Review: Nijinsky (The National Ballet of Canada)

Nijinsky explores mental illness through dance at The National Ballet of Canada in Toronto

He was best known as one of the greatest male dancers of the early 20th Century and in the latest production by The National Ballet of Canada (NBC), we can see why. His name was Vaslav Nijinsky, a risk-taker performer and choreographer who pushed the boundaries in his time becoming one of the world’s first successful male dancers. He pushed the creative envelope and became a trailblazer in his time. His life was incredibly fascinating and the depiction of his life in NBC’s Nijinsky, was just as intriguing and exciting to watch.

I am a fan of pre-show talks – especially when it comes to dance. As much as I can appreciate the turns and jumps, I’m even a bigger fan of the story behind the production. NBC did a great pre-show talk that piqued my interest about the show even more. They added some great notes in the booklet about Nijinksy’s life that added to my enjoyment. Even though the feelings from the dancers were wonderfully expressed on stage, reading or hearing about the story in advance really gave me a whole new appreciation of the entire show.

This ballet, by John Neumeier, began with Nijinsky (played by Guillaume Côté) taking the stage for a performance. As an audience member, you are immediately taken into Nijinksy’s life, from his early days as a dancer to his later years where his mental illness got the better of him ending his dancing career. Through beautiful choreography and storytelling, Nijinsky recollects his memories and hallucinations. In addition to the gorgeous grand jetés and arabesques, I was impressed by the exceptional pointe work which ballet dancers make look so easy that you almost want to go home and try it yourself. Almost!

Even though Côté  had some wonderful performance moments throughout the show, it wasn’t until his last dance that he took my breath away. I could feel the anguish and pain coming through his contemporary, often bizarre, movements. I think if Nijinsky had seen that, he’d be proud as he was one to showcase performance art in more humane and realistic ways. In addition to Côté, Keiichi Hirano was incredible to watch. His presence was rather strong that he could just stand there and our eyes would still be glued to him.

I appreciate the technique and beauty that ballet brings. However, when the ballet world goes into the ‘dark’ side and pushes its own creative envelope, I am all over it like ice cream on warm apple pie! At the end, the show’s standing ovation lasted about fifteen minutes long. You’ll have to check out the show to see why.


  • Nijinsky is showing at The National Ballet of Canada, Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen Street West)
  • Showtimes: Saturday, November  22nd – Sunday, November 30th 2014 at 7:30pm (Sat & Sun matinee at 2pm)
  • Price: $26 – $249.00
  • Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416 345 9595

Photo of Guillaume Côté by Bruce Zinger