VASLAV is a one man play performed by Godfrey Johnson about Russian dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. Nijinsky is considered something of a Russian legend for his ballet and choreography. He was born in Kiev in 1889 and died in London in 1950 after spending much of the last 30 years of his life in and out of asylums after being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1919.
This dark cabaret style play features Godfrey Johnson as Vaslav Nijinsky and tells through song and spoken word, parts of Nijinsky’s story. The play opens with Johnson walking to the piano, and playing a variety of pieces of music, some dark and imposing, others light and frilly, all intermingled disjointedly in what could appropriately be described as a schizophrenic manner. These opening few minutes set the expectations for the rest of the play. The script, based on Vaslav Nijinsky’s diaries draws the audience into Nijinsky’s mind as Johnson relays memories, thoughts and anxieties.
In the last 12 months I have seen a lot of theatre productions, dance works drama and exhibitions that touch on mental illness, and this play reminded me very much of a work that portrayed the life of Antonin Artaud another artistic genius who suffered madness. VASLAV didn’t take the audience on a journey into madness as intense, but was still jarring in parts causing uncomfortable laughs, in my opinion the best kind, and highlighted again how society treats the mentally ill. The show doesn’t ask us directly, but certainly made me think about how little has changed in the last hundred years.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show, very well written by Godfrey Johnson, Lara Bye and Karen Jeynes, with music drawn from Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Debussy and original compositions by Johnson, with lyrics by Johnson and Bye. I walked away from this work, with a keen interest in learning more about Vaslav Nijinsky and even in reading his diaries which have recently been republished, unedited. I highly recommend this to anyone with a love for music, ballet or an interest in the early 20th century, and everyone else too.