Nureyev and FriendsDavid Mead

In May 2013, dancers from Europe’s leading companies came together in Paris to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Rudolf Nureyev’s birth and to pay homage to the dance icon. Held under the patronage of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation, and directed jointly by Charles Jude (artistic director of the Bordeaux Opera Ballet) and former Royal Ballet principal, David Makhateli, the gala, “Nureyev & Friends”, linked to Nureyev as dancer, choreographer, and as Director of the Paris Opera Ballet.

Paris was, of course, a particularly appropriate city for the gala. Although Nureyev is remembered most by many for his partnership with Margot Fonteyn, it was just outside Paris, at Le Bourget Airport in 1961, that he decided to seek political asylum; it was the Paris Opéra Ballet that he directed from 1983 to 1989; and it is there where he died and near where he is interred.

In the introduction to the DVD, gala co-director David Makhateli talks of Nureyev’s amazing influence on Western dance, and the remarkable amount that he absorbed. And it’s hard to disagree with Hans van Manen who notes the impression he made on male dancers and how he changed male dancing for ever. The most telling and warmest tribute is saved to the end, though. After the dance, Mikhail Baryshnikov speaks from the heart about Nureyev, likening his sudden emergence to suddenly discovering a wild flower that no-one knew previously existed.

Makhateli says the he wanted everyone to feel that Nureyev was with them. Whether that was the case in the Palais de Congress theatre it’s hard to say, but although Nureyev danced in or created most of the male roles performed, there is little sense of his presence on the DVD. Still, that is difficult to capture on film. Most of the time, the DVD could be any gala, anywhere, but oh what a sparkling one, and oh what wonderful dancing.

In general, Marcus Viner’s film direction is excellent. The editing is quite cinematic at times, getting in close on faces when it matters. There are occasional annoying cutaways to the conductor, or split-second shots of feet that add little, but in all honesty, they don’t overly detract from the enjoyment.

An excellent touch is the use of backing projections that give a sense of place and context to each piece that’s so often lacking in galas. Something future gala directors should note.

The excerpts touch on Nureyev’s own choreographies, as in “Raymonda” and “Manfred”, and his work with other noted choreographers such as Frederick Ashton and Hans van Manen. As is so often the case, it’s easy to point at the omissions. There is a clear out and out classical bias, and although Nureyev danced in many works by such as Rudi van Dantzig and Martha Graham, none feature. There’s no Petit or Béjart either, but you can’t have everything. Next time, maybe.

The dancing is faultless throughout, and there are many highlights. Tamara Rojo and Frederic Bonelli give a spine-tingling and very moving performance of the Bedroom pas de deux from “Manon”. Rojo, especially, is all passion is absolutely believable. “Raymonda” is not one of the more appealing ballets, but in their performance of the Act III pas de deux it’s impossible to take your eyes off Aurélie Dupont and Mathias Heymann who fizz through Nureyev’s account of the Petipa orignal. Dupont is a seductress, casting wonderful glances at the audience that just draw you in. She has that special something that even carries through to the small screen.

Another couple who draw you in are Evgenia Obratztsova and Dmitry Gudanov in the Act III pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty”. They really look like a prince and princess.

Best of all, though, and rather appropriately, is a male solo. Heymann’s performance of Nureyev’s “Manfred” (a ballet about the poet Byron to Tchaikovsky) is the one dance where a sense of the great man really comes through. Heymann is incredibly expressive in face and body. The emotion is there for all to see from the moment he explodes into action. He deserves every second of his extended ovation.

The list goes on. Iana Salenko and Marian Walter are charming in the opening Act II pas de deux from “La Sylphide”, and Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer produce an animated account of “Two Pieces for Het” by Hans Van Manen.

Vadim Muntagirov and Aleksandra Timofeeva bring things to a rousing conclusion in a glittering “Le Corsaire” pas de deux. Muntagirov gives a masterclass in male bravura, albeit with a very serious face, but it’s the elegant Timofeeva who really takes the eye. She radiates brilliantly, and her fast, sharp turns are a joy.

Less warming, although technically excellent, are Evgenia Obratztsova and Evgeni Ivanchenko in the Shades pas de deux from “La Bayadère” – both looked rather stony-faced, and Daria Vasnetsova and Ivanchenko in the big pas from Act II of “Swan Lake.”

Dances on the DVD:

1. “La Sylphide”, Act II pas de deux (ch: Bournonville); danced by Iana Salenko and Marian Walter of the Berlin Staatsballett.
2. “La Bayadère”, Kingdom of the Shades pas de deux (ch: Petipa); Evgenia Obratztsova of the Bolshoi Ballet and Evgeni Ivanchenko of the Mariinsky Ballet.
3. “Manon”, Bedroom pas de deux (ch: MacMillan); Tamara Rojo of English National Ballet and Frederic Bonelli of The Royal Ballet.
4. “Two Pieces for Het”, (ch: van Manen), Maia Makhateli and Remi Wörtmeyer of Dutch National Ballet.
5. “Raymonda”, Act III pas de deux (ch: Nureyev after Petipa); Aurélie Dupont and Mathias Heymann of the Paris Opéra Ballet.
6. “The Sleeping Beauty”, Act III pas de deux (ch: Petipa); Evgenia Obratztsova and Dmitry Gudanov of the Bolshoi Ballet.
7. “Manfred” (ch: Nureyev); Mathias Heymann of the Paris Opéra Ballet.
8. “Marguerite & Armand” (ch: Ashton); Tamara Rojo of ENB and Rupert Pennefather of The Royal Ballet, supported by James Streeter, also of The Royal Ballet.
9. “Swan Lake”, Act II pas de deux (ch: Petipa, Ivanov); Daria Vasnetsova and Evgeni Ivanchenko of the Mariinsky Ballet.
10. “Le Corsaire”, pas de deux (ch: Petipa); Aleksandra Timofeeva of the Kremlin Ballet and Vadim Muntagirov of The Royal Ballet (although with ENB at the time of filming).

Studio: Wienerworld
DVD Release Date: February 23, 2015 (UK & Europe); March 3, 2015 (USA)
Running Time: 104 minutes