Before The Rite of Spring caused Parisian ballet patrons to riot, legendary dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky made waves in 1912 with this short ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, based upon the poem by Stephane Mallarme. Accompanied by the music of Claude Debussy, the angular, more modern movements are a drastic departure from classical ballet. The ballet is decidedly pastoral and overtly sexual in nature. A young fawn awakens on a summer afternoon and spots a group of nymphs bathing in a nearby spring. Seized by newly erupting sexual desires, he cavorts with the nymphs, attempting to engage them. Finally, one nymph dances with him. Soon, however, she departs, leaving a scarf behind. Consumed by desire, the fawn reverently carries the scarf up to his leafy bed, and after caressing, sniffing and tasting the scarf, the fawn descends upon the sensual artifact and brings himself to a climax. It was this simulation of masturbation that really pissed off the Parisian audiences, who called the ballet obscene. In retrospect however, this unbelievably sexy ballet paved the road for expression through dance. I especially love how, through much of the piece, the Faun has his hands tensely held near his pelvis, as if to express the tumult of sweet tension flowing there.
Rudolph Nureyev dances the fawn.
The Fawn as danced by George de la Pena in a dramatization of the original performance from the film Nijinsky.
Actual footage of Vaslav Nijinsky, performing the Fawn in the original 1912 production.