Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The Spirit of the Rose
By Chris Sharp

When Vaslav Nijinsky was still in Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, he discovered in midair a peculiar step that caught his foot.  He stayed on the invisible step for the better part of a second. He kicked violently. He jumped off.  The audiences at  Le Spectre de la Rose roared their amazement at this practically suspended tiger leap.  Some said he disobeyed gravity.  One writer called him a godly rose in footlights.
I hope I am still a godly rose, Nijinsky told himself, years later, looking at vast numbers of the bills of the dance company he was putting together on his own.  Let me be much better than I have ever been before so I can organize this avalanche.
He danced as his wife took dinner out to the table.  “Still not finished with your war dance, are you, Vaslav?” Romola asked, and in her Hungarian way, there was an accusatory tone in her question.  “Do you know how you frightened the guests last night with your new choreography?”
Nijinsky was almost thirty years old, an age he felt in his legs.  The feeling told him to reroute his strength upwards, into his arms, but with this redirection of energy made his hands lurch out before he ordered them.  “Do you see what is happening to the people who used to watch me, Romola?” he said, stopping at last.
“I see your dancing is becoming mean to them, in my opinion,” she said.  “Sit down and eat dinner.”
“Is that what your guests in that awful hotel needed, to look at me and feel pleasant about what I am serving them?”
He tapped his fork on the table, instead using it on his food.

Nijinsky had been in St. Moritz for as long as he had abstained from developed dancing.  The war dance he performed for a party group just the past night came more from the war and the Swiss mountains than any thoughtful choreography.  Yet the next day the word was everywhere that Nijinsky was dancing again.  In the morning a corps of young Swiss dancers came to his door begging him in French to watch their work at their dance studio. After laughing over their French, he told them to wait.
Romola rushed  out in to the street to catch up with her husband.  He didn’t help things, and she barely missed the tram that enclosed them.  At the dance studio, the director was so enthralled he stammered out an overly rushed German that Nijinsky could not understand even with the man’s frenzied gestures trying to help.  Finally the man waved at the dance floor to give to his distinguished visitor.
Nijinsky could not understand how any young people could be so unmusical.  He barked at them to stop, soon after the dancing had begun.  Then one of the dancers interpreted his French words for the others, which told Nijinsky that most of this corps did not even bother to learn the only universal language of the ballet.
“Your feeling is the basic foundation of the ballet, and you begin by becoming the instruments of the music,” he said.  “Does a violin ask the player how to express the music?”
He banged the wall with the flat of his hand as everything had to stop while one dancer translated in German to the others.  Romola, with tears in her eyes, rushed up to catch him.
“We have to leave here, Vaslav.”     
It was all too quiet in the office of Dr. Eugen Bleuler.  The doctor sat in his wicker chair as still as if he were hatching an egg. They had introduced each other, shaken hands, and had even gone through the usual salutation over Nijinsky’s legendary dancing in practically record time.  Then each waited for the other to say something.
“Your wife,” said Dr. Beuler at last, “tells me you are an artist with your hand as well as your feet.”
“I studied the visual arts in my academy.”
“Your drawings are very mathematical, extremely geometric.”
“I have a dance company to pay for, a daughter to provide for  a woman to pay for, and I don’t have any money.  There is no more Ballet Russes, doctor. There is no more Diaghilev.  Instead of jumping off a bridge, I relax my mind a bit with drawing.  But I didn’t really intend the drawings for anyone else, sir, so if you have them, it is without my consent.”
“Can you do me a major favor?  Could you do a drawing for me right now?”
“As if I am feeling a desire to draw at this minute.  Actually, I get those desires at any time.  Here, doctor, you have a pen?”
The doctor did not comment on Nijinsky’s finished drawing.  But he took it in a back room, leaving Nijinsky alone for a good half hour.  Then Nijinsky saw some paper and started another drawing with his highly organized cubistic ellipses.
When the doctor returned, Bleuler had at his side a solemn faced Romola and two men both in white shirts and dark pants.
“Vaslav,” Romola said.  “Dr. Bleuler has assessed you and feels you need time for treatment…”
The men came forward, the first placing his hand on Nijinsky’s shoulder.
“I act the only way I can under the circumstances.”  He looked at the man in front of him, and found nothing friendly there.
“I danced the way I did last night,” he said, looking at Romola. “only regretting I could not be as terrible as the war has been terrible, that’s why.”
The next unfriendly man touched his other shoulder.
Nijinsky tried to lift high into the air, calling on his old gift of the seraphic levitation in Le Spectre de la Rose.  But they had him.  He understood the two men were taking him, that he was truly finished now.  Because this is how a rose is stolen when there is no more money to buy any consideration.

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Chris Sharp of Menifee, California and Fresno State University has several other stories in Linguistic Erosion, Yesteryear Fiction and Weirdyear. His most popular Internet stories are under Google: Short stories by Chris Sharp.


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