Friday, 26 July 2013

A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev - English National Ballet

My cousin is over from France for a few weeks, and as she is also a fan of art and dance, I have been excitedly sharing with her all the wonderful cultural sources we are so lucky to have here in London. Yesterday, we started with a visit around the National Portrait Gallery, before heading just across the street to the London Coliseum, home to the English National Opera. We watched the matinée performance of 'A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev', which was both beautiful and informative.

The show, danced by the English National Ballet, is made up of a short film followed by three different performances, each with strong links to the celebrated dancer and choreographer, Nureyev. The opening video served as a very useful introduction to Nureyev's life and work, explaining his style and influences. For someone like me who is a fan of ballet, but doesn't necessarily have much knowledge of dancers or the specific history of international companies, it was very helpful to be given a little contextual information before seeing the dances performed.

First to be performed was 'Petrushka', a piece Nureyev danced many times throughout his career. It was particularly interesting for me to see a ballet originally produced by the Ballets Russes, with designs by Alexandre Benois, as I have learnt a lot recently about their style in both dance and design - especially by studying the Ballets Russes costume collection at the Camberwell Archive. To see what I have previously only seen in black and white photographs come to life in front of me was thrilling.

The set and costumes were playful and striking, featuring plenty of traditional Russian folk design - in costume embellishment and colour - alongside the bold shapes of fur-lined 19th Century crinoline gowns. The costumes and set were supplied by the Birmingham Royal Ballet (production photos from their performance).

Original design by Alexandre Benois
The second ballet in the set was the French 'Song of a Wayfarer' by Maurice Béjart. This piece, for just two male dancers, was much more contemporary. Although plain in its design, the simplicity of body suits in blue and red allowed to emotion in the choreography to flow through and capture the audience.

Piotr Stanczyk and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Canada National Ballet's 'Song of a Wayfarer' - showing the simple design and more contemporary choreography
Last but not at all least (in fact this was my favourite piece of the three!) was 'Raymonda Act III'. Originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, the creator of Sleeping Beauty, Nureyev reworked this ballet for the Royal Opera House in 1969. This final act is a celebration of the wedding of Raymonda and the knight Jean de Brienne - and of course the design, by Barry Kay (archive website here) , is suitably sumptuous. The ensemble wear radiant costumes: fluttering tutus sparkle lavishly while other partners twirl around in romantic skirts embellished with gold motifs, echoed on the men's bodices. The set and costumes for this piece were supplied by The Royal Ballet.

Photos of the 2012 Royal Ballet performance by Dave Morgan
'A Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev' by the English National Ballet is on at the London Coliseum 25-27th July - more information here.

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