Homage to Nureyev
March 21st 2010
I’ve never seen Rudolph Hametovich Nureyev dance live. But I felt his compelling presence in every corner of the stage this evening, which is surely the aim in paying homage to him. I’m not a fan of the gala format – any gala – I think it needs updating so that you don’t get to the end feeling that you’ve had enough, and you definitely don’t want an already long gala to over-run by forty minutes or so. Fine if you’ve got a limo waiting in line outside; not so great if you need to catch a train or a bus on a Sunday night.
Nureyev came relatively late to ballet – though he knew he wanted to be on stage from the age of seven, it wasn’t until he was seventeen that he won a scholarship to the Vaganova School. Claiming asylum at twenty three, it wasn’t long before he was dancing in London and went on to form one of ballets most famous partnerships with Margot Fonteyn, who was forty two when they danced Giselle.
Most people say that Nureyev was generous with his knowledge and a great teacher, despite his relative youth and late start in ballet. Mark Twain said “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can be great”. Nureyev made others feel great; that is the gift of his talent and that is why he is still revered today.
The Moor’s Pavane, loosely based on Othello, tells the story of a Moor, his wife and another couple. Danced to perfection in stunning costumes, especially the bright orange dress and the sleeves of the white dress, by Farukh Ruzimatov, Irina Perren, Vera Arbuzova and Alexander Omar. Very stylised with little jerks and very adagio in speed, it set the mood for the evening.
Tristan and Isolde was amazing; one of the two highlights of the evening. The dancers, Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Merkuriev seemed to be made from water, so fluid and beautifully soft were their movements. Wagner’s music and Krzysztof Pastor’s choreography melted together to form a dance of exquisite beauty and refinement.
Gil Roman, who shares a likeness to Nureyev, danced Adagietto choreographed by Maurice Béjart. Nureyev worked with Béjart many times and shared his passion for theatre. The piece is based on La Muette (The Mute).
The Bedroom pas de deux from Manon is another gala favourite. I’m not sure it fares so well out of context, and the missing bed didn’t help to set the mood set by these two lovers (in the ballet). The Royal Ballet’s Roberta Marquez and David Makhateli (also Artistic Adviser for this gala) danced full out – perhaps a little too much as they got so close to the table by the end that Marquez was slightly thumped to the floor by Makhateli, which surely isn’t the mood the characters are trying to create.
Quite a strange choice – Russkaya – with such familiar music out of place (more usually the Russian dance from Act 111 of Swan Lake), danced by Ulyana Lopatkina in a brightly coloured folk inspired costume which in fact proved to be a perky little number rarely seen in the West.
A Picture Of… danced by Manuel Legris, was an exceptionally difficult solo performed exceptionally well. Easy to see why Legris was picked out by Nureyev at the Paris Opera Ballet (Nureyev took over directorship of the company in 1983).
The beginning of the second half had me reaching for my ear defenders. I had come prepared, knowing that the challenge that is Pierrot Lunaire was on the bill. You either love it or hate it. Nureyev was captured on a short film in the role, and it’s one that Royal Ballet Principal Ivan Putrov really can call his own. I’ve seen him dance it many times (yes, each time with ear defenders) and he told me that the music is difficult to dance to. Accompanied by the sublime Mara Galeazzi in a mad red wig and Edward Watson, the trio duly climbed the scaffolding to the screechy ‘Sprechgesang’ (spoken song) until eventually the curtain came down.
Elegy, danced by Olga Esina and Vladimir Shishov with music by Rachmaninov was created for the dancers performing it tonight. It premiered at the Rudolph Nureyev International Festival in Kazan (Nureyev gave the festival its name and Kazan is his Mother’s homeland). Elegy was inspired by Nureyev’s meeting with Fonteyn.
We were due to see the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux from La Esmerelda, a mouth-watering prospect even though it too is standard gala fare, with Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares. Soares, however, was indisposed, which left Nunez partnered by Makhateli in another scene from Swan Lake – not the most inspired choice perhaps but circumstances are what they are and Nunez danced Odette’s variation as she always does – with soulful expression. Makhateli was the perfect Prince, blending into the background and partnering the starry Nunez very well.
So to the other gem of the night, a piece called Trois Gnossiennes and danced beautifully by Ulyana Lopatkina and Ivan Kozlov. Theirs was a stunning partnership to choreography by Hans Van Manen, whose work Nureyev had admired.
Why include Afternoon of a Faun in a gala ? It doesn’t present an obvious section from which to choose an excerpt, and it suffers from being shown out of context. Nina Kapstova did her best, but Dmitry Gudanov seemed far more at ease with himself than with her (perhaps the whole point !) and overall the piece seemed far more ‘precious’ than I have seen it performed anywhere else. Presumably it’s included because Nureyev danced the role with The Royal Ballet in 1972, but I think it could have been left out.
Such a shame, as they would have missed Svetlana Zakharova and Andrei Merkuriev in Black, the most modern piece of the night created by La Scala dancer Francesco Ventiglia. Both were pin sharp and the partnering was exemplary, beginning with a black stage and two white spots which merged together.
There are hopes that this evening will forge the way for future joint cultural projects between Britain and Tatarstan, and on this showing, there is plenty more good work to be seen here, especially as the gala was sold out. Fitting then, that Nureyev
can still fill a theatre.