus on the world of ballet, following The Turning Point
    The Turning Point (1977 film)
    The Turning Point is a 1977 film written by Arthur Laurents and directed by Herbert Ross. In starring roles were Shirley MacLaine, Anne Bancroft, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Leslie Browne, Tom Skerritt, Martha Scott, Anthony Zerbe, Marshall Thompson and James Mitchell.-Plot:This film tells the story of...

    in 1977 where he had worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov
    Mikhail Baryshnikov
    Mikhail Nikolaevich Baryshnikov is a Soviet and American dancer, choreographer, and actor, often cited alongside Vaslav Nijinsky and Rudolf Nureyev as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the 20th century. After a promising start in the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, he defected to Canada in 1974...

     and other members of the American Ballet Theatre
    American Ballet Theatre
    American Ballet Theatre , based in New York City, was one of the foremost ballet companies of the 20th century. It continues as a leading dance company in the world today...

    . Baryshnikov turned down the role of Vaslav Nijinsky and returned to the American Ballet Theatre and was promoted to the role of Artistic Director.
  • Nijinsky was Jeremy Irons
    Jeremy Irons
    Jeremy John Irons is an English actor. After receiving classical training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Irons began his acting career on stage in 1969, and has since appeared in many London theatre productions including The Winter's Tale, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the...

    ' film debut and the second to last film produced by the famed Harry Saltzman (after he gave up his share of the James Bond rights).
  • The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Festival Ballet were featured in the dance sequences. David Hersey
    David Hersey
    David Hersey is a lighting designer who has designed the lighting for over 250 plays, musicals, operas, and ballets. His work has been seen in most corners of the globe and his many awards include the Tony Award for Best Lighting Design for Evita, Cats, and Les Misérables, the Drama Desk Award for...

     of the National Film Theatre in London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

     designed the theatrical lighting in these scenes.
  • The film grossed $1,047,454 in the United States

Critical reception

In his review in Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

, Richard Schickel
Richard Schickel
Richard Warren Schickel is an American author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker. He is a film critic for Time magazine, having also written for Life magazine and the Los Angeles Times Book Review....

 opined, "Some people will be titillated by the openness with which homosexual love is portrayed in the film. But this is mostly a slow, cautious biography, elegantly attentive to Edwardian decor and dress. It slights Nijinsky's melodramatic story and, finally, offends with its relentless reductionism. There are times when excesses of good taste become a kind of bad taste, a falsification of a subject's spirit and milieu. This is never more true than when the troubles of a genius are presented in boring and conventional terms."

Time Out London calls it "the best gay
Gay is a word that refers to a homosexual person, especially a homosexual male. For homosexual women the specific term is "lesbian"....

 weepie since Death in Venice
Death in Venice (film)
Death in Venice is a 1971 film directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen. The film is based on the novella Death in Venice by Thomas Mann.-Plot:...

… the first major studio film to centre on a male homosexual relationship (albeit a doomed one) without being moralistic … director Ross and writer Hugh Wheeler … do right by their male characters (Alan Bates, in particular, is a plausibly adult Diaghilev), their grasp of the historical reconstructions seems more than competent, and their dialogue and exposition are unusually adroit. Best of all, they never show ballet for its own sake, and have the courage to keep emotional dynamics in the forefront throughout."

Channel 4
Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...

says, "What could have been a powerful period drama quickly descends into soap opera territory … but it's always watchable, and director Ross … laces the action with some well-choregraphed dance."
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