Across The Floor

June 30, 2009

A Faun Reawakens 

It’s hard to imagine a city-wide scandal erupting from the tale of a faun and a woodland nymph. But when Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, his first choreographic experiment for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, premiered in 1912, it sent shockwaves across Paris. With its premise of sexual awakening and its two-dimensional movement—which flattened dancers like paint on a canvas and stripped away their conventional grace—the work revealed a defiant Nijinsky, earning him glory in some circles and scorn in others.

On an evening in late April, as balmy as the one that greets the creatures in Faun, the historic ballet came to life at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre, paying tribute to the Ballets Russes’ centennial. It was just one gem on the evening-length, student-performed program “Celebrating the Ballets Russes in Music and Dance,” presented by Columbia’s Harriman Institute and produced by Barnard College professor Lynn Garafola.

In staging this rare reconstruction, master teacher Tina Curran used the 1988 score by Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke, the most accurate existing translation of Nijinsky’s original notes. During the week leading up to the show, Guest and Jeschke came in to work with the dancers. “They went through every single step, every gesture, every look, and gave us three or four things to think about for each,” says Michael J. Novak, who danced the role of the faun alongside lead nymph Marygrace Patterson. “They’re incredibly passionate and meticulously detailed.”

A century later, of course, no level of historical accuracy can bring back the ballet’s controversial edge. But in this performance, it still haunted with its sensuousness, both minimalist and lush.

Notes and News

Chicago will be alive with rhythm July 27–Aug. 9, thanks to its 19th annual Rhythm World. At this jam-packed tap festival, sponsored by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, students of all ages can hone their technique and expand their repertories with experts in the field like Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Jason Samuels Smith. Intensives and workshops of varying levels and lengths, capped off with a student showcase, take place at five downtown venues. See

The National Dance Association announced its 2009–2010 Dance Educator of the Year awards at the annual convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance in April. The awardees are Mary Ann Laverty, director of dance at Woodside High School in Newport News, VA, and Billie Lepczyk, associate professor of dance at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA.