This paper examines the ways in which dancers’ body image in Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 ballets The Rite of Spring and Jeux looked forward to 1920s developments in ballet and fashion.
Using the psychoanalyst Paul Schilder’s definition of body image as the appearance and experience of embodiment, the paper will explore how aspects of the 1913 ballets’ new corporeal modes (including an emphasis on the body’s weight and gravity in The Rite and sportive androgyny in Jeux) prefigured how women dressed, moved and perceived themselves both within the Ballets Russes and in 1920s Paris. The paper will explore body image in relation to both individual and collective experiences. Beginning with 1913, the paper will consider how the first dancers in The Rite and Jeux experienced their roles in order to contextualise the ballets within their year of creation, and assess Nijinsky’s contribution to their radical conceits of feminine embodiment. It will then examine how the feminine bodily modes of extreme physical vigour, androgyny and sexual agency evoked in the 1913 works were developed in 1920s ballet practice and body culture. In doing so, the paper questions whether the 1913 ballets’ divining anticipations of modern femininity resulted from their creator’s own experiences of embodiment or reflected female dancers’ enhanced technical abilities and dramatic versatility.