Thursday, January 16, 2014
Nureyev And Fonteyn
Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn in 1965.
Although my parents never caught Fonteyn in performance, they did manage to see Nureyev dance a few times.
My parents first saw Nureyev in 1973. That year, Nureyev appeared in Iowa City with The National Ballet Of Canada in performances of “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Swan Lake” and “La Sylphide”, and my parents drove down to Iowa City to catch two of the performances: “The Sleeping Beauty”; and “Swan Lake”.
Nureyev was still in his prime in 1973, and my parents recall the Iowa City performances with affection. My parents were invited to attend one of the Iowa City rehearsals, which they very much enjoyed—and they witnessed Nureyev, surly and self-obsessed, shove one supernumerary and make a pass at a second (regarding the latter incident, Nureyev was rebuffed).
My parents insist, to this day, that Canadian ballerina Vanessa Harwood in that Iowa City “Swan Lake” outshone Nureyev. Harwood, according to my parents, was the finest Odette/Odile they have ever encountered, finer even than—in alphabetical order—Lesley Collier, Martine van Hamel and Natalia Makarova, all noted exponents of Odette/Odile and all of whom (along with many others) my parents witnessed in the role.
My parents next caught Nureyev in 1978. That year, Nureyev appeared in Saint Louis with the Dutch National Ballet, and my parents flew down to Saint Louis to catch a performance. Again, my parents were invited to attend one of the Saint Louis rehearsals, which they very much enjoyed—and they witnessed Nureyev, surly and self-obsessed, interact contemptuously with choreographers Rudi van Dantzig and Hans van Manen, both of whom had accompanied Dutch National Ballet on its 1978 tour of North America and both of whom had created ballets for Nureyev to be presented in Saint Louis.
Nureyev was no longer in his prime in 1978, and the Dantzig/Manen ballets on the Dutch National Ballet program were not strong. The Saint Louis excursion, according to my parents, was a waste of time.
My parents last caught Nureyev in 1980. That year, Nureyev appeared on the East Coast with the ballet company of Deutsche Oper Berlin, and my parents flew East to catch two of the performances: an evening-length adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel, “The Idiot”; and a mixed program.
“The Idiot” was an epic ballet, and an epic disaster, hours and hours long, pretentious and preposterous beyond belief. In the final scene of “The Idiot”, Nureyev was called upon to swing back and forth across the stage while attached to a giant tolling bell. The audience found it difficult to suppress laughter; at his curtain calls, Nureyev looked embarrassed.
The mixed bill was a different matter. During the mixed program, Nureyev performed the role of Jean in Birgit Cullberg’s masterpiece, “Miss Julie”—and, according to my parents, Nureyev performed the role superbly. (The role of Jean is acted as much as danced.)
After 1980, my parents never made another effort to catch Nureyev (who, if reviews are to be believed, should have wrapped up his performing career no later than 1977 or 1978)—although my father, on business trips, once came face-to-face with Nureyev at Heathrow Airport and years later again came face-to-face with Nureyev at Zurich Airport.
On both occasions, Nureyev was traveling alone, with nary an attendant or companion in sight.
Nureyev must not have traveled with an entourage—which, given what we know about him, seems in character.