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Rudolf Nureyev. Courtesy Spotlight Cinema Networks.

What's better than one film about Rudolf Nureyev? Two films about Rudolf Nureyev!

We're excited to share that a feature-length documentary titled Nureyev is slated to make its North American premiere next month. Nureyev will be shown in major U.S. cities starting April 19, giving you just enough time time to brush up on your Nureyev history before the Ralph Fiennes directed biopic, The White Crow, hits U.S. theaters on April 26.

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Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nuryev in "The White Crow." Still via YouTube.

It's the moment many of us have been waiting for since early 2017: our first glimpse of The White Crow, a feature film about Rudolf Nureyev's 1961 defection from the Soviet Union while on tour with the Kirov Ballet. Directed by Hollywood A-lister Ralph Fiennes, the movie follows Nureyev from his birth on a train in Siberia to his request for asylum at Paris' Le Bourget Airport. It is based on Julie Kavanaugh's 2007 book, Nureyev: A Life.

THE WHITE CROW - Official Trailer - Directed by Ralph Fiennes www.youtube.com

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Ballet Stars
A young Paul Taylor in Aureole. Photo by Jack Mitchell, Courtesy PTDC.

Legendary choreographer Paul Taylor, whose illustrious career spanned seven decades, passed away yesterday in New York City at age 88.

Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Taylor discovered dance relatively late in life, while in college at Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship. He then transferred to the Juilliard School, and in 1954 began to choreograph. In 1955 he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. Taylor first stirred the dance world in 1957 with Seven New Dances. The piece was composed entirely of long sections of standing, sitting and pedestrian style walking across the stage. Audience members were outraged; critic Louis Horst famously published a blank review in The Dance Observer in response. Since 1954, Taylor has choreographed 146 dances.

Despite his postmodern roots, Taylor quickly found favor with ballet companies. In 1959, George Balanchine invited him to be a guest artist with New York City Ballet for the creation of Episodes, a two-part work that he and Graham were co-creating. Balanchine's section included a solo made on Taylor, which the New York Times described as "disturbingly complex" when NYCB revived it in 1986. (Today, only Balanchine's section of Episodes, sans solo, is performed.) And some of Taylor's most loved works, including Airs, Company B, Black Tuesday, Aureole and Sunset are frequently performed by major ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet.

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Viral Videos
Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in "Les Sylphides," via YouTube

When Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn began dancing together in the early 1960s, they made an unexpected pair—he was a young, hot-tempered Soviet defector and she was a distinguished prima of The Royal Ballet, 19 years his senior. Yet their partnership (which lasted almost two decades) became one of the most famous in all of ballet. Nureyev said in a documentary about Fonteyn that they danced with "one body, one soul." That connection is evident here in their performance of Michel Fokine's Romantic-style ballet Les Sylphides from a 1963 film.

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Ballet Stars

It's been an exciting few weeks in New York City with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet in the midst of their respective seasons at Lincoln Center. With so many homegrown stars in the spotlight, it's wonderful to remember the past generations of dancers who once lit up the same stages and helped shape American ballet into what is it today. One such luminary is former ABT principal Cynthia Gregory, whom Rudolf Nureyev dubbed the "American Prima Ballerina Assoluta." In this 1970's clip of her "Rose Adagio" from The Sleeping Beauty, it's plain to see how she enchanted balletomanes everywhere with her unaffected elegance.

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Jody Sawyer: “Margot Fonteyn didn't have great feet."

Jonathan Reeves: “Well, when Margot Fonteyn was onstage, you couldn't tear your eyes away from her."

--Center Stage (2000)

YouTube wasn't yet invented when the movie Center Stage was released. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, we (who weren't lucky enough to see the great British ballerina in person) can observe exactly what Peter Gallagher's character was talking about.

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Can you imagine completing your spring showcase performance and being handed a soloist contract by your dream company? That is precisely what happened to Rudolf Nureyev and Alla Sizova in 1958, and this clip is from that very performance. The opening section of Le Corsaire's famous pas de deux displays Sizova's beautiful lines and Nureyev's attentive partnering. Things really heat up, however, in the variations. Nureyev falters a little landing the first jump, but the raw power and energy he became famous for doesn't. Sizova swapped the usual choreography for the Queen of Dryads variation from Don Quixote—and she completely defies gravity. Those leaps! (She eventually earned the nickname “Flying Sizova.") Even during the horrifically difficult Italian fouettés into double en dedans pirouettes, her expression remains radiant.

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Viral Videos
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.

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Nureyev's impact on ballet reaches beyond his dancing. Not only did he increase the attention paid to male dancers at a time when most audiences focused almost solely on the ballerinas, he insisted on raising the level of ballet costumes. As a blog in the SF Gate mentions, "Nureyev not only insisted on construction that allowed for freedom of movement but also pushed to incorporate a greater level of detail into costuming." San Francisco's de Young Fine Arts Museum is currently exhibiting "Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance" featuring costumes he wore or helped design for his ballets. This Friday, the museum will host a special presentation about ballet costumes, featuring a performance by San Francisco Ballet trainees. The event, at 7 pm, is free to the public. See deyoung.famsf.org.

In English, “le jeune homme et la mort translates to “the young man and death.” There’s no missing the somber tone in this clip of Roland Petit’s short ballet. As the young man, Rudolf Nureyev dances in a reverie to the melancholic organ chimes. Throughout the technical tricks and complicated prop maneuvering that peppers Petit’s choreography, Nureyev never loses his trance-like stare. The reason for his reverie soon strides through the door. Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, based on the libretto written by Jean Cocteau, is about a man who—consumed by his love for a woman—is eventually driven to suicide.

 

Zizi Jeanmaire, Petit’s real-life lover and muse, plays the woman, and Nureyev’s submission to her seductive power is evident. She sidles up against him and teases with swiveling hips and playful kicks. In French, nouns carry genders, and it’s interesting to note that the word “death” is feminine. The woman is the one who loosens the noose, turns Nureyev’s head towards it and then disappears, leaving the man with the torment of her absence and one tragic way out.

 

The climactic, macabre ending is no indication of Petit’s own life. Though he had a brief affair with Margot Fonteyn, Petit married Jeanmaire and they lived together until his death four years ago, nearly to the day. With his risqué themes and evocative choreography, Petit is remembered for enabling ballet to enter a new realm of storytelling. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

 

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