Fresh from his success with Off-Broadway's lean, all-male R&J, based on Romeo and Juliet, director Joe Calarco is staging the world premiere of Nijinsky's Last Dance, opening Nov. 16 at Arlington, VA's Signature Theatre.
Norman Allen's one-actor biography of the great Polish-Ukrainian dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, began previews Nov. 3 (continuing to Dec. 13) starring Rutgers University graduate -- and non-dancer -- Jeremy Davidson, whose work has been seen at the Virginia Stage Company and the Berkshire Theatre Festival.
As Nijinsky enters an asylum, he struggles with memories of his younger self in the early 20th-century; his wife, Romola Pulsky; the impresario Sergei Diaghilev; and prima ballerina Tamara Karsavina.
Nijinsky (1888-1950) gave his last performance in 1917. He was plagued by mental illness until he died in 1950. He might be best known for his primal, sexually-charged staging of "Afternoon of a Faun," which shocked Paris in 1912.
Actor Davidson was a onetime basketball player at Rutgers who eventually earned his MFA in acting there. Despite the credit of choreographer Karma Camp on the show, there is no traditional ballet work seen on stage, according to Signature publicist Paul Gamble. Camp's effort, he said, is to have constant, flowing movement, but not legit dance. To acquaint Davidson with the way dancers move, Signature sent him to classes at the Broadway Dance Institute.
"There are times when what he has to be doing with his arms and feet has to be correct," Gamble told Playbill On-Line Nov. 13. Gamble added, Davidson does not dance or practice "the fifth position," a classical ballet move. The classes were to show Davidson "how a dancer moves as a person, not in a dance."
The sensual world of Nijinsky's Last Dance is set in a 16-by-20 foot black space punctuated by the work of designers Lou Stancari (set), Daniel MacLean Wagner (lighting), Heidi Alexander (costume) and David Maddox (sound). There are no props, said Gamble, and sometimes no clothes (the dancer poses for sketches by Rodin), laying bare the emotions and physicality Nijinsky.
There are some 300 light and sound cues in the 75-minute, intermissionless piece, which opens with Davidson entering from the back of the house, in a strait-jacket. As the play goes on, said Gamble, Nijinsky's world turns into an emotional "whirlwind," Gamble said.
Playwright Allen is the Signature's playwright-in-residence. The piece has been in development for a couple of years. Allen's previous work, Melville Slept Here, played the Signature two seasons ago.
Director Calarco earned raves for R&J, his conceptualization of Romeo and Juliet, casting four actors playing prep school boys acting out the Shakespeare text. The original Off-Off-Broadway staging is still running at the John Houseman Studio Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Nijinsky's Last Dance is not be confused with the recent Off-Off Broadway attraction Nijinsky Speaks, a one-man show with actor playwright Leonard Crofoot at the Harold Clurman Theater in Manhattan. It opened an eight week run Aug. 24, 1998.
Signature Theatre, run by artistic director Eric D. Schaeffer, produces a subscription season in a 136-seat space at 3806 S. Four Mile Run Drive in Arlington, VA. Its chief mission is new plays and musicals. For Nijinsky's Last Dance tickets, call ProTix at (800) 955-5566 or (703) 218-6500.
All seats are general admission.
-- By Kenneth Jones