Of him, of dance, of life: A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev

Since becoming artistic director of English National Ballet, Tamara Rojo, ex royal ballet superstar, has proved that, not only is she an accomplished, refined – Prima – ballerina, she is also a visionary director. Eager, driven, and very much aware that, in order for ballet to survive, it needs to once again, inspire.

“Your art is the one thing in your life that will never betray you”
Rudolf Nureyev

I strongly believe that her appointment at Markova House has breathed new life into the Company. Sometimes, it takes that special person to come along…

Go to photo Tamara Rojo in Raymonda as part of A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev. © 2013 Photography by ASH

In 1961, Rudolf Nureyev defected from Russia and escaped to the West, turning his back on his country, his soloist position at the Kirov, and his family . What ensued was a fascinating, successful, and somewhat extraordinary career; dancing, learning and choreographing internationally. Today, twenty years after his tragic death, English National Ballet pay him homage with their latest triple bill: A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev. To see Fokine’s Petrushka, Bejart’s Song of a Wayfarer and Nureyev’s own Raymonda Act III in one evening is a true celebration of his life; as a performer, as an inspiration, and as a choreographer.

Nureyev learnt, danced, and mastered the classics, and then re-staged them. When directing, he even choreographed some from scratch again – most notably for the then London Festival Ballet and the Paris Opera – he is to thank for that, as key pieces in western’s companies’ repertoire might not have survived without his input . It takes talent, but also courage to keep the original scores of Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev and recreate 3 acts ballets. While respecting the tradition of Petipa’s style, and with a view to honour the virtuosity of classical  vocabulary, Nureyev revived the fairy tales that had lost a little of their charm.

We owe him a lot, as dancers , dance lovers, and audience members today. But Nureyev is more than that. His visionary mind led him to explore modern dance, to push and to challenge himself. As dancers who worked with him say: “He was hungry and thirsty for knowledge…and he took incredible risks”. His eagerness and student-like attitude, even at the height of glory is a great example for young classically trained performers, of whom increasingly more versatile interpretations are expected, with sometimes little time to mature into confident artists.

Times have changed, and going to the theatre is not such a popular activity anymore. There is still a loving, supportive, and avid ballet audience in London, but it is a shadow of what it once was. To attract a new public, inspire younger generations, and continue to present the repertoire of the past, dancers today must be confident, agile, adaptable, and open. They must go beyond the safe strength of their incredible, physical abilities, and take risks. With their choices, interpretations, emotions… and with their stage persona.

A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev hasn’t just reminded me of what a legend Nureyev was. I have also seen, in the soloists, budding as well as experienced, and in the corps of English National Ballet, a hunger and a thirst for more. English National Ballet’s artists are ones that can impersonate many roles, let go of constraints and truly dance from within.

“Your art is the one thing in your life that will never betray you “ Lynn Seymour remembers Rudolf Nureyev saying…

English National Ballet’s A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev is an homage, a legacy and a celebration…Of him, of dance , of life.

By Alexandra Desvignes