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Kally Lloyd-Jones: Moved by Nijinsky’s last jump

By | Published on Tuesday 11 August 2015

Nijinsky's Last Jump

The extraordinary yet ultimately tragic life of early Twentieth Century Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky has been widely documented in books and film, but this summer Company Chordelia use his story as inspiration for an entirely new piece of dance theatre. We spoke to the company’s Kally Lloyd-Jones about that life story and how it inspired her new show ‘Nijinsky’s Last Jump’.

CC: I suppose we should start by reminding ourselves who Vaslav Nijinsky was and a little about his life. Give us a very quick overview of his life and career.
KLJ: Vaslav Nijinsky was born in 1890 and is still considered one of the world’s most amazing dancers, famous for his incredible jump and also for his ability to totally inhabit his roles. He then choreographed ground-breaking works such as ‘The Rite Of Spring’ and ‘L’Apres-midi d’un Faun’. His career was cut short at the age of 29 though when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and he spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions and never performed in public again.

CC: What made you want to explore Nijinsky’s life in a piece of dance theatre?
KLJ: He is a fascinating man. He remains legendary even though there is almost no footage of him dancing, and I find his story and what we know about him compelling, heart breaking and disturbing.

CC: Did you have any specific source materials, and were there any specific aspects of his story you wanted to portray?
KLJ: I had read one of Nijinsky’s biographies when I was fourteen and it stayed with me. Much later, when I read Nijinsky’s diary, written in the six weeks leading up to his diagnosis, the inner life of this man was something I wanted to explore. I have now read several biographies and many other books, as well as watching films and documentaries. I have known all along that I wanted to hone in on his inner life, his mind and what happened to him. I read that schizophrenia is the result of a constitutional fragility coupled with psychological stress. I can’t help wondering what might have happened if any one of a number of things had been different.

CC: Different aspects of Nijinsky’s story have been told through more conventional film and theatre in the past. Given his art form, do you think telling his story through dance is more appropriate?
KLJ: I think that depends on what you want to portray. This piece is deliberately not biographical or linear. I have deliberately not mentioned any of the very prominent people in his life – Diaghilev, his wife Romola, his sister Bronislava. I have also steered clear of trying represent his dancing in a literal way, so the movement is often more about an exploration of his state of mind. In his diary he talks a lot about rhythm and the way he writes is often poetic and rhythmical, and that sense of rhythm permeates the show on many levels.

CC: Although there are lots of photos of Nijinsky, as you say, there is almost no footage of him actually dancing. Did the images we have, or records of his choreography, influence the piece?
KLJ: The show is woven through with references to iconic images and moments, so that if you have any prior knowledge you will recognise them. This imagery is often linked to the text with this idea of the way that he worked or saw things. They link his thinking behind those images and the moments we are left with.

CC: How is the narrative communicated? Does it help to be aware of Nijinsky’s life or work before seeing the show?
KLJ: I think how much you know about Nijinsky will alter your experience of the show but not your understanding of it or – more importantly – your ability to feel it. The show is about a man, a human being for whom life is difficult. It’s about the choices he made as much as it is about a dancer or choreographer.

CC: How do you go about creating a show like this? What’s the creative process, in terms of story, music and choreography?
KLJ: That’s a hard question! By the time the show opens I am thinking: how did this happen? But I will try! After the research, there is a long period of allowing my brain to think without actually deliberately thinking. I make notes and slowly a picture emerges and I start to create a story board or a scenario, and also pick music. I will then begin talking to designer Janis Hart and lighting designer Laura Hawkins and they will become part of the process. Then I met up with Michael Daviot, who wrote the text, and we discussed all the scenes and made decisions about the text. He is amazingly knowledgable and we had a great time delving into things. Then there’s another stage of having the cast, creating choreography and scenes, and sculpting the material, honing it into the final show.

CC: Tell us more about Company Chordelia, when and why did you set it up?
KLJ: I set up Company Chordelia in 2002 because I really wanted to make my own work. I think I made my first show with £2500 and slowly it has grown from there. I can see that my work has changed a lot over the years, and having your own company gives you the room to grow, which is one of the best things. I like to make work which uses other forms as well as dance, which is driven by some kind of narrative or character – it’s theatrical in nature and so I work with a brilliant creative team with whom I have built strong relationships.

CC: Why did you decide to premiere this new production at the Edinburgh Fringe?
KLJ: I love the experience of the Fringe. The opportunity to perform a work for a very eclectic and international audience; it’s unique and exciting. It’s also really great to be able to do fifteen shows in the same venue – it enables the cast, team and me to really settle into it and learn new things about the material.

CC: Across the International Festival and the Fringe there is a really strong programme of dance theatre, though it doesn’t necessarily have the same profile as other genres. What advice would you have for people less familiar with this art form when navigating this programme?
KLJ: I know that people are a little afraid of dance, but all I would say is – it’s all theatre. Treat it in the same way and choose what sounds interesting to you. Go with an open mind and whatever your experience is, it’s right. There is no wrong interpretation or understanding. Be bold!

CC: And finally, what are your long-term plans for ‘Nijinsky’s Last Jump’
KLJ: We will be touring the show all around Scotland and the UK next year, and then who knows?

‘Nijinsky’s Last Jump’ was performed at 
Dance Base at Edinburgh Festival 2015.

LINKS: chordelia.co.uk



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