Finding Nijinsky in Washington D.C.


The Ballets Russes visited Washington D.C. twice in 1916. The first time was in March from the 23rd – 25th when the company performed at the National Theatre. They performed Cleopatra, Le Spectre de la Rose, Midnight Sun, Carnaval, Les Sylphides,  L’après-midi d’un faune, Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, and Scheherazade.

The company returned under the leadership of Vaslav Nijinsky in November on the 20th, 21st, 22nd at the Belasco Theatre. They performed Les Sylphides, Le Spectre de la Rose, Papillons, Scheherazade, The Enchanted Princess pas de deux, Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor and Cleopatre.

The Belasco Theatre was built in 1895 and named the Lafayette Square Opera House. The Theatre overlooked the square and was just across from the White House – a really amazing location. An advert in the 1916 programme noted that it was ‘the most beautifully situated and appointed theatre in America, presenting on its stage at all times only the foremost foreign and native artists and attractions. A Washington landmark, which none should fail to see … ‘

The theatre was taken over by Shuberts and David Belasco in 1906 and renamed. By the mid 1930s it was turned into a cinema before being acquired by the Federal Government. The theatre was used at various times during WWII and the Korean War as a club providing entertainment to servicemen.

In 1964 the Theatre was pulled down and a new US Court of Claims Building built.

Image result for belasco theatre DC
Belasco Theatre 1960s. Copyright Cinema Treasures.
In this current photo you can see the columns of the adjoining building still present. The new Court of Claims is to the left.
Image result for belasco theatre DC
Belasco Theatre copyright Cinema Treasures.
The Court of Claims Building which now stands on the site.

Romola Nijinsky recalled in her memoir: ‘About the end of November we arrived in Washington, where we gave three performances. President Wilson and the whole Diplomatic Corps were present, and Vaslav went up to render thanks officially for their help in securing his release from Austria. Also we were magnificently entertained by different Embassies.’ [Romola de Pulszky, Nijinksy, 1934, p. 349.]

Next stop Chicago …