Rupert Christiansen

Nureyev deserves better: Nureyev – Legend and Legacy, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, reviewed

A few consolations – from Alina Cojocaru and Francesco Gabriele Frola – made the evening worthwhile

Cesar Corrales and Yasmine Naghdi fizzed through the camp bravura of the Le Corsaire pas de deux. Image: David M. Benett / Dave Benett / Getty Images

I was never Rudolf Nureyev’s greatest fan. I must have seen him dance 30 or 40 times, starting with a Bayadère in the mid-1960s, and while his sheer presence remained so potent that he was always exciting to witness, I became increasingly aware of how fiercely willed his dancing was – a struggle with or against his own body, almost self-punishing (he believed that he performed at his best when he was totally exhausted). His final appearances, when he was showing symptoms of the Aids that killed him in 1993, were truly painful to watch on that score. He really had nothing left to give, but the compulsion remained.

Closer to my heart was his near-contemporary Anthony Dowell, with his noble modesty and feline beauty of line; and then came his younger compatriot Mikhail Baryshnikov, whose technique was far superior and whose art was infused with a joyful insouciance more appealing to me than Nureyev’s ferocious Tartar intensity. They were lovable; Nureyev you could only worship.

Nureyev was blessed with what is commonly called charisma and a face as dangerously beautiful as Garbo’s

What an ego, what a personality, however – and it should be said that despite his hellraiser reputation, he was a highly disciplined professional and his colleagues generally adored him. Born to be the centre of attention, he was blessed with what is commonly called charisma and a face as dangerously beautiful as Garbo’s: you simply had to watch him, even if he was standing at one side and some fabulous ballerina was spotlit. Nobody could make an entrance like he did – a quality Ashton exploited in Marguerite and Armand, where he burst on to the stage at a breakneck run, suddenly halted, then froze in a pose of palpitating ardour. And even though he was not that spectacular airborne, objectively analysed, he could make you think that he was (Nijinsky, one suspects, had the same trick).

In any case, like him or not, he has become ingrained in the mythology of ballet, as this gala Nurevev: Legend and Legacy, curated by Nehemiah Kish, set out to demonstrate.

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