The fourth biennial Nijinsky Awards, considered the Oscars of the dance world, were presented Thursday on a stage where, nearly a century ago, legendary dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky often choreographed, rehearsed and performed: the recently restored Monte Carlo Opera House.
Production designer and fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld conceived an inspired backdrop based on a scene from Michel Fokine's "Le Spectre de la Rose," which premiered here in 1911 and in which Nijinsky, as the Rose, famously entered and exited with astonishing leaps through an open window. In Lagerfeld's set, the window served as the screen for films highlighting the honorees' careers -- symbolizing how Nijinsky's revolutionary work opened a space for subsequent innovators to move through.
One Nijinsky Award recognized the emerging choreographic brilliance of 34-year-old German artist Marco Goecke, resident choreographer at the Stuttgart Ballet.
The other four prizes celebrated the lifetime achievements of French dancer Gil Roman, star and assistant director of the Bejart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland; Spanish dancer Ana Laguna, star of the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm; American dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown, one of the principal innovators of postmodern dance; and American dancer and choreographer John Neumeier, artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973.
Brown reflected on her past and discussed the interactive digital media technologies that are a principal focus of the Monaco Dance Forum, the visionary dance congress allied with the Nijinsky Awards that runs today through Dec. 16.
The forum's honorary president and patron, Monaco's Princess Caroline, introduced Milwaukee-born Neumeier, an icon of European dance who 38 years ago, on the same stage, showed his first professional ballet before Caroline's mother, Princess Grace. Jean-Christophe Maillot, president of the Monaco Dance Forum and a former star of Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet, then warmly thanked Neumeier for nurturing him through a career transition after a knee injury at age 21. He is now artistic director of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, which performed at the opening and closing of the evening.
"I am deeply moved to receive an award and honor in the name of Nijinsky, a courageous and groundbreaking artist and a deeply moral, sensitive and intuitive man who has filled, fired and inspired my entire career," said Neumeier, who is also the world's foremost private collector of Nijinsky memorabilia and a devoted guardian of the artist's legacy.
In 2000, he created an impressively detailed hommage, "Nijinsky," which his company performed in February 2004 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.
"It still feels like I'm on the way," Neumeier said. "I accept the award not for what I have already done, but for what I still might do on my journey in service to the art of dance, which I so deeply love."
Nijinsky's youngest daughter Tamara and granddaughter Kinga Gaspers traveled from Phoenix to attend the event. Said Gaspers, "Nijinsky's artistic hope and dream was to create something new and unusual. He would be very happy to see the modern experimental works celebrated here."