Nureyev, a retrospective

Twenty years after his death, Nureyev still manages to set tongues wagging with his exploits. There seems to be an endless amount of anecdotes to tell about both his life and accomplishments.

With only a lunch-hour at her disposal, Jane Pritchard, Archive Consultant for English National Ballet has had her work cut out for her to pick the pieces to cover. With ENB’s Tribute to Nureyev currently in residence at the Coliseum, she focuses on his time with Festival Ballet – the Company that was to become the English National Ballet that we know and love today. As Pritchard says, ‘London Festival Ballet was only a small part of his life, but I would argue he is a major part of ours‘.

Always keen to give opportunities when creating pieces, his Romeo and Juliet provided roles to those who often had little to do: the Men. Unsure whether he even wanted to work from the famous Prokofiev score, he focused instead on the words of Shakespeare. It was immediately apparent that he was creating wonderful roles for male dancers. It’s clearly a favourite for James Streeter, Junior Soloist: ‘For the boys, it is wonderful. There are so many roles. The boys are constantly on stage. We have about six quick changes!.

Always keen to push himself further, Nureyev was not content with limiting himself to classical ballet and often explored more modern choreography, while classical pieces were edited to suit his needs. The fanciful pink-costume of Le spectre de la rose was soon stripped back when he realised he couldn’t quite carry off the original. He didn’t limit himself to costume changes though, and quickly garnered a reputation for changing works at the last minute, sometimes even on stage!

This endless pursuit of knowledge and perfection made him into a superstar. Jane Haworth, Artistic Co-ordinator of the Company, laughs as she tells us that her Mum had a poster of him in their kitchen. ‘He really was a pinup‘.

You look at a photo and you want to know more‘ says Pritchard. It’s easy enough to see what she means as endless images are displayed for us. Even in these still photographs, you can sense the power of both movement and emotion that was being captured. And as a special delicacy, two photos dug up from the V&A’s archives only this week join the procession.

With so much covered, Pritchard gave us much more than a preamble to the performance, she illuminated a stage in Nureyev’s career that it’s always given the space it deserves in the miles of copy that is written about him.

By Maxine Smiles