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Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. Courtesy CineLife Entertainment.

A while ago we alerted you to Nureyev, a new feature length documentary about the life of legendary ballet star Rudolf Nureyev. The film is now enjoying a limited run in several U.S. cities, nicely coinciding with the release of Ralph Fiennes' Nureyev biopic The White Crow. The documentary, directed by brother-sister team Jacqui Morris and David Morris, tells the infamous dancer's life story from his deeply impoverished childhood to his years at the Kirov Ballet and his eventual defection from Russia. It then continues where The White Crow leaves off, chronicling his dance career and pop-culture celebrity in the West, his celebrated partnership with Margot Fonteyn and his life-ending battle with AIDS.

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Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

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In a still from The White Crow, Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) looks out over Paris from the roof of the Palais Garnier. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

I caught a preview screening of The White Crow earlier this week at New York City's 92Y, and I have to say: Even with a solid grasp of dance history and a smattering of film studies knowledge, I had some questions when the credits rolled. The Ralph Fiennes–directed Rudolf Nureyev biopic dramatizes the events leading up to the ballet star's famous defection from the Soviet Union, touching on incidents from his childhood and his years at the Leningrad Choreographic School.

So before you check out the film (which has a limited release in NYC and Los Angeles today), here are a few details that might be helpful to know.

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News
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 this 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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Trending

Updated April 25, 2019

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

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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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.

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