NIJINSKY–DEATH OF A FAUN, Attic Playhouse. The mad scenes in David Pownall’s powerful play are the perfect showcase for Scott Shallenbarger’s committed performance, detailing the bitter aftermath of a stellar career. He plays Vaslav Nijinsky, former “god of the dance” and pioneer of Petrushka and The Afternoon of a Faun, consigned to a Swiss sanatorium in 1929 as he laments the loss of Sergey Diaghilev, his terrible lover and mentor. Literally dancing with his demons, Nijinsky asks, “Who am I when no one is applauding?” Diaghilev’s death triggers memories of his own premature demise as a dancer: Diaghilev abruptly dismissed Nijinksy from the Ballets Russes for marrying Romola de Pulszky, a predatory ballerina. Nijinsky hoped she’d give him a normal life; instead, she committed him to this asylum.
Ably directed by Catherine Davis, Shallenbarger is never more moving than when he wrestles with the pain of having outlived his Svengali-like inspirer. Though he wants to dance on Diaghilev’s grave, he says, “You made me–you had the right to break me.” He can dance over his own grave instead, a puppet with no one to pull the strings.
Shallenbarger immerses himself in this 80-minute tour de force, vividly evoking Nijinsky’s famous dance “spasms” and kinetically conveying the dancer’s ferocious pride, which turns toxic in this forced solitude; his inability to make a final leap to freedom; and his struggle against the “formlessness” that consumes his sanity.