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Nureyev: Legend and Legacy review – firecracker spins and star turns

Introducing this gala in honour of Rudolf Nureyev – a passion project directed by former Royal Ballet principal Nehemiah Kish – actor and director Ralph Fiennes invoked Nureyev the legend: the dancer whose global fame extended way beyond the sometimes hermetic world of dance, his dramatic defection from Soviet Russia in 1961 sweeping him up in the wider currents of the age, with its cold war divisions and incipient movements of personal liberation. Former Royal Ballet director Monica Mason spoke of his legacy within the dance world, and in fact the gala itself is about the dancing rather than the dancer, gathering an international roster of top-notch dancers in short extracts with backstory connections to Nureyev’s career.

It began somewhat shakily, Guillaume Côté hesitant in Nureyev’s interpolated solo in The Sleeping Beauty which, shorn of dramatic context, in any case feels cut adrift. Two people on stage are already a drama, and Oleg Ivenko (star of The White Crow, Fiennes’ film about Nureyev) and Maia Makhateli fared better in the lilting leans and swaggers of a scene from Gayane – though Xander Parish and Iana Salenko looked oddly mismatched in the following Bayadère duet, she an icy apparition who seems to leave him not just cold, but nonplussed.

Maia Makhateli and Oleg Ivenko in Gayane.
Lilting leans … Maia Makhateli and Oleg Ivenko in Gayane. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The evening really took off with Francesco Gabriele Frola and Ida Praetorius in Bournonville’s Flower Festival in Genzano, Frola in particular breezing and skimming in Bournonville’s fleet-footed style. The pas de six from the Soviet-era Laurencia brought on the big guns before the interval, Natalia Osipova and Cesar Corrales powering through outsize jumps and firecracker spins.

If the second half also opened less surely with another Sleeping Beauty scene (Vadim Muntagirov and Natascha Mair), the rest of the evening was all up. Francesca Hayward and William Bracewell were both haunted and haunting in a scene from Giselle – a fitting prelude to a spellbinding moment from John Neumeier’s Don Juan: Alexandr Trusch a mystified mortal, Alina Cojocaru a spectral presence morphing between pliant supplicant and stiffened corpse or cross. The finale: Cesar Corrales and Yasmine Naghdi in the flashy Corsaire pas de deux, one of Nureyev’s first successes. The small stage, with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia packed into the back, felt ready to pop with all the fizz.

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