Photos by Andrej Uspenski
Rudolf Nureyev made a huge impact on the dance world when he defected from the Soviet Union in 1961 whilst on tour with the Kirov in Paris. It wasn’t just his fiery dancing and personality or his partnership with Margot Fonteyn which captivated audiences around the world, but his flamboyance, his life style and his defiance of the rules which led to his fame and occasional notoriety. Former principal with the Royal Ballet, Nehemiah Kish, curates this celebration of his life and work, ably assisted by former English National Ballet ballerina, Elena Glurjidze. In a carefully chosen selection of some familiar gala fodder but also a couple of rarely seen pieces, the evening shows some of the best dancers in the world endeavouring to evoke his spirit and passion. On opening night, Ralph Fiennes and Dame Monica Mason introduced the programme. Fiennes, who directed the 2018 film The White Crow about Nureyev’s life, described himself as an “interloper” being more interested in the man and his story than ballet itself. Mason, who danced and worked with him, described Nureyev as “a man who wanted to poison us with his passion” – a bold assessment of his persuasive character.
With the Royal Ballet Sinfonia placed at the rear of the stage (sometimes distractingly) under the baton of National Ballet of Canada’s David Briskin, the first item was the Act II, Entr’acte solo from Nureyev’s own The Sleeping Beauty. Those of us familiar with his choreography will recognise the fussy awkwardness of this solo, which is a lot harder to execute that it at first looks. Guillame Côté, well versed in this production, did not look entirely comfortable at this performance but given he was stepping in for Germain Louvet at short notice, I think he can be forgiven a few first night wobbles. Later in the programme, Vadim Muntagirov and Natascha Mair danced the Act III grand pas de deux. Mair, a pretty and charming dancer with potential, fared less well than her more experienced partner. Muntagirov is physically and dramatically very different from Nureyev but his dancing is superlative and I have no doubt that the legend himself would have approved of Muntagirov’s innate musicality and his immaculate delivery.
The first rarely seen pas de deux was from Gayané (Ch. Nureyev after Nina Anisimova). Danced with folksy panache by Maia Makhateli and Oleg Ivenko, the light-hearted bravado was warmly received. The third act pas de deux from La Bayadère (Kingdom of the Shades) followed and was a little underwhelming. Both Xander Parish and Iana Salenko are first rate dancers in their own right but there was zero chemistry between them and with so little emotional connection and the fact that this is difficult to dance out of context, it did not make a memorable impression. With Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano pas de deux, danced by Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius (replacing Emma Hawes) we enjoyed unlimited bravura, all within the confines of Bournonville’s distinctive style. Frola, in particular, wowed with his beautiful ballon, his speedy but controlled pirouettes and his genuine warmth.
The first half finished with Natalia Osipova’s staging of Chabukiani’s Laurencia, pas de six. Nureyev danced a solo from Laurencia at his graduation performance that so impressed the ballerina Natalya Dudinskaya, that she asked him to partner her in the full-length ballet! Osipova led the cast partnered by Cesar Corrales (replacing Marcelino Sambé) and including Royal Ballet dancers Yuhui Choe, Marianna Tsembenhoi, Benjamin Ella and Daichi Ikarashi. All danced very well but with Osipova and Corrales devouring the (small) stage with an appetite that appeared unsatiated even at the end, it was to them that our attention was directed. More about Corrales later, but Osipova, while giving her all with the full measure of her enormous jump and unrestrained enthusiasm, her efforts do occasionally distort the line in her upper body and shoulders.
Outstanding in the second half were Francesca Hayward and William Bracewell in a very moving rendition of the Giselle, Act II pas de deux. She was light as thistledown, diaphanous and ethereal in appearance; he is such an emotive dance actor, a sensitive partner with a wonderful classical technique, it’s impossible not to appreciate this partnership. The second piece on the programme which gave us an all too rare opportunity to see some of John Neumeier’s choreography was an excerpt from his Don Juan. Alina Cojocaru and Alexandr Trusch brought a magical, mystical quality to the piece which was entrancing. It included some extraordinary lifts (ballet’s answer to the gym’s ‘the plank’) which were difficult to fathom from an audience viewpoint but definitely left us feeling that we were not watching anything earthly.
The programme ended with fireworks, in true Nureyev style. He was well-known for regularly bringing the house down with the famous Le Corsaire pas de deux, particularly when dancing with Fonteyn. At this performance it was left to Corrales once again and the beautiful, elegant ballerina Yasmine Naghdi, to evoke the explosive and unforgettable qualities of this famous partnership. Whilst both dancers do share similar traits with their legendary counterparts, both Naghdi and Corrales are prodigious talents without the need to make comparisons. To conclude, they provoked audible gasps and voracious applause from all quarters of the auditorium as they went from one breathtaking and indescribable feat to the next. This naturally left us all running for the train feeling exuberant and exhilarated.