Notes and Editorial Reviews
DANCER’S DREAM—THE GREAT BALLETS OF RUDOLF NUREYEV
Alexander Anissimov, cond; Paris Natl Op O & Ballet
ARTHAUS 107015 (DVD: 83: 00)
This appears to be the first of a projected series of DVDs dedicated to the choreography of Rudolf Nureyev, the ballet phenomenon who died in 1993. This documentary film was made in 1998 by François Roussillon to honor the great ballerina Yvette
Chauviré, as well as to zero in on Nureyev’s particularly intense rehearsal and performance methods. In the course of the film, which is riveting and tightly structured, one sees and hears Nureyev rehearsing as well as talking to the press about his work, but more important, the reactions and reminiscences of many who worked with him. Among the great stars who appear in the film are Sylvie Guillem, Isabelle Guérin, Laurent Hilaire, Charles Jude, Manuel Legris, Elisabeth Maurin, and Kader Belarbi.
What comes across most forcefully is Nureyev’s passion for dance, his almost demonic work ethic, his encyclopedic knowledge of styles from classic French to modern dance, and most interesting of all, his little-known musical education. I had no idea that Nureyev was a skilled harpsichordist who particularly loved the fugues of J. S. Bach, or that he studied conducting so that he could someday direct a performance of one of his ballets from the orchestra pit. Because of his all-encompassing knowledge of both ballet and musical styles, he was able to achieve a synthesis in his stage productions that not only “filled the stage,” as all great choreographers do, but also followed the score virtually note for note. As one dancer remarked, quickly but tellingly, Nureyev had a corresponding movement for almost every note in the score.
Upon taking over the Paris Ballet in 1983, Nureyev quickly established “his” method of rehearsal: “Everyone show me what you’ve got, let it all hang out and don’t hold back, and I’ll decide who fits in where.” This didn’t sit too well with a few then-established stars who found themselves eventually relegated to secondary roles, but even the gripers admitted that Nureyev was fair. The new hierarchy he established within the company was based entirely on talent. Favoritism had nothing to do with personality; indeed, some of those he chose for lead roles were some of those who resented his workaholic methods the most. In 1986, when Legris was suddenly chosen as Tartar chieftain Abderachman in the New York premiere of
over Jude, who had been performing it for three years, Legris was stunned—he didn’t even know the whole part! Later, after the performance, he thanked Nureyev for the opportunity. Nureyev’s reply was typical: “You don’t need to thank me. My choice had nothing to do with my liking you more than Charles. You’re just better at certain moves within the role, that’s all.”
In an earlier review I wrote of Alexander Glazunov’s symphonies, I criticized his modest and quite predictable thematic development, but I have no such reservations about his score for
. It is, quite simply, brilliant. Freed of the constraints of developing music over long stretches of time, Glazunov allowed his imagination free rein. The result was one of the most varied, colorful, and interesting scores in the entire history of ballet. He truly outdid himself in attempting to create a work that was as interesting to hear as to dance to, including an innovative finale in which the prima ballerina dances to a solo piano with only occasional interjections from the winds and pizzicato strings.
The dancing and choreography are simply overwhelming in their effectiveness and exuberance. Nureyev completely revamped Petipa’s original version, adding a “danced fugue,” additional motion for the wooden horses of the infidels, and upgrading Abderachman’s role to include extraordinarily difficult and highly effective moves based on Tartar folk dance. His
was to choose the most interesting moves, not necessarily the most difficult or flashy, and always keep things in motion. As one ballerina put it, in most choreography you have a little “breathing room” between dances, but in Nureyev’s staging you went from whirling in one scene to a six-minute Adagio of extraordinary difficulty. “All you want to do is rest for a minute, and you have to control your body for what seems like an eternity!” she lamented.
Watching this DVD left me wanting to see a complete Paris performance of Nureyev’s
, but alas, it isn’t available at the moment. Perhaps Arthaus Musik will do us the favor of issuing it someday. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that this isn’t a one-shot release, and that we’ll get to see more videos of other Nureyev choreographies.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Featuring Florence Clerc, Fanny Gaïda, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Elisabeth Platel, Noëlla Pontois, Claude de Vulpian, Charles Jude, Manuel Legris, José Martinez, Rudolf Nureyev, Jean Guizerix, Laurent Hilaire, Wilfried Romoli.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, German, Spanish, Italian, Chinese
Running time: 83 mins
Works on This Recording
Raymonda, Op. 57 by Alexander Glazunov
Paris National Opera Orchestra
Written: 1896-1897; Russia
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