Nureyev: Legend and Legacy – Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Director: Nehemiah Kish

The name Nureyev will forever be associated with the classical ballet form. As Ralph Fiennes (who directed the Nureyev biopic The White Crow) says in his introduction, the Russian who defected to the West in 1961 inspired, and continues to inspire, the world. Monica Mason, who danced with Nureyev, says that he wanted to “poison us all with his passion,” a vivid if somewhat grotesque metaphor.

In this celebratory festival of ballet, excerpts from some of the most famous routines of Nureyev’s career as dancer and choreographer are revisited by professionals from across the world.

The dances start with the Act 2 Entr’acte from Sleeping Beauty, which Nureyev transformed from a purely musical piece into a solo giving his character of the prince a more complex portrayal than had traditionally been provided. While it’s a laudable place to start the exploration of Nureyev’s stage career, Guillaume Côté’s rendition lacks some of the fire of which Fiennes and Mason speak.

Things get hugely on track as Maia Makhateli and Oleg Ivenko tackle excerpts from Khachaturian’s Gayané, one of Nureyev’s many collaborations with Margot Fonteyn. The pas de deux’s tale of love, using choreography inspired by Armenian folk dances, is joyous and accomplished, everything one imagines Nureyev’s work to be.

Occasionally, there is a reversion to recreations that seem rather more focussed on precision than poisonous passion. There is space, though, for some pastoral romance, such as that in the pas de deux from Flower Festival in Genzano. Ida Praetorious and Francesco Gabriele Fola provide a sense of cohesion and unity in the piece that, when broadcast on American television in the early 1960s, popularised Nureyev in the US.

There are several occasions, most notably in Act I’s closing pas de six from Laurencia, where the men often find themselves acting as support for pirouetting balerinas. It was Nureyev’s insistence that the males in his ballets be equal partners that helped his characters move away from such strictures, and in general the second act’s selections bear that out.

The grand pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty and an extract from Act II of Giselle demonstrate how, even within the confines of the classic repertoire, Nureyev pushed the boundaries of choreography to ensure that a full, rounded story was being told.

And that progression comes to a head with the closing numbers. The excerpt from Don Juan sees the titular character encounter the Angel of Death, who instead of taking his life falls in love with him.

The choral sounds of Gluck’s Requiem, coupled with mesmeric performances by Alexandr Trusch and Alina Cojocaru, produce a piece which, while now half a century old, feels like it was choreographed yesterday. The fire, the passion, the poison that the show’s introduction hailed as Nureyev’s legacy truly feels present.

After the soaring intensity of Don Juan’s encounter with Death, the final piece – a recreation of Le Corsaire, one of Nureyev’s earliest and most celebrated roles – ensures the evening goes out on a high. Cesar Corrales recreates the sensual machismo of the pirate Conrad, producing thrilling solo work as well as in his pas de deux with Yasmine Naghdi’s Medora, herself offering elegance and precision.

It is thrilling, sexy, technically brilliant; pure Nureyev. And as a conclusion to an evening celebrating the dancer’s legacy, it ensures that we all leave with a dash of his poisonous passion coursing through our veins.

Continues until 12 September 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A thrilling legacy

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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