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Afternoon of a Faun

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842—1898) French poet

Claude Debussy (1862—1918) French composer and critic


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L' Après-midi D'un Faune

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(Eng. title The Afternoon of a Faun)

Ballet in one act with choreography by Nijinsky, music by Debussy, and design by Bakst. Premiered 19 May 1912 by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, at the Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris, with Nijinsky as the Faun. It is set to Debussy's 1894 tone poem Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (itself inspired by Mallarmé's poem) and depicts a Faun who is spying on a group of nymphs going to bathe. He tries to embrace one of them but she flees, leaving her scarf behind. He seizes it and lies down on it, releasing his desire with an orgasmic pelvic thrust. It was Nijinsky's first work and its choreography (which required the dancers to move in flattened, profile positions with angled limbs and turned in feet) took over 100 rehearsals to perfect. Some critics were scandalized by the ‘bestial’ eroticism of the work, but its admirers, led by Rodin, were profoundly impressed by its novelty of expression. It was the only Nijinsky ballet to have been notated (Nijinsky wrote it down in his own idiosyncratic modification of the Stepanov system), and in 1989 Les Grands Ballets Canadiens premiered the first revival based on Nijinsky's score rather than on memories handed down by dancers. Debussy did not approve Nijinsky's interpretation but his music has been used several times since by, among others, Lifar (as a solo, 1935), Robbins (Afternoon of a Faun, 1953), and Elo (2002).

Subjects: Performing artsDance

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