#TBT: Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park in The Nutcracker Grand Pas (1968)

Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park in "The Nutcracker" (1968). Photo by Donald Southern, Courtesy of the Royal Opera House Collections.

Given the thousands of incarnations The Nutcracker has undergone—from tiny-tot productions in small-town studios to grand modern classics—the ballet's Grand Pas de Deux from Act II has remained remarkably intact. With slight variations, most professional dancers have seen its familiar choreography at some point or another. Tchaikovsky's radiant score calls to mind elegant promenades, partnered penchées and slow, supported développés.


That being said, some versions deviate significantly from tradition. In this 1968 clip of Rudolf Nureyev and Merle Park in The Royal Ballet's The Nutcracker, Nureyev's choreography has some unusual elements. For the first few moments, he hardly partners Park at all. Instead, the two dance in mesmerizing unison, from the height of their legs to the tilt of their épaulement. For the dramatic crescendo in Tchaikovky's score, Nureyev chose a striking, death-defying lift. Then, we're hooked. From the whirling partnering that follows—where Nureyev whisks Park onto his shoulder, tosses her in a twirl and lowers her in a dramatic dip—to the final pose, with her cradled in the scoop of his balanced arabesque, I can't take my eyes away. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

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