(Joan Acocella’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 6/27.)
Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), the great Polish-Russian dancer who, in his early twenties, introduced modernism into ballet and then went floridly insane, is a subject that was just waiting for the experimental theatre director Robert Wilson. Wilson has always been interested in mental aberrations. Indeed, as a child he had a “processing disorder,” as he has called it. He was slow to read and slow to learn, and he had a terrible stutter. Once he overcame those problems, he addressed problems in others. When he was a young man, he worked as a therapist for brain-damaged children. Later, he cast an autistic teen-ager, Christopher Knowles, in a number of his shows. So it’s easy to see why Nijinsky’s condition, which is thought to have been schizophrenia, would have attracted him—as would Nijinsky’s profession. Probably to the annoyance of some choreographers, Wilson, who has had no formal dance training, speaks of himself as a choreographer. “All theatre is dance,” he has said.