Saturday Night Cinema: Swan Lake (1967)


“At the end of Swan Lake, when she left the stage
in her great white tutu
I would have followed her to the end of the world.”

Rudolf Nureyev

And something a little different for tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema selection, Swan Lake. Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev star in this Vienna Stage Ballet production of the Tchaikovsky ballet, with John Lanchbery conducting the Vienna Symphony. The partnership of Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn (which lasted almost two decades) became one of the most famous in all of ballet. Together they were the perfect partnership, the most sensational partnership ever – extraordinary talent, passion and genius. Bother were megastars and both gave something to other, there was a very special chemistry between them and it was magic. Everything they did together was electrifying – “two great artists sparking off each other.”

The pair became an international sensation, each dancer pushing the other to their best performances. They were most noted for their classical performances in works such as Le Corsaire Pas de Deux, Les Sylphides, La Bayadère, Swan Lake, and Raymonda, in which Nureyev sometimes adapted choreographies specifically to showcase their talents.

Our culture does not produce a Callas, Sinatra or Nureyev, everyone is so busy racing to the bottom, no one is reaching for the stars. Let this be a reminder …..

Before a properly exultant audience, a properly exultant Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev led the Royal Ballet to the triumphant finale of its ninth New York season, at the Metropolitan Opera House last night.

Rudolf Nureyev  was one of the first ballet dancers, and by far the best known, to perform with contemporary dance companies, being particularly successful in capturing the character and weight of the Revivalist in Graham’s Appalachian Spring and the slippery smoothness of the dances Murray Louis made for him.

Even so, some of his admirers (Ashton and Ninette de Valois among them) thought him so incomparable in the classics that they regretted the time he devoted to contemporary dance.

The immense airborne thrust of his Bayadre solos, the utter commitment of his Albrecht in Giselle, his ardour and melancholy in Swan Lake, his vivacity and fun in Don Quixote are among examples giving strength to this argument. If forced to choose just one dance to represent the unique excellence of Nureyev’s dancing, I would name the Prince’s solo from the last act of The Sleeping Beauty, where the superb execution of each step, the flow of each section and the way they were linked in a continuous climactic progress, reached its peak in the unhurried but steadily strengthening final mange of turning leaps around the stage, until he ended perfectly still and poised in a triumphant pose embodying the ideal fifth position which his teacher Pushkin had urged.

In some of his other roles, the improvement in male dancing that was started by his example means that others can now sometimes vie with his former easy supremacy, but in that solo I have yet to see anyone come near to matching him.

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