“I love all things Russian — I’m a Russophile, ” grins playwright Norman Allen. “I read War and Peace every year. I also love ballet — classical ballet, in particular. ”
That love sparked the playwright-in-residence at Signature Theatre to create a one-person tour de force based on the life of the great early 20th Century Russian dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. First produced at Signature Theatre in 1998, Nijinsky’s Last Dance was a simple, stark production, set in a black box environment. Featuring an unforgettable performance by Jeremy Davidson and masterful direction by Joe Calarco, the play went on to snag four Helen Hayes Awards — including Best Play.
The original production returns next week for a limited three-week run at the Kennedy Center, part of the center’s annual Prelude Festival, which showcases the local performing arts scene.
The action is set on the day Nijinsky is institutionalized for the first time. As he descends into madness, the “god of dance ” reaches back into his past, showing us glimpses of a life bold, bracing and, ultimately, beautiful.
“I’ve been reading Nijinsky’s diaries, ” says Allen, “and they are incredible. He talks about the environment in 1918, before people were even thinking about it. He talks about how commerce is going to take over and destroy the world. So he had this amazing sort of prophetic view. ”
Allen’s drama pays fitting tribute to the gay icon’s contributions to society. “He’s a great dancer. He’s an even better choreographer. And he set the tone for modern dance. Without him, we wouldn’t have Martha Graham.
“As a gay man, ” Allen continues, “I consider him to be part of my heritage. Nijinsky accomplished things that came out of a gay sensibility. I think he saw the world from both masculine and feminine points of view simultaneously, allowing him to create work that changed the course of cultural history. ”
Nijinsky’s Last Dance runs from August 27 to September 14 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theatere. Tickets are $25. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.