Eva Stachniak is the award-winning and internationally bestselling author of four novels. The Winter Palace was a Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year and made The Washington Post’s most notable fiction list in 2012.
She holds a PhD in literature from McGill University.
Born and raised in Poland, she moved to Canada in 1981, and lives in Toronto.
The Chosen Maiden, her fifth novel, has just been published.
“I absolutely adored The Chosen Maiden! Such masterful, sensitive writing, I was immersed from the first page to the last. Eva Stachniak illuminates those historic pathways, blazed at such personal cost, by the ‘dance-greats.’ Most of all, I loved the humanizing of these characters—Bronia, Vaslav, Sergei Diaghilev—who imprinted their genius on our culture, whose names are so familiar, but whose origins and inner lives were not—until now.” —
Veronica Tennant, author of On Stage, Please, Filmmaker, Prima Ballerina
Eva Stachniak: ‘We live in a country that embodies the essence of the 21st century’
The Chosen Maiden was born out of my fascination with Ballets Russes, a Russian dance company which, in the summer of 1909, took Paris by storm, and fundamentally transformed Western notions of modern art. I wrote it because, after over 30 years in Canada, I’m still exploring the encounters between East and West, their exhilarating possibilities and illuminating setbacks. My heroine, Bronislava (Bronia) Nijinska, the intended Chosen Maiden from the 1913 production of TheRite of Spring choreographed by her famous brother Vaslav, was a brilliant dancer and a ground-breaking choreographer. The tantalizing relationship between Bronia and Vaslav is one of the novel’s main themes. Another is a life fuelled by a passion for art and lived in between cultures, languages and ideologies, against the backdrop of bloody political upheavals – two world wars and the Russian Revolution. With the Nijinsky men gone – by choice or tragic fate – it’s the women who pick up the pieces. For me this makes The Chosen Maiden both personal and universal. Personal for it evokes the spirit of the Polish women who raised me, brave and nurturing, determined to wrench the slightest sliver of happiness from the hardest of times. Universal, for I see the very same spirit anywhere where women know that the survival of their families depends on them. MORE
Eva Stachniak on blacklisted words and the dreams of the exiled
Whether she’s re-imagining the rise of Catherine the Great or – in her latest novel, The Chosen Maiden – a gifted Russian ballet dancer, historical novelist Eva Stachniak is drawn to visionary women and how they challenge the status quo.
… Drawing on her thorough research into Bronia’s archives, the author has teased out revealing insights into the art of the dance, and she writes skillfully about the emotional truths that arose from Bronia’s ambitions, family relations, and deep anxieties. Dance fans will welcome this graceful and entrancing foray into the recent past.
My last address? For this ship may well become my coffin, sinking here, somewhere between Europe and America, as did SS Athenia on her way to Montreal last month. Now we, too, are a tiny speck on the grey waters of the Atlantic. If we make it, New York will greet us with its skyscrapers, those towering giant lizards, scaly and beautiful. And a new life that might not be that new after all. We make vows in moments of danger then slip back into old habits.
My London contract was cancelled the day Britain declared war on Germany. With all the theatres closed and the clock ticking on our British visas, I signed with Wassily de Basil’s company for their Australian tour. If we do go to Australia, that is. We make plans, my mother would remind me, and God laughs.
If the protracted visa interview at the American embassy in London was any indication, I’ll have to steel myself for questions, account for the contradictions of history. My imperial Russian passport declares that Бронисла́ва Фоми́нична Нижи́нская—Bronislava Fominitchna Nizhinskaya—was born in Minsk, in 1891. My Polish passport insists that Bronisława Niżyńska is a Polish citizen, born in Warsaw in 1890. My Nansen passport argues that I am stateless. Mercifully they all agree that my face is oblong, my complexion fair and my hair blond, although my eyes are described variously as green or blue.
Mine, I will defend myself, is not a simple story.
The Chosen Maiden is a work of fiction, but since it is inspired by historical characters, it is based on historical research and refers to ballets considered milestones in ballet history. If you like to get a sense of the ballets that play an important part in the novel, here is a peek into the world of Ballet Russes from its inception to the famous Parisian 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky.
This short film puts together the animated still photographs of Vaslav Nijinsky dancing in Le Roi Candaule, Le Dieu Bleu, Schéhérazade, Petrouchka, Afternoon of the Faun, as well as some footage if his choreographic masterpiece, The Rite of Spring. The compilation of these fleeting fragments ends with the haunting drawings Vaslav Nijinsky made as he was slipping into madness.
The Afternoon of the Faun is worth watching in full. In her memoirs Bronia Nijinska wrote: “Vaslav is creating his Faun by using me as his model. I am like a piece of clay that he is moulding, shaping into each pose and change of movement. ….how much I am learning form him….”
We have precious little documentation of the original 1913 production of Vaslav’s Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The Joffrey Ballet recreation of the ballet is an educated guess based on research and the testimony of dancers who took part in it. The third part is the dance of The Chosen Maiden, the role which Vaslav choreographed with his sister in mind, but which–in the original production–was danced by Maria Piltz.