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Nureyev as Dancer and Choreographer 
Léon MINKUS (1826-1917)
Don Quixote - ballet (1869) [127:00]
La Bayadère - ballet (1877) [130:00]
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet - ballet (1935) [149:00]
Choreography and staging by Rudolf Nureyev
Juliet - Monique Loudières
Romeo - Manuel Legris
Tybalt - Charles Jude
Mercutio - Lionel Delanoë
Benvolio - Wilfried Romoli
Rosaline - Karin Averty
Paris - José Martinez
Lady Capulet - Clotilde Vayer
Lord Capulet - Olivier Patey
The nurse - Annie Carbonnel
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris/Vello Päh
Directed for video by Alexandre Tarta
See below review for performance details
rec. 1972-95
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 646990 [3 discs: 127:00 + 130:00 + 149:00]

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993) is once again hot news. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death and, as detailed by his eponymous Foundation’s own website (see here), many of the world’s leading ballet companies are marking the fact. As the dancer/choreographer/producer was closely associated with both London and Paris, it is hardly surprising that it is those two capitals that account for the majority of the commemorative events.
Nureyev was both an intensely charismatic and a polarising figure in the world of dance. But he was also, in one respect, exceptionally fortunate. Even though occasional attempts to put him on a par with the likes of the Beatles or Andy Warhol as a 1960s cultural icon do seem somewhat far fetched, his fame - and, indeed, his later notoriety - did extend way beyond the rarefied world of ballet. From the very day of his defection to the West at Paris’s Le Bourget airport in June 1961, dramatically defying the KGB’s attempts to entice him onto a plane back to Moscow, Nureyev was always hugely newsworthy. As a consequence, he was far more often filmed, both in his normal everyday life and, thankfully, in performance, than any other dancer of his generation.
Warner Classics’ nod to the 20th anniversary is a box set of three Nureyev filmed performances/productions, conveniently - if, as we shall note later, not necessarily felicitously - collected together and available both on Blu-ray and DVD.
Nureyev as dancer and choreographer (“after Petipa”) is to be found in the earliest material. It’s a rather odd feature film, made for cinema, of the ballet Don Quixote, far more of a rarity on the stage in 1972 but thankfully becoming much better known these days. I reviewed this disc just last year - see here. For now, then, I will merely repeat that a jet-lagged Nureyev, suffering, moreover, in the intense Australian heat, appears not to gel with a cast that was, to be fair, largely unknown to him. His partner Lucette Aldous gives a comparatively low-key performance that may well disappoint anyone familiar with the flashy pyrotechnics of, say, Nina Ananiashvili or, more recently, Natalia Osipova. Meanwhile, John Lanchbery’s unnecessary and sometimes rather crude and vulgar tinkerings with the score may well have been at Nureyev’s request but do, nevertheless, a real disservice to Minkus’s beautifully crafted music.
The disc’s partially redeeming features - a splendid contribution from Robert Helpmann, some imaginative camerawork and a thorough restoration process what has brought the original colours back to life quite superbly for this reissue - along with the desirability of watching, at least once, anything in which Nureyev performed, mean, though, that it need not necessarily be ruled entirely out of court.
Neither of the other two performances in this set showcases Nureyev the dancer. In September 1983 he had taken up the post of Artistic Director at the Paris Opera Ballet and had gone on to mount his own new productions of, among others, Romeo and Juliet (1984) and La Bayadère (1992). Discs 2 and 3 of this set contain Paris performances of those two. Both, it is true, were recorded after Nureyev’s death. But both feature dancers with whom he had personally worked and both were recorded sufficiently shortly after his death for his influence to be still apparent. This set’s Romeo, for instance, is Manuel Legris, a particularly favoured protégé who had enjoyed a spectacular rise to prominence in the Paris company under Nureyev’s patronage. Within just six years of joining the ranks of the corps de ballet in 1980, the 21 year old completely bypassed the intervening rank of Premier Danseur when Nureyev, in a dramatically contrived moment on stage in front of a wildly applauding New York audience and to the surprise of everyone, not least Legris himself, personally promoted him from Sujet to the highest company rank of Etoile.
Taking the earlier of these recordings, La Bayadère, first, I have to agree with my colleague Dave Billinge who described the production - with choreography by Nureyev, once again “after Petipa” - as “spectacular to look at, brilliantly costumed (literally) and with magnificent sets to act as background to some top class dancing. All the principals are at the top of their profession and the large corps de ballet has a level of precision that leaves one breathless - Classical ballet par excellence - ” (see here). I would certainly second all those points but I beg to differ with some of the others that Dave goes on to make. Some of my disagreements are minor and subjective and nothing to do with Nureyev at all. I find Minkus’s score, for instance, far more enjoyable - and well constructed for Petipa’s choreographic requirements - than Dave does. Similarly, I espouse what is almost certainly a minority opinion in considering La Bayadère’s “real life” drama to be rather more involving than the supernatural fantasticalities of Dave’s beloved Swan Lake.
The really major objection that I have to Nureyev’s production is that he fails to tackle the issue of the “missing” fourth Act. While, even today, the Paris and the major Russian dance companies choose to end the drama with flawed hero Solor’s opium-induced vision of the celebrated Kingdom of the Shades, several other companies now opt for Natalia Makarova’s addition of a reconstructed final Act that brings the story to a more emotionally satisfying conclusion. Anyone who is mainly familiar with La Bayadère through the Royal Ballet’s two filmed productions (see here and here) or the splendid one from La Scala, Milan (TDK DVWW-BLLBSC), will find the Nureyev production lacking not just a full 21 or so extra minutes of music and dancing but a final cathartic emotional resolution to the story. That having been said, Nureyev’s production does include some attractive elements that Makarova did not include, most notably a spectacular Indian dance that raises the Palais Garnier roof and actually inspired me, back in 2005, to e-mail my enthusiastic appreciation to the charismatic dancer Gil Isoart - whose kind but rather succinct response read, in full, “I just watch your message thank you very much for it.”
Moving on to the set’s final disc, the 1995 performance of Romeo and Juliet certainly looks very good, with attractive, well lit sets and costumes so gorgeous that even Verona’s whores must be doing fantastic business to pay for their outfits. They and the rest of the Paris corps de ballet dance with their usual degree of well-executed precision, while the principals are, as one would expect, equally skilled.
Manuel Legris’s - or, rather, Nureyev’s - conception of Romeo is as a thoughtful dreamer, somewhat reminiscent the 1930s actor Leslie Howard in his film interpretation. He dances beautifully and with great grace, but lacks the sheer charisma, raw sexuality and stage presence that Nureyev himself brought to the part. I took a little time to warm to Monique Loudières’s Juliet, though that, I think, is a reflection of the role itself where she is only gradually brought to maturity by her interaction with her lover. Her technique is of the highest quality. Of the other leading roles, I found Charles Jude’s depiction of Tybalt as a poisonously violent psychopath particularly effective, while Annie Carbonnel dances a more than usually jolly - and, in the midst of all the bloody circumstances, surprisingly relaxed and apparently stress-free - nurse.
The Paris Opera Ballet sets are surprisingly spacious, making full use of the wide and deep stage in the crowd scenes. That makes an interesting contrast with the famous Kenneth MacMillan Royal Ballet production in which Nureyev himself had created the original role of Romeo in 1965. The Scottish choreographer brings more of the action to the front of stage where some impressive sets create darker, more claustrophobic spaces that symbolically emphasise the characters’ pent-up, indeed, often lethal, inner passions. 
The Paris production’s musical performance comes as something of a contrast with London too. In general, conductor Vello Päh leads a more stately and more orchestrally-blended account, less raw and edgy than his British counterparts: the sections of the score that depict the ballet’s many fight sequences offer good illustrations. That is of a piece with the two contrasting productions, for Nureyev deliberately eschews many of the rough edges that MacMillan intentionally chose to emphasise. On the other hand, the more refined Paris approach pays off well in quieter, more lyrical scenes such as the “balcony” pas de deux or the scene where the lovers implore Friar Laurence for his help.
There are the usually encountered problems when close-ups occur in ballet. While the theatre audience is fortunately too far away to see, a probing camera clearly shows that “corpses” - of which Romeo and Juliet boasts rather a lot - are breathing and our suspension of disbelief is thereby abruptly, if only momentarily, destroyed.
The presentation of these discs is also rather questionable. Given that they are being packaged and marketed as a unified, themed set, is it too much to ask that the separate discs might have been provided with a uniform identity on their front edges? I realise that doing so might well have incurred some extra manufacturing costs, but it would at least have avoided giving the impression that Warner Classics was simply repackaging some old stock.
In my particular case, another area of annoyance with the finished product was the lack of uniformity in the information that they communicated to my DVD/Blu-Ray player. Whereas Don Quixote showed its track number and its timing on the front panel display, both the other discs simply generated the word PLAY. That was not the most helpful information for a reviewer keen to pinpoint specific timings for his readers’ reference but not prepared to sit there in front of the TV screen with an old stopwatch.
A more serious issue to bear in mind - and one that affects all three of these discs - is that while Blu-Ray technology may well be able to maximise the quality of the visual image, it can only maximise it to the quality of the original recording at its best. None of these productions had been originally filmed in high definition. Today, many other Blu-Ray/DVD releases of this repertoire can boast HD filming and many viewers have, perhaps sadly, come to regard that as a sine qua non. Faced with alternatives such as the memorable and hugely enjoyable 2006 Mariinsky Ballet Don Quixote (see here), the outstanding 2009 Covent Garden La Bayadère or its equally attractive 2006 La Scala equivalent, and either one of the recent Royal Ballet releases of Romeo and Juliet (see here and here), I suspect that many potential buyers may not even consider these older and occasionally somewhat grainy recordings of the Nureyev productions.
That would, though, be a great shame. Rudolf Nureyev was without doubt an egotistical, selfish and, pretty often, not even a very pleasant man to be around. Equally, though, he was certainly a much larger than life character who gave classical ballet a profile on the international arts scene that it sorely lacks today.
As the current live commemorations in theatres across the world are demonstrating, Nureyev’s legacy has certainly lived on - but it deserves, perhaps, somewhat better recognition than is offered by this particular box set.
Rob Maynard

Performance details
Léon MINKUS (1826-1917)
Don Quixote - ballet (1869) [127:00]
Choreography by Rudolf Nureyev after Petipa
Additional music by John Lanchbery
Don Quixote - Robert Helpmann
Sancho Panza - Ray Powell
Basilio - Rudolf Nureyev
Lorenzo - Francis Croese
Kitri/Dulcinea - Lucette Aldous
Gamache - Colin Peasley
Street dancer/Dryad queen - Marilyn Rowe
Estrada - Kelvin Coe
Two girl friends - Gailene Stock; Carolyn Rappell
Matadors - Ronald Bekker, John Meehan, Rex McNeil, Rodney Smith, Joseph Janusaites, Frederic Werner
Gypsy dancers - Alan Alder, Paul Saliba
Gypsy king - Ronald Bekker
Gypsy queen - Susan Dains
Two gypsy girls - Julia da Costa, Leigh Rowles
Cupid - Patricia Cox
Leading fandango couple - Janet Vernon, Gary Norman
Artists of the Australian Ballet
The Elizabethan Trust Melbourne Orchestra/John Lanchbery
Cinematography - Geoffrey Unsworth
Production/ costume design - Barry Kay
Directed by Rudolf Nureyev and Robert Helpmann
rec. Melbourne, Australia, 1972
Region: all regions
Sound: 5.1 surround / Dolby 2.0 stereo
Léon MINKUS (1826-1917)
La Bayadère - ballet (1877) [130:00]
Choreography and staging by Rudolf Nureyev after Petipa
Orchestrations by John Lanchbery
Nikiya - Isabelle Guérin
Solor - Laurent Hilaire
Gamzatti - Élizabeth Platel
The fakir - Lionel Delanoë
The high Brahmin - Francis Malovic
The rajah - Jean-Marie Didière
The golden idol - Wilfried Romoli
The three shades - Agnès Letestu, Clotilde Vayer, Nathalie Riqué
Orchestre Colonne/Michel Quéval
Directed for video by Alexandre Tarta
rec. Palais Garnier, Paris, May 1994
Region: all regions
NTSC 16:9
Sound: L-PCM stereo
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Romeo and Juliet - ballet (1935) [149:00]
Choreography and staging by Rudolf Nureyev
Juliet - Monique Loudières
Romeo - Manuel Legris
Tybalt - Charles Jude
Mercutio - Lionel Delanoë
Benvolio - Wilfried Romoli
Rosaline - Karin Averty
Paris - José Martinez
Lady Capulet - Clotilde Vayer
Lord Capulet - Olivier Patey
The nurse - Annie Carbonnel
Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris/Vello Päh
Directed for video by Alexandre Tarta
rec. Opéra Bastille, Paris, July 1995
Region: all regions
NTSC 16:9
Sound: 5.1 surround / Dolby 2.0 stereo