Vaslav Nijinsky was only 29 when diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1919. He retired from public dancing and spent the next 30 years in and out of psychiatric care. And yet, despite what seems like a relatively short time of creative productivity, he is still revered as one of the greatest practitioners and pioneers of his craft.
In Kally Lloyd-Jones’s two-hander, text and dance are woven together to tell the story of Nijinsky’s mental decline and explore the nature of psychological instability in creativity. It’s a path that has been trodden before when examining the legacy of artists. But in Lloyd-Jones’s production the dance helps to make sense of Nijinsky’s journey, speaking the language in which he was most articulate.
Dancer Darren Brownlie gives a fine-tuned performance as young Nijinsky, moving from the precise sequences of the ingénue at the barre through to the fragmenting of his sense of self—brilliantly done with a puppet Petrushka—to the frustrated routines of the asylum. Old Nijinsky, James Bryce, is excellent too, addressing his younger self with tenderness, throwing up ideas of the different selves we become throughout life, and the maddening age-old irony of wanting the wisdom of later years in the turbulent young ones.
But the script relies heavily on feeding us the questions it wishes to explore, and the repetition of sage soundbites. As a result Nijinsky’s Last Jump is not a portrayal of mental illness that will break the mould. But it is touching, striking and hugely heartfelt in its compassion for its subject.