At age 12, dancer Leonard Crofoot received high praise indeed when his ballet teacher, George Zoritch, told the young man that his style was reminiscent of the great Vaslav Nijinsky.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Crofoot says of the dancer who revolutionized ballet in the early part of the 20th century. “But since that time, Nijinsky has come in and out of my life a lot.”
Nijinsky is now very much in, given Nijinsky Speaks, Crofoot’s one-man show. Incorporating the music of Debussy and Stravinsky, the show is set where Nijinsky spent the last 30 years of his life: an insane asylum. “Everybody always asks what happened to him,” Crofoot says. After spending a decade as the enfant terrible of the ballet world, Nijinsky stopped dancing in 1919, before he hit 30. “In a nutshell? He cracked.”
A preview tape of the show reveals that Nijinsky really does speak in the piece, and not just through dance. “It is set in the insane asylum in his mind, with him waking up from a catatonic state. He speaks, dances, speaks some more, and speaks while he’s dancing,” Crofoot says. “By the end, he reverts back to solitude.”
Crofoot’s own career hasn’t exactly been adrift without Nijinsky. He received a scholarship to the Royal Ballet at age 8 and by 12 had danced with the Kirov and the Bolshoi companies. His eventual Broadway credits include the original cast of Barnum. While he’s in Kansas City, he’ll lead workshops and master classes. Still, he says, “I needed to do a one-person show to showcase my talent and boost my career.”
Crofoot workshopped the piece in 1995 at a museum in California, which was exhibiting Nijinsky artifacts. In the audience was one of Nijinsky’s daughters, who didn’t take offense at Crofoot’s allusions to her father’s debated homosexuality. “She was very complimentary,” Crofoot recalls.