The brilliant, internationally-acclaimed Polish dancer Vaslav Nijinsky had a sister. As children, Vaslav and Bronia danced together. As adolescents, they both won places to hone their art at the prestigious Imperial Ballet School in St Petersburg. As adults, they danced with the Ballets Russes throughout Europe and choreographed groundbreaking work. Vaslav eclipsed his younger sister in renown, but Bronia was a gifted dancer, choreographer and beloved teacher in her own right.
In The Chosen Maiden, Eva Stachniak brings Bronia out of Vaslav’s shadow. As Vaslav’s star was ravaged by devastating mental illness and the First World War sparked revolution in Russia, Bronia continued to work with grit and determination, creating dance that broke with tradition and challenged the expectations of what female dancers were allowed. In her fifth novel, Stachniak gives us an affecting portrait of a woman who was “strong enough to dance alone.”
Christine Fischer Guy: What drew you to the world of the Ballets Russes?
Eva Stachniak: It was not the Ballets Russes but the brilliant Nijinskys, Vaslav and Bronislava, brother and sister.
After my second Catherine the Great novel, I wanted to look at the end of Catherine’s Russia. At first I searched for an inspiring character among her descendants, but no one at the Imperial Russian court captivated me. Then I looked at the Artists of the Imperial Theatres, and I knew I’d found my people.
I have to confess I didn’t know of Bronislava Nijinska’s existence until I started researching her famous brother, Vaslav. Only then I learned that he had a younger sister Bronislava (or Bronia as she was often called) who was not only a talented dancer and a groundbreaking choreographer, but also a writer of Early Memoirs, a book that captivated my imagination. So it was Bronia’s voice — strong, powerful, inspiring — that led me to the world of Russian ballet and to the Ballets Russes. She was my inspiration, my muse, my guide and my teacher.
“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
Stachniak brilliantly brings the story of Bronia, the lesser-known Nijinsky, to life. She has an excellent command of the period and the dance world, and an ability to draw characters who will enrapture the reader.
… 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.
Quill and Quire:
Many works of fiction take as their inspiration true events and persons of historical significance, but few do so as lovingly and imaginatively as Eva Stachniak’s fifth novel
a remarkable work of historical fiction
The Chosen Maiden is both a tribute to a female artist who remained true to her vision despite numerous obstacles, and to the woman behind her who made it possible. MORE
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.. MORE