Recently our Faun, Gregg Mozgala sat down with dance historian, Alice Bloch for a brief interview.
Gregg: I’ve been doing some research and I wanted to post something about how groundbreaking and original Afternoon Of A Faun was. I read somewhere recently that it fell into obscurity and was thought lost for nearly seventy years because no one really liked it, how it was perceived as lewd, etc. Then apparently, it had a big resurgence in the 1980's, (not just in dance but in pop culture to (check out the blog post, “Freddie & The Faun”- a video from the band, QUEEN), after it was reconstructed from Nijinsky's own journals.
Alice: Actually, Faun stayed in the repertory of the Ballets Russes after Diaghilev's death, and may have been done through the 1940's or possibly 50's. There were two Ballets Russes--DeBasil's Ballets Russes, and the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. One of them toured Europe and the US, the other did a lot in South America and Australia. According to a huge dance history book called "Ballet 101," Igor Youskevitch danced it in the 1940's. They attribute its revival to Rudolf Nureyev in the 1970's. I think if it left the repertory it was not because of lewdness, but because ballet companies of the Ballets Russes mode which performed repertory evenings kind of went into eclipse during the 50's and early 60's. That type of company--American Ballet Theater, the Joffrey (which in part focuses on preserving 20th century masterpieces) did not really come back into their own until the big dance revival in the 1970's.
As far as I know, the dance was never lost, because so many people still living in the 1970's had done it. I don't know who Nureyev learned it from and I don't own a bio of him (I should!). Rite of Spring was lost, and then reconstructed, and the same people who did that also did Jeux (both dances were Nijinsky's choreography), though that dance was a trio and very few dancers were around who did it. There is no way the dances could have been reconstructed from his journals because he did not write detailed descriptions. The works stayed in dancers' muscle memories, and in the case of “Rite”, in notations on the score. It is possible that there were notations on the Debussy score for Faune.
One other source--Anne Hutchison Guest did a reconstruction from a Labanotation score (ask Tamar to explain), but I don't know when the dance was notated. Supposedly it had a direct link to Nijinsky, but I don't know what that link was. I saw that and the Joffrey version and the notated version seemed much more innocent--less consciously sensual, if that makes sense. Maybe you could contact the Dance Notation Bureau if you wanted to find out.
Gregg: This is great. I will never trust Wikipedia again. Can you speak on how revolutionary or groundbreaking Afternoon Of A Faun was? What was it about it exactly that challenged ideas of what dance could be up to that point? That's not quite how I want to ask it but I haven't had my coffee yet. Sorry. The inherent eroticism, the frieze style- what was it exactly?
Alice: It was revolutionary for all the reasons you mentioned. Plus, Nijinsky, famous for his elevation, jumped only once. The extreme of the style and his revealing costume were also part of it. It did cause a scandal, but Diaghilev loved that. Have you ever watched the whole thing? It is really beautiful.
Gregg: Yes I have. I love it. What else are you currently working on?
Alice: I spent the weekend at an event called PeaceJam where Nobel Laureates come work with high school students to encourage them to get involved in community action. I was one of a group of volunteers who gave workshops--mine was on body image and healing and included some of the work a dance therapist called David Alan Harris does with boy soldiers in Africa. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/6187 A good thing to do.
Gregg: Most definitely. Well Alice, thank you so much for your time. This was very fun and informative.
Alice: Happy to be represented. Keep up the good work. We look forward to seeing you in December!
Alice Bloch is an independent dancer/choreographer and dance historian who wrote her doctoral dissertation on how the dance of Isadora Duncan and Vaslav Nijinsky affected the cultural construction of the body. As a dance educator she specializes in Arts Integration. She is on the advisory council of a new performing arts magnet school in St. Louis, MO.
Gregg Mozgala can be seen this December in Tamar Rogoff's, Diagnosis Of A Faun along with ensemble cast, Lucie Baker, Emily Pope Blackman, & Dr. Don Kollisch