Crofoot tells the life of Nijinsky

October 05, 1998|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NEW YORK -- Shuttling between the Bonnard and Edward Burne-Jones art exhibits a few weeks ago, I walked to the western edge of Manhattan (Ninth Avenue and 42nd Street) to catch a much-recommended theater piece called "Nijinsky Speaks."

An off-off-Broadway, one-man performance, it's not as unique as the producers and critics are proclaiming, but it has been extended through Nov. 22 at the Harold Clurman Theater.

The story of the virtuoso art and tormented life of Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) is told by Leonard Crofoot, a Broadway dancer who originated the role of Tom Thumb in "Barnum."

Crofoot (he's part Sioux) stars in his own script for "Nijinsky Speaks," using as source material the diaries kept by the dancer in 1918, the first year of his mental breakdown. Nijinsky spent the rest of his life in various sanatoriums and hospitals: a period three times as long as the meteoric nine years (1908-1917) of his dance career.

Crofoot made his debut at 10 as a grasshopper with a touring company of Kirov Ballet dancers. The Kirov's former incarnation, the Maryinsky Ballet, was the school and company in which Nijinsky trained and danced, and most of the Ballets Russes' famous dancers were also Maryinsky refugees. So Crofoot's experience and style suit Nijinsky well, as does his short stature and compact body.

When the almost catatonic dancer remembers his leaps in "La Spectre de la Rose" or the jagged, implacable rhythms of the "Sacrificial Dance" from "Rite," you sense that Crofoot really is able to recapitulate the muscle memory of a body that can never forget it belonged to a dancer.

The show is brief, just 90 minutes, but it gives you the span of Nijinsky's acrobatic brilliance, his foreshortened choreographic gift and the conflict between Romola de Pulszki, his wife, and Serge Diaghilev, his lover, that eventually helped drive the dancer mad.

The Harold Clurman (only in New York would a dump like this be called a theater) is at 412 W. 42nd St. Call 212-307-4100.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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