The Fokine Era


Vaslav Nijinsky in the ballet Schéhérazade. Cabinet photograph by A. Bert, Paris, ca. 1910. Howard D. Rothschild Collection. b MS Thr 414.2 (136). Bequest, 1989.


Capitalizing on the success of Cléopâtre, Diaghilev’s creative team conceived of another sumptuous, exotic, dark drama starring Vaslav Nijinsky and Ida Rubinstein.  In this ballet, based on the first tale of the Thousand and One Nights, Queen Zobeïde bids farewell to her husband, the Sultan.  Once he has left the seraglio, she summons the eunuchs to bring the male slaves to join her and the other women.  An orgy ensues.  When the Sultan returns to find his concubines in flagrante delicto, he orders the queen’s favorite, The Golden Slave, killed.  Wracked with guilt and shame, Schéhérazade then takes her own life.  This murderous, sexual plot riveted audiences and became a staple production for the Ballets Russes throughout its twenty years of performing.  The Golden Slave also became one of Nijinsky’s iconic roles, blending the sexuality of his great athleticism with the androgynous ambiguity of his role as a submissive slave.