2013 marks 75 years since the birth of Rudolf Nureyev, twenty since his death. English National Ballet’s new triple bill pays tribute to one of ballet’s greatest stars, and to the range of his career, which stretched from classicism of his Russian schooling to the new and older ballets he discovered on defecting to the west. ENB’s tribute is wide in scope but patchy in execution.
A short, intelligent documentary opens the evening, introducing Nureyev and his connection to the various ballets. It’s followed by Petrushka, one of his favourite roles, in a weak revival. Created for the Ballets Russes in 1911, this puppet tragedy is a difficult masterpiece. Stravinsky’s music and Benois’ designs are marvellous, but modern dancers often struggle with Fokine’s naturalistic choreography. In the busy crowd scenes, English National Ballet’s dancers don’t bustle; they just stand there until it’s their cue to act out a bit of business. Worse, details of the choreography are wrong, or badly paced. What should be a vivid fairground is flat and dead.
Fabian Reimair is a determined Petrushka, railing against fate. Shevelle Dynott is a spontaneous Moor, putting warmth into his gestures, while Nancy Osbaldeston’s Ballerina has a bright-eyed, doll-like precision.
Song of a Wayfarer, created by Maurice Béjart for Nureyev in 1971, is a duet for a wandering hero and a figure of death. It’s a sentimental duet, with the vague joys and sorrows of life overshadowed by melancholy. Vadim Muntagirov is superbly lyrical in the Nureyev role, flowing through jumps and turns with linear clarity. Esteban Berlanga is vivid and engaged as the death figure. Guest baritone Nicholas Lester gives a cleanly-phrased performance of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.
Nureyev’s own staging of Raymonda Act III makes a splendid finale. It’s a Hungarian-themed grand divertissement, full of mazurka footwork and grand czardas arms. Barry Kay’s gorgeous designs are a fantasy cream-and-gold Byzantium, as sumptuous as Glazunov’s music and the glittering steps.
The male group dance was shaky, but English National Ballet’s women take on the demanding solos with flourish and flair. Crystal Costa sparkles in the contrasts of the fourth variation. Daria Klimentová is both grand and mercurial in the ballerina role, switching from imperious to flirty in a dazzle of footwork. Muntagirov is a dashing cavalier.
Until 27 July. Box office 020 7845 9300.