Overshadowed in life and legend by her brother Vaslav Nijinsky, Bronislava Nijinska had a far longer and more productive career. An architect of twentieth-century neoclassicism, she experienced the transformative power of the Russian Revolution and created her greatest work - Les Noces - under the influence of its avant-garde. Many of her ballets rested on the probing of gender boundaries, a mistrust of conventional gender roles, and the heightening of the ballerina's technical and artistic prowess. A prominent member of Russia Abroad, she worked with leading figures of twentieth-century art, music, and ballet, including Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Poulenc, Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Frederick Ashton, Alicia Markova, and Maria Tallchief. She was also a remarkable dancer in her own right with a bravura technique and powerful stage presence that enabled her to perform an unusually broad repertory. Finally, she was the author of an acclaimed volume of memoirs in addition to a major treatise on movement. Nijinska's career sheds new light on the modern history of ballet and of modernism more generally, recuperating the memory of lost works and forgotten artists, many of them women. But it also reveals the sexism pervasive in the upper echelons of the early and mid-twentieth-century ballet world, barriers that women choreographers still confront.
Lynn Garafola, professor emerita of dance at Barnard College, has written the first biography of 20th-century ballet's premier female choreographer.