【普鲁申科】Observing Madness





For a whole week training wrapped up at noon, because I was banned from rehearsing my long program until I finished the book. 

Yuri said it would be pointless if I don’t understand Nijinsky, and I wonder which is the more futile attempt, feeding a cat fish and expecting it to catch mice, or driving me away from the ice and expecting me to better perform a program. 

I was tempted to ask him, but held back my tongue at the last minute. What I really didn’t need was another lecture on how important it is for me to grasp Nijinsky’s mindset. Although, once in a while, I wanted to remind him that I am a figure skater, and not a figure dancer. 

It might have taken all of us by surprise that I “failed” so spectacularly at being “Nijinsky” - Yuri considered my first try a failure, I didn’t, though (my 4-3-3 was perfect). It wasn’t like I haven’t studied ballet, or that I don’t know who Nijinsky was. Or maybe, the problem was exactly that I knew too well of him, so well that I could not, or refuse to, become Nijinsky. 

After all, I am neither mad, nor gay. 

“He’s bi,” Yuri had retorted dryly, impatience kicking in with each word he spoke, “and his sexual orientation has little to do with your program.” 

“Then what? His madness?” 


And I couldn’t help but roll my eyes back at that. I could depict Nijinsky on ice; I could present his jumps, his passion, his L'après-midi d'un faune, but I could not present his madness. 

“Schizophrenia did not make Nijinsky Nijinsky.” I had argued, because at the root of this man was the techniques he mastered, the performances he gave, the ballets he choreographed, but not the illness he suffered, “I want to present his art, not his, well, inner sensitivity.” 

“You are separating his identity from his performance,” Yuri shook his head, and I knew the conversation was about to end, “You are trying to hide his imperfections, but you should know better than anyone that you don’t hide your imperfections, you overcome them.” 

With that he left me in the rink, and took the cassette player with him. When I lowered my head to let out a long and painful sigh, I stared at the cold surface, trails of blades tangled and light distorted, and wondered if Nijinsky ever saw himself in the reflection of his stage. 

Did he see madness, or did he see perfection? 

If anything could endure the erosion of time and the shifting of space, it would be insanity. 

I had read his diary in the park, on my sofa, while I was waiting for my coffee, and nothing changed the fact that the writing was insane (yes it was beautiful, but insanity is insanity is insanity). 

I didn’t know if I was more impressed by that Nijinsky wrote his diary while at the brim of sanity, or that his wife was able to make sense of his struggles and have the book published. Probably both.

…I am not yours, you are not mine. I love you now, I love you always. I am yours and I am my own…

...The doctors speak with intelligence, so does my wife. I am afraid of them. I want them to understand my feelings. “I know that it hurts you. Your wife is suffering because of you.”...

Excerpt from The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky

I was entertained for the most part - this overflow of rant disguised in literature was what he deemed “necessary to mankind”, and how hilarious was that?  

…I am strong, not weak. My body is not ill - it is my soul that is ill. I suffer, I suffer. Everyone will feel and understand. I am a man, not a beast. I love everyone, I have faults, I am a man – not God…

Excerpt from The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky

At some point though, I became hesitant to read onward. I can’t pinpoint that exact moment in the mess that was his conscious, but it was suddenly overwhelming, as if I had stepped upon a crack, breaking the ice, falling and sinking and drowning in the emotion of Vaslav Nijinsky. 

It was painful to finish, once I realized that he never tried to express what he understood of the world in his dance. He expressed himself, his world. Lied himself bare on the stage, hoping someone – anyone at all – would understand him. 

And insanity itself was not sad. But being insane and wanting to be understood was perhaps the most miserable desire one could ever have.

I returned the book to Yuri the next day, and felt like I’d never want to see it again. I may have failed to understand him, and it’s questionable whether or not I want to succeed at that at all, but then, it might be too much to ask for anyone to understand him.

I didn’t believe that Yuri ever understood Nijinsky, either.

We all observed him from the outside of his world, nearly a hundred years of time spaced between us, and constructed the image of the man from his nonsensical words. But when I stepped into the rink and heard the beginning of Tribute to Nijinsky, I was able to free whatever existence I built of him.

He was happy, sad, ill, and perfect all at the same time.

On the sole stage that was his life, I observed and released madness.