julia foulkes

In Conversation with Lynn Garafola

Lynn Garafola’s definitive biography of La Nijinska rewrites the history of ballet modernism by focusing on its notable female choreographer. Join me in conversation with Lynn about this revelatory book at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts on Thursday, May 12, 6pm. My questions here:

This book seems to me as much a mission as a biography. Why did you write it?

Nijinska was a rare woman choreographer in an arena dominated by men and, unlike many of them, she had multiple roles in dance. She was clay for her brother’s choreographic innovations, a lead dancer on stage, and a choreographer. How did these different roles impact and shift the role of women in her ballets?

Nijinska had to contend with the fame and legacy of her brother, Vaslav Nijinsky. How did this influence her path in the dance world? And in dance history? (She claimed that she put Nijinsky’s theory into practice—do you agree?)

The book may be as much about Nijinska as it is about how dance gets written about, by critics and historians. It’s almost an expose in the power of critics—such as Andre Levinson—as well as the ongoing impact of being left out of early versions of deciding who and what works are key parts of ballet modernism (by Kirstein, Haskell, de Mille). Given your own role in constructing the field of dance history, what do you think are the lessons we need to heed from the writings about Nijinska in her own time and since?

One of the elements of Nijinska’s career that overwhelmed me was the extent of her itinerancy and traveling. You paint a picture of an international world of ballet that went far beyond the hubs of Moscow, Paris, London, New York to include Kiev, Buenos Aires, Warsaw, Vienna, Los Angeles, Buffalo—which then narrowed to a more nationalist frame after World War II. What contributes to this shift–what politics?–and with what consequences?

You are a prodigious researcher. What surprised you most in your research? (Give us some tales from the archives!)

The last chapter of the book is titled “Resurrection,” which discusses the return of Nijinska’s Les Noces and Les Biches to the stage in the 1960s. Where do you see Nijinska’s influence since her death in 1972 to now?