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Remembering Nijinsky

Troubled ballet legend honored in biographical show

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Primoz Bezjak, Vaslav Nijinsky, theater, dance, gay news, Washington Blade
Primoz Bezjak, Vaslav Nijinsky, theater, dance, gay news, Washington Blade

Primoz Bezjak as Vaslav Nijinsky in ‘Nijinsky’s Last Dance.’ (Photo courtesy Mladinsko Theatre and CulturalDC)

‘Nijinsky’s Last Dance’
Aug. 26-30
Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint
916 G Street N.W.
culturaldc.org

Powerful, brilliant and gay, Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev famously started the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909, smartly bringing together the best artists, composers, choreographers, dancers and fashion designers to create the most revolutionary dance company of its era.

The unstoppable Diaghilev is equally well known for fostering the career of his much younger lover, the legendary Nijinsky (1889-1950). Roundly considered the 20th century’s greatest male ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky is remembered for dancing and choreographing daring new sexually charged works like “Afternoon of a Faun,” “ Jeux” and “Rite of Spring.” Without Diaghilev’s support, it wouldn’t have happened.

“Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music,” an exhibition currently at the National Gallery of Art (through Oct. 6) explores the man and his achievement. CulturalDC is joining the fun in presenting the Slovenia-based Mladinsko Theatre’s production of local playwright Norman Allen’s one-man play “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” at Flashpoint, D.C.’s downtown arts space.

“When I began to see pictures of Nijinsky (advertising the National Gallery show) on the sides of buses running up and down 16th Street, I knew that I wanted to be a part of this,” says Allen, who is gay. So he approached both the National Gallery and CulturalDC (part of whose mission is to match spaces for performances) and told them about this Slovenian production of his play. He suggested bringing it to D.C. would be one more way to help celebrate the exhibition. All agreed.

At 80 minutes without intermission, “Nijinsky’s Last Dance” mixes text, movement, music and sound. The piece is biographical, but rather than being strictly chronological, it’s more of a poetic, dramatic wash of his life. And though a one-man show, the actor slips in and out of other characters.

“Nijinsky was a great mimic which was a god send for me as a playwright,” Allen says. “He goes into Diaghilev for a half page. Then he’s his wife Romola Pulszky (an obsessed fan he unexpectedly married), or Tamara Karsavina (the great prima ballerina with whom he was occasionally paired).”

A longtime balletomane, Allen’s play premiered at Arlington’s Signature Theatre in 1998. It was reprised at the Kennedy Center in 2003. More recently as a guest artist in Slovenia, Allen saw the Mladinsko version.

“It’s an amazing production. A very powerful actor named Primož Bezjak plays Nijinsky,” he says. “It’s performed in Slovenian with English surtitles. And the company stipulates that no more than 60 tickets can be sold for each performance regardless of the size of the theater. The stage is encircled with just one row of chairs. Fortunately, because Flashpoint is such an intimate space, this won’t feel odd.”

Obviously well built but rather static in photographs, Nijinsky was reportedly athletically explosive and incredibly sexy and provocative on stage, as was his work.

“Nijinsky’s choreography for ‘Jeux’ was a response to Diaghilev’s desire for them to have a threesome. The ballet is choreographed for a man and two women and structured around a tennis match, but sex is at its core,” Allen says. “But it’s ‘Afternoon of a Faun,’ though, that is truly a sexual experience. Nijinsky shocked the audience at the premiere when he placed a nymph’s veil on the stage and lowered himself onto it, rubbing his crotch against it, imagining it to be her. By all accounts his astounding stage presence was sexual in nature. In ‘Faun,’ he created a role that gave him a direct means to express that.”

Around the time when the First World War broke out, Nijinsky began to show signs of schizophrenia, an illness that would soon after effectively end his career. Allen believes Nijinsky’s professional and personal crackup mirrored the war.

“Nothing would ever be the same. Everything fell apart. The world view changed. And he couldn’t make that transition,” he says.

One of Nijinsky’s last dances, says Allen, was an improvisational piece performed at a ballroom in Saint Moritz before an invitation-only audience. Already mentally ill but still traveling Europe with his wife and children, Nijinsky’s intention was to dance the war, physically expressing horror and disillusionment. Reviews weren’t great.

Allen recommends making a trip to the National Gallery before seeing the show. A section of the exhibit is dedicated to Nijinsky. Unfortunately there is no footage of Nijinsky dancing — not a single frame exists. “It’s a shame in way,” Allen says. “But it also contributes even more to Nijinsky’s status as a legend.”

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A Revolution for Women in Baseball

Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball.

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Rachel Balkovec was hired as a hitting coach in the Yankees’ system in 2019. She will now manage the Class A Tampa Tarpons.Credit. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Balkovec/Instagram.

The Yankees were late on introducing an African-American player to their roster, adding Hall of Famer Elston Howard to the team in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Yankees seem determined not to repeat that bad history.  Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball when she takes the helm of the Tampa Tarpons this spring. 

It has been just over ten years since Justin Siegal threw batting practice to the Cleveland Guardians and five since she was the first woman to coach a MLB squad with the Oakland Athletics.  Two years ago, Kim Ng became the first female General Manager of any of the four major professional sports when the Marlins hired her to run their team.  In the two years since then, the dam has burst.  Women have been hired to important on-field positions with professional baseball at an impressive clip.  As baseball has lagged behind other professional sports in bringing women into the game, the current pace of hires indicates that baseball’s embrace of analytics and objective measures have finally penetrated the walls of one of the most enduring old boys clubs in the U.S. and given talented women opportunities they have long been denied.

Ten women will be coaching with major or minor league teams in 2022.  In 2021, Bianca Smith became the first African-American woman to coach in the minors when the Red Sox hired her. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in uniform during a Major League Baseball game when she coached first base for the Giants in a July 2020 exhibition against the Oakland A’s.  Her jersey now belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Cuban-American Veronica Alvarez is not only the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball team, she also served as a spring training coach for the Oakland A’s.

The proliferation of women in baseball is not an accident.  More girls than ever are playing baseball.  Here, in the DC area, 160 girls participated with D.C. Girls Baseball in 2021.  Baseball for All, an organization that supports and promotes girls in baseball, held a tournament last summer that drew nearly 600 girls who play baseball.  There are more women than ever on collegiate baseball rosters.  Major League Baseball has also devoted significant resources to girls and women in baseball, running several development camps for girls in baseball.  Six of the women now coaching professional baseball participated in MLB’s Take the Field initiative, which is designed to help place women into baseball positions. To top it all off, the classic film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own, is getting a reboot on Amazon Prime this year.

The pace of hiring is exhilarating.  Unfortunately, every report of a woman being hired is followed by predictable hateful commentary on social media.  Many cannot imagine that a woman may be hired for a baseball position on merit and resort to making sexist and derogatory comments.  As women in baseball, the coaches are used to that vitriol and have developed thick skin and sophisticated defense mechanisms.  However, also reading are thousands of girls who are inspired by the achievements of these women and they are, sadly, learning that to achieve in baseball means enduring the sexist taunts, gross come-ons, and hurtful comments.

Baseball has a long way to go.  Other leagues have women officiating games, so it should be reasonable to expect that baseball will have women umpires in the near future.  The possibility of women playing professional baseball is tantalizingly close as 17 year old Genevieve Beacom made history last week as the first women to play Australian professional baseball, when she threw a scoreless inning against the Adelaide Giants.

We are watching a revolution in baseball unfold before our eyes. 

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Out & About

Ryan McClure to lead LGBTQ jam

Participants to collaborate in improv event

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Improv artist Ryan McClure will lead a jam for LGBTQ improvisers on Saturday, Jan. 29 at 3 p.m. at the Washington Improv Theater. 

This event is a fun, low-stress environment where guests can connect and engage with fellow improvisers in a supportive environment. Jams are a great place to be silly, practice a skill, and/or connect with new and old friends over the collaborative world of yes-and.

Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased on Eventbrite.

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