By Laura Dodge
Recorded in 2013 and now available on DVD, the Nureyev and Friends Gala Tribute marks the 75th anniversary of Rudolf Nureyev's birth (and also the 20th anniversary of his death) with extracts from many ballets he performed as well as two of his own works.
The undoubted highlight comes from Royal Ballet dancers Tamara Rojo and Rupert Pennefather in Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand. Originally created for Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, the ballet is about a young man and his lover – a Parisian courtesan who is seriously ill with tuberculosis. Rojo and Pennefather dance an exquisite duet where Marguerite attempts – in response to Armand’s father’s wishes – to break up with her partner, her eyes literally full of tears and choreography bursting with passion and regret. It’s unsurprisingly atypical gala fare, but it sparkles on this DVD with every heart-breaking movement perfectly representing the characters’ emotions.
Other highlights come from Ballet de l’Opera National de Paris dancers Aurelie Dupont and Mathias Heyman in the charming but technically difficult Act III pas de deux from Nureyev’s Raymonda. A luminous Evgenia Obratzova and Dmitry Gudanov from the Bolshoi Ballet give a beautiful and seemingly effortless performance of the Act III duet from Sleeping Beauty. Berlin Staatsballett’s Iana Salenko also makes an ethereal Sylph from La Sylphide, and Heyman comes onstage again with an impassioned interpretation of Nureyev’s Manfred. With the exception of a couple of works, the gala is a joy to watch and celebrates not only Nureyev himself but also great classical ballet performed by world-leading dancers.
The only real problem with the DVD is that it’s rather over-zealously filmed, with rapidly changing camera angles – including facial close-ups during pirouettes and leaps, shots from the wings and an excessively wide lens that includes the orchestra pit – which makes it hard to appreciate fully what’s happening onstage. On the other hand, there are delightful short segments of backstage footage, including Rojo pumping her fists as she prepares to dance Marguerite and later giggling with Pennefather.
The DVD includes a final interview with renowned ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, who describes Nureyev as "like a wild flower that never existed before – a flower of infinite beauty, that you could admire and be amazed by... I learnt a lot from him and I'll miss him for the rest of my life." His words are a fitting tribute to Nureyev, a dancer who made a huge impact on the ballet world and fully deserves to be remembered and celebrated.