Nijinsky's 2 Claims to Fame:
being insanely great, and
being greatly insane
We will always speculate and never really know what made Nijinsky dance, or what made Nijinski Nijinsky.
There are many theories about his mental condition.
(1)A New York Times article, "ANALYST'S VIEWS ON NIJINSKY FINALLY PUBLISHED" in my opinion, provides insight but makes serious analytic errors. It states, "In 1938 he was among the first psychiatric patients to receive insulin coma therapy, a shock treatment, which freed him of his hallucinations and enabled him to live outside the hospital, although still requiring his wife's constant care. Then in 1945, when the Russians occupied the town in Hungary where the Nijinskys were living, he began to speak to the Russian soldiers and even, one night, to jump up and dance spontaneously with them as they performed peasant dances. ... Adler said ... ''our poor hero,'' Nijinsky, possessed motor, auditory and visual abilities ''far above average.'"
The book, Vaslav Nijinsky By Peter Ostwald, 1991, based on medical records, provides a different viewpoint. Nijinsky during a 1919(?) hospitalization, was walking with an attendant, "he suddenly 'leaped' into the air and rushed away, leaving the younger man breathlessly trying to catch up. He did this twice and the attendant became alarmed, saying he would have to tell Dr. Reese about it. Nijinsky tried to 'swear him to silence,' and told the attendant 'the whole thing was a joke.' Then he teasingly suggested, 'it might do you some good to have to jump once in a while.'" p.213 In my opinion, this event describes a man oriented to person, time and place and aware of the consequences of his actions. Persons suffering from a psychotic break with reality tend to be disoriented and unaware of consequences.
A few pages later in same book: "'The impression he makes, and the complete art of his pantomime, is most thoroughly studied and truthful.' When it was all over, Nijinsky stopped being "catatonic" and let himself be taken back to the Parkhaus by a nurse, where he spent 'a normal night.' Binswanger could not explain this behavior. He lacked precise information about Nijinsky's exposure to a mentally ill brother, his training in St. Petersburg (which included the truthful imitation of people in emotional distress), and his choreographic invention of unusual movements. However, Binswanger did intuitively appreciate the dancer's extraordinary talent for assimilating the expressions of disease. Apparently, Nijinsky's month of mingling with psychotic patients at Burgholzli and Bellevue obscured the boundary between art and madness. It now was possible for him to dance a "suicide-madness scene' with absolute conviction, and one could never be sure exactly which state he was in. After his dance recital, for example, he was "very pleasant all day." The next evening, however, Binswanger found him 'in a psychogenically charming stupor-condition.. He sits in the billiard-room with his forehead leaning on the edge of the tableÂ…He won't let himself be shaken out of it and doesn't react to commands.'" Pps. 217-8