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"Nijinsky Speaks"‹and Dances

Actor-dancer Leonard Crofoot is appearing in Nijinsky Speaks, a one-man show at the Harold Clurman Theatre (412 W. 42nd St., NYC). Mr. Crofoot wrote the play, together with originating producer Robin Palanker, after prodigious research.

The show, which recently concluded a six-month engagement in Los Angeles, runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. During this time the actor-dancer speaks almost without letup. He also dances excerpts from ballets which Michel Fokine created for Nijinsky and three which Nijinsky himself created. The latter are "Afternoon of a Faun" and Rite of Spring‹both of which he choreographed for the Diaghilev's Ballet Russe‹and "Till Eulenspiegel," which he created for the company's U.S. tour in 1916.

If "Afternoon of a Faun" caused a minor scandal, Rite of Spring created the greatest scandal in ballet history. The riot which took place in 1913 Paris can be understood: That the dancer who had been trained so thoroughly at the Russian Imperial Ballet School could create a work about primitive ritual in prehistoric Russia‹a work so completely opposed to classical ballet‹really boggled the minds of critics and public alike. Little did anyone realize that Nijinsky in the future would be considered the first male modern dancer-choreographer of the 20th Century.

From reports that have come down to us we know that Nijinsky's elevation was unmatched in his generation. He was not only considered the greatest male dancer of his era, but left prognostications as to how much further he would have progressed had he not been overtaken by madness, after only 10 years in the public eye.

The years have been rife with all kinds of conjecture as to the cause of his tragedy. Some writers have placed blame on Diaghilev, some on Nijinsky's domineering wife, Romola Pulsky, and others persist in stating that Nijinsky had long exhibited paranoia in his dealings with fellow artists. His internment as an enemy alien in Hungary from 1914 to 1916, where he was prohibited from dancing, could have contributed to his outlandish behavior.

Leonard Crofoot seems to have absorbed a great deal of material from Nijinsky's diaries. His presentation opens in an asylum where the dancer is raving about God and his demented belief that he is one with the deity. Nijinsky's religious mania ran all through the diaries. In his more lucid moments he relates his life history, including relations with Prince Lvov, who became Nijinsky's patron and lover, and was later responsible for introducing him to Diaghilev, who himself became Nijinsky's lover and sponsor.

That Mr. Crofoot could carry on for 90 minutes, speaking in various voices and mimicking various characters including Diaghilev and Isadora Duncan, and dance a number of excerpts without appearing in the least bit winded, constitute amazing feats in themselves. With his high cheek bones and slightly slanting eyes he also resembles the youthful Nijinsky.

In excerpts from Fokine's "Petrouchka" and Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun" and "Rite of Spring" Crofoot was totally admirable. Petrouchka's frantic efforts to escape from the evil magician's clutches mirrored Crofoot's as he portrayed Nijinsky's own futile attempts to escape his confinement in an asylum.

The production seems made to order‹not alone for dancers, but for anyone avid for a rare theatrical experience.

Meet the Artists‹Free

On Sept. 12 and 13, at 3 pm, the Elinor Coleman Dance Ensemble will perform two works and preside over an informal discussion on being a Soho dancer and choreographer. Performers include Elinor Coleman, Mariana Beckerman, Nya Bowman, Melanie Cortier, Rick Guimond, Cherisse Padilla, and Sabra Perry.

Venue: American Opera Projects, 463 Broome St. (between Mercer and Greene Streets, NYC). Admission: free; seating is limited. Information/reservations: (212) 431-8103.

Sixth Annual Downtown Arts Fest

The Downtown Arts Festival launches the fall season by unifying the visual, performing, and multimedia arts communities. Now in its sixth year, the festival takes place in more than 200 locations throughout lower Manhattan. A free magazine-sized Festival Program contains listings and information on 274 events and projects. It is available at downtown arts locations and all Manhattan Starbucks stores, Sept. 1-20.

For a one-time purchase price of $10, ArtCard provides discounted or free admission to festival events. Beginning Sept. 1, the card can be purchased at: Anthropologie, The Art Store, Big Cup Tea & Coffee, Here, and The New Museum. Information: (212) 925-4200.

Ballet Argentino Returns

This month Julio Bocca, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre and international star, brings his own company, Ballet Argentino, back to New York for the first time since its premiere here in 1995. This will be the troupe's only U.S. appearance in the coming season.

The City Center engagement features a company of 15 dancers and four American premieres: "Alas de Libertad," set to music by Peter Gabriel and featuring choreography, costumes, lighting, and laser design by Jean Pierre Aviotte; "Cautivos," choreographed by Alejandro Cervere to KODO music; "Concertango," fusing contemporary dance and tango, by Ana Maria Stekelman and set to a score by Argentinean composer Atilio Stampone; and "Desde Lejos," choreographed by Mauricio Wainrot to the music of Wim Mertens.

Prior to this return to New York, Bocca and company will have traveled to Italy, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, and Paris. The troupe continues to perform throughout Argentina each year.

On April 20, Bocca was one of four to receive the 1998 Dance Magazine Awards, for his extraordinary contribution to the world of dance and his dedication to the young dancers of Ballet Argentino.

Performance dates at City Center: Wed., Sept. 16-Sat., Sept. 19, at 8 pm; and Sun., Sept. 20, at 3 pm. Tickets: $50, 40, 30, 20; at the Box Office or by telephone through CityTix, (212) 581-1212.

Valentina Kozlova in Russian Appearances

Valentina Kozlova has been heading a ballet troupe for a series of August and September gala performances in several Russian cities, organized by Leonid Kozlov. The ballet repertory and dancers are drawn from Ballet: The Daring Project, directed by Kozlova and Margo Sappington. Presentations also include modern dance, performed by artists from well-known modern dance companies.

Ms. Kozlova will return to New York Oct. 16 and 17 for performances of the company at the first-floor theatre of LaGuardia High School, home of the High School of Performing Arts. The performances will be, in part, a benefit for the school's Dance Department.

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