A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev, by Jessica Kranish

Seventy-five years after Rudolf Nureyev’s birth, English National Ballet’s triple bill A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev celebrates three distinct styles treasured by the legendary dancer: the classicism of Petipa; the search for new choreographic expressions; and the roles from Diaghilev’s groundbreaking Ballets Russes made famous by another Russian star, Vaslav Nijinsky.

Following a short film exploring Nureyev’s legacy, first up is Petrushka, a 102-year-old masterpiece that still packs a punch.  Set in 1830’s St. Petersburg, Petrushka tells the story of a puppet struggling from the controlling grasp of the mysterious Charlatan.

The Butter Week Fair scenes sparkle with life, while in sharp contrast, the glimpses into the world of the puppets – and the agility with which Stravinsky’s brilliant, moving score switches between the two – are heart-rending and otherworldly.

Dmitri Gruzdyev is immensely affecting as the pitiful puppet, with his loose-hanging rag doll arms and slumped shoulders – it seems almost cruel to watch as he violently bangs his head against the door and claws at the walls of his forbidding room, desperately searching for a way out.

Shevelle Dynott, in the problematic role of the Moor, brings a surprising mechanical humour to the character.  Fernanda Oliveira is spot-on as the unthinking picture-perfect doll of a Ballerina.

Alexandre Benois’s set designs remain eerie and imaginative – especially the unsettling dropcloth shown between scenes, which pictures unearthly dark creatures streaking across a night sky.

The second part of the program, Maurice Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer, originally choreographed for Nureyev and Paolo Bortoluzzi, presents a stark scene, with nothing but the two dancers on stage.  But it’s captivating; with the abstractness of the scenario not diminishing its impact.  Vadim Muntagirov is a wonder to watch: his movements are beautifully fluid and full of grace, but he also has an emotional maturity that gives his portrayal weight.  The choreography seems to come so naturally to him, almost danced into being rather than performed.  Esteban Berlanga makes a fascinating counterpoint as the Fate character, more an inevitable fact than a menacing presence.

The final part of the program is something altogether different from what precedes it: the dazzling classicism of the third act of Raymonda.  As the title character, a bejewelled and quite literally glittering Tamara Rojo beguiles, from the intensity of a look shot at the audience to the perfectly controlled placement of her hands in preparation for her claps.

Yonah Acosta – an elegant, compelling presence – makes a magnificent partner for her.  I was also charmed by James Streeter, who seemed to be having the time of his life in the Hungarian Dance.

All in all, this was a thoughtfully programmed mixed bill, presenting three different visions of dance tied together by the memory of a man who clearly still means much to the world of ballet.

Jessica Kranish