Nureyev: All the World His Stage
Directed by David Morris and Jacqui Morris
HOME, 30 December 2018
This is a dazzling documentary about the Tatar boy who became a brilliant Soviet ballet dancer, then defected to the West.
It covers the early life in the Soviet Union; so we learn that just after the war his family, like many in their community, would eat the bark of the tree, food being so scarce. Then the defection to the West in the early 1960s which led to relationships, both professional and intimately personal it seems (Nureyev did not do anything by halves), with Erik Bruhn and Margot Fonteyn. There came at final curtain call the death from AIDS in 1993.
Nureyev and Fonteyn performed at the White House and on the Ed Sullivan show at the height of the Cold War. Yet it was probably only in the Soviet Union that he – a Tatar boy in a remote province – could have become a ballet dancer, never mind a great one.The Soviet’s Young Pioneers made it possible. It could not have happened in imperial Russia, and certainly not in America.
Richard Avedon photographed Nureyev, we learn here, as he photographed also Maya Plisetskaya of the Bolshoi, a ballerina who chose to stay in the Soviet Union. Nureyev’s company the Kirov, formerly the Maryinsky, was an elegant outfit compared with the rather brutalist Bolshoi.
The impression you are left with at the close of the film is of an extraordinary human being, a languid force of nature (more than two people here compare him to a panther) who achieved fulfilment in life and career.
Indeed, tragic though the circumstances and consequences of his life could be – he took on poverty, communist oppression, AIDS… – he resisted always. He took it all in his rapacious stride and to see him leap, as you do in the footage here, is a wondrous sight. It must have seemed near-miraculous watching live, like watching the great Tommy Lawton rise to head the ball (He reminded us there / Of his strength in the air).