For the Kirov ballet, Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was one of a kind: phenomenally talented, energetic, independent-minded and stubborn to say the least. For the KGB, he was a serious political problem.
Richard Curson Smith’s docudrama Rudolf Nureyev – Dance to Freedom punctuates reconstructions of the poignant life of this free-spirited dancer with interviews from fellow Kirav students, unravelling the true character of a mould-breaking Kirov star and outlandish man who shook Russian politics, and somehow placed ballet in the heart of the Cold War conflict.
It is soon apparent from accounts of Nureyev’s behaviour that his compatibility with the traditional rules of Russian ballet was questionable from the start of his career. Even to the majority of ballet-ousider viewers, his dance is a perfected art form, begging to be exhibited on stage to the delight of international audiences; but his attitude is, well, less than perfect.
In fact, you may roll your eyes and mumble ‘typical bloody artists’ when stomaching his childish impulses and untameable temper. To call him an ‘individualist’ would be kind, yet Nureyev, portrayed by a current principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet (Artem Ovcharenko) moves with such grace and zest as to dance away his temper tantrums.
With Paris today remaining the epitome of freedom, it is no surprise to find the ruleless young dancer captivated by Parisian life, alongside the charming Yuri Solovjev (Artem Yakovlev). Yet, once exposed to this liberal society, Dance to Freedom conveys Nureyev’s struggle to remain in the West once his behaviour in Paris was clocked by the KGB, and demands for his hasty return to Russia were made.
His every move watched and reported by spies, news of his indulgence in social activities with foreigners is highly alarming for the authorities. In particular, interviews with former KGB Officer Alexander Mikhailov reveal the fears sparking in the Motherland as Nureyev continues to buck horns with authority. With Parisian audiences immediately struck by Nureyev’s dazzling performances, the risk of his presence in the West evidently required much deliberation as he beautifully promoted Russian ballet.
With the weight of the company on his shoulders, during this significant episode of modern history against the backdrop of the Cuban Revolution, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the space race, the dancer made his boldest move yet. It is evident from both his friends and critics that Nureyev’s defection from the Soviet Union in 1961 at Le Bourget airport in Paris during a European tour made a mark.
For all of his attitude, accounts of Nureyev share an indescribable magic. His curiosity and energy seduced Parisian socialite Clara Saint (Svetlana Smirnova), and armed him with the courage to defy the restrictive social and cultural limits of his company, and Russian life.
Image: Roman Harak