Today it is my pleasure to welcome author illustrator Lynn Curlee to the blog today to share a first look at his newest work THE GREAT NIJINSKY: GOD OF DANCE.
Here's a quick summary of the story:
Dance prodigy, sex symbol, gay pioneer, cultural icon--Vaslav Nijinsky rose to fame as the star of the Ballets Russes in Paris before mental illness stole his career and the last thirty years of his life. A tragic story of a great genius, this compelling work of narrative nonfiction chronicles a life of obsessive artistry, celebrity, and notoriety.
With one grand leap off the stage at the 1909 premiere of the Ballets Russes's inaugural season, Nijinsky became an overnight sensation and the century's first superstar, in the days before moving pictures brought popular culture to the masses. Perhaps the greatest dancer of the twentieth century, Nijinsky captured audiences with his sheer animal magnetism and incredible skill.
He was also half of the most famous (and openly gay) couple of the Edwardian era: his relationship with Serge Diaghilev, artistic director and architect of the Ballets Russes, pushed boundaries in a time when homosexuality and bisexuality were rarely discussed. Nijinsky's life was tumultuous--after marrying a female groupie he hardly knew, he was kicked out of the Ballets Russes and placed under house arrest during World War I. Unable to work as he once did, his mental health deteriorated, and he spent three decades in and out of institutions.
Biographical narrative is interspersed with spotlights on the ballets the dancer popularized: classic masterworks such as Afternoon of a Faun, The Firebird, and of course, the shockingly original Rite of Spring, which caused the audience to riot at its premiere. Illustrated with elegant, intimate portraits as well as archival art and photographs.
I invited Lynn to finish my sentences. After reading his responses, scroll down for a look at the cover and more.
LYNN FINISHES MY SENTENCES:
I first became interested in the subject matter for THE GREAT NIJINSKY: GOD OF DANCE when... In the early 1970s I began my career as a gallery artist. For my second one-man show in 1974 I did a series of 11 life-size paintings of figures from the legendary Ballets Russes, including several of Nijinsky. Cut to 2008, and after 13 books for kids, I decided to tackle Nijinsky for an older audience and use the old paintings as illustrations. I painted six more Nijinsky paintings to add to the mix. That’s when I started seriously researching. I wrote the first chapter in late 2008, but then put it aside. I returned to it in 2013. Now in 2019 I will have a book.
In the story... readers follow the life of Vaslav Nijinsky, a dancer of genius, who became a great celebrity and sex symbol, but whose life is ultimately ruined by mental illness. A story of triumphant achievement and profound tragedy.
The illustrations for the story... include 15 paintings, mentioned before, as well as vintage photographs and archival art.
One thing I hope readers will take from this story is... Nijinsky was one of the greatest celebrities of the early 20th century. Today he is considered a gay icon, as well as an icon of dance.
One memorable performance by Vaslav Nijinksy that I'd like others to know about is... the performance of THE AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, which was choreographed and danced by Nijinsky. This particular performance is by another great dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, using the original costume and set designs. This ballet is a great masterpiece.
The most interesting part of creating this book was... As I was painting the newer paintings, I intended one of them to be the cover, and painted it with that in mind. But as we started to design the book, my editor, Yolanda Scott, decided that she liked another painting better, and she was right, it made a better cover image. Then we decided to make the title in a vertical bar, then the decision was made to stack the letters of the word NIJINSKY. The book designer, Taline Boghosian, actually sketched the letter forms by hand. Then they were smoothed out and made regular on the computer to look like a proper font. Then it was a matter of fine-tuning and adjusting the trims, color correcting the painted image, and trying different subtle variations in the colors of the vertical framing bands. It all went back and forth many times, and we still made some changes as we got final rounds of proofs. A lot of care was lavished on this project by my editor, the designer, and everyone else who worked on it. It is a fully rigged piece of work, and I am very proud of the result. It’s everything I had hoped it to be.
And just like that we have a COVER!
Okay. Let's take a closer look at this cover.
There is so much about form that Lynn captures in this painting. Look at the muscle tone. Look at the hand positioning. Look at the direction the chin points. From cover alone this book beckons readers to study its subject. The subtitle affixes deity status to Nijinsky and promises to support it within, yet we see it supported here on the cover in the regal crown Nijinsky adorns.
I personally do not know much of Nijinsky, but after today I aim to change that. His reputation and celebrity worldwide was remarkable and knowing what he stood for then and what his life stands for now is something undeniable.
Let's all hope that April comes quickly!
FIRST LOOK AT THE STORY:
Thanks, Lynn! And thanks, Charlesbridge!
THE GREAT NIJINSKY: GOD OF DANCE will publish in April of 2019 from Charlesbridge.