Afternoon of a Faun (Nijinsky)  

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The ballet L'après-midi d'un faune (or The Afternoon of a Faun) was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes, and first performed in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on May 29, 1912. Nijinsky danced the main part himself.

As its score it used the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Claude Debussy. Both the music and the ballet were inspired by the poem L'après-midi d'un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé. The costumes and sets were designed by the painter Léon Bakst.


The choreography

The style of the ballet, in which a young faun meets several nymphs, flirts with them and chases them, was deliberately archaic. In the original scenography designed by Léon Bakst, the dancers were presented as part of a large tableau, a staging reminiscent of an ancient Greek vase painting. They often moved across the stage in profile as if on a bas relief. The ballet was presented in bare feet and rejected classical formalism. The work had an overtly erotic subtext beneath its façade of Greek antiquity, ending with a scene of graphic sexual desire.

Lydia Sokolova, the first English dancer in the Ballets Russes, gave the following description of Nijinsky's performance:

{{quote|Nijinsky as the faun was thrilling. Although his movements were absolutely restrained, they were virile and powerful and the manner in which he caressed and carried the nymph's veil was so animal that one expected to see him run up the side of the hill with it in his mouth. There was an unforgettable moment just before his final amorous descent upon the scarf when he knelt on one leg on top of the hill; with his other leg stretched out behind him. Suddenly he threw back his head, opened his mouth and silently laughed. It was superb acting.

L'Après-midi d'un Faune is considered one of the first modern ballets and proved to be as controversial as Nijinsky's Jeux (1913) and Le sacre du printemps (1913).

The scandal

In the final scene, the faun takes a scarf stolen from a nymph to a rock, caresses it longingly, and carefully lays it down flat. Then, with erotic desire, the faun lies down prone on top of the scarf, and thrusts his pelvis into it once, ending the ballet. In the newspaper Le Figaro, editor Gaston Calmette wrote, "We have had a faun, incontinent, with vile movements of erotic bestiality and gestures of heavy shamelessness." To him, Nijinsky's dance was "the too-expressive pantomime of the body of an ill-made beast, hideous, from the front, and even more hideous in profile," and his paper started a campaign against the ballet.Template:Citation needed

In reply, the sculptor Auguste Rodin published a defense of the choreography and, in a letter to Le Figaro painter Odilon Redon, expressed the wish that his friend Mallarmé could have seen "this wonderful evocation of his thought."Template:Citation needed

The reconstruction

Due to its hostile reception the ballet was only in the repertoire for a few years before being forgotten and assumed lost. In the late 1980s, dance notation specialists Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke reconstructed the ballet from Nijinsky's own notebooks, his dance notation and the photographs of the dancers that were made by Baron Adolf de Meyer shortly after the first performance. This reconstructed version is often presented with Nijinsky's other works or repertoire from the Ballets Russes.

Other art

A pastiche of the ballet forms part of the music video for Queen's 1984 single I Want to Break Free. Freddie Mercury dances the role of the faun, with dancers from the Royal Ballet also performing, including Jeremy Sheffield. This version also proved controversial.


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