Russian ballet dancer and choreographer regarded as one of the greatest dancers in the history of ballet. He was greatly encouraged by Sergei Diaghilev, who built up his enormous reputation. His creative life was short, however, as a result of his mental illness.
Nijinsky was dancing with his parents' troupe in Kiev by the age of three. With the amazing ability to perform ten entrechats (crossing and uncrossing the legs ten times while still in the air), he entered the Imperial Ballet School in 1907. Having gained a reputation as an outstanding dancer with a virtuoso technique, he joined the Imperial Ballet after graduation and was at once given solo roles. After meeting Sergei Diaghilev, whose protégé he became, he toured Europe with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: his performances, including the poet in Les Sylphides and the golden slave in Schéhérazade, caused a sensation in Paris, where he created a vogue for all things Russian and associated with ballet. Nijinsky joined the Ballets Russes on a permanent basis in 1911, having been dismissed from the Imperial Ballet in a dispute over costume. Diaghilev then commissioned especially for him the ballets Petrushka (music by Stravinsky) and Le Spectre de la Rose (adapted from music by Weber), both choreographed by Fokine. At this stage in his career Diaghilev encouraged Nijinsky to choreograph his own ballets: L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912) and Jeux (1913) both used Debussy's music, and Le Sacre du Printemps (1913; The Rite of Spring), with music by Stravinsky, caused an uproar when it was first performed. Nijinsky's unexpected marriage in 1913 to a Hungarian countess, Romola de Pulszka, provoked the jealous and betrayed Diaghilev to dismiss him from the company. Four years later, however, Diaghilev produced Nijinsky's last ballet, Till Eulenspiegel, based on Richard Strauss's tone poem, in which he danced the title role. Thereafter he became increasingly ill with schizophrenia and was forced to retire. His wife took him to Switzerland in 1919, where for many years he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals. The last three years of his life were spent in London.