BY BILLY SUTER
DURBAN is on the itinerary for an August tour to South Africa by Stars of the Ballet Russia, a company that will present a programme paying tribute to one of the greatest male dancers of the 20th century, Rudolf Nureyev.
Two performances have been scheduled for Durban’s Playhouse Opera – at 2pm and 6pm on Saturday, August 19.
“In a city starved of professional ballet, the regular visits from dancers of the Russian ballets are always a treat. This time, the dancers are from the Bashkir State Opera and Ballet Theatre,” says a spokesman.
Nureyev was closely connected with the Bashkir Theatre: he made his first steps to world glory on this stage in Ufa city. Festivals of ballet are named after him and have been hosted by this theatre since 1993.
The ballet and opera troupes of the Bashkir Theatre tour abroad regularly and have become globally acclaimed. Five male and five female dancers from the Bashkir State Opera and Ballet Theatre appear as part of the South African tour. The company choreographer is Lyudmila Vasilevna Shapkina.
The company arrives in the country for an eight-city tour in August, performing in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Klerksdorp, Bloemfontein, Gaborone Botswana, Port Elizabeth, East London and ending in Durban.
This marks the second Russian ballet tour of 2017, following the success of the Royal Moscow Ballet’s national tour in March.
The programme honouring Rudolf Nureyev is in three parts: starting with a 10-minute documentary film about the life of Nureyev, to contextualise the dancer, his work and times. It contains original footage of him dancing solo and with prima ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn.
Fonteyn and Nureyev formed a partnership which became perhaps the most famous in modern theatre history, despite Nureyev being 19 years older than Fonteyn. The partnership achieved unprecedented international acclaim.
Their last performance together was in Baroque Pas de Trois in 1988 – Fonteyn was then aged 69 and Nureyev was 50.
The film is followed by a one-act ballet: Walpurgisnacht from Charles Gounod’s opera, Faust. The action of Walpurgisnacht takes place in Mephistopheles’s estate. Beautiful dances start, each is lovelier than the first one. Bacchus and Bacchante are at the centre of the scene; around them the satyrs are peacefully enjoying themselves. The performance unfolding on stage is full of joy, festivity and symbolises the power of nature and true feelings.
The second act, entitled Divertissement from Ballets, sees a re-enactment of 10 of the greatest moments in Russian ballet for which Nureyev is remembered. These include excerpts from Johann Strauss’s ballet, The Blue Danube; Charles-Camille Saint-Saens’s choreographic miniature The Swan; Adolphe Adam’s pas de deux from the ballet Le Corsaire; Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s choreographic miniature A Russian, and the grand pas from the ballet Don Quixote.
Nureyev, who died on January 6, 1993, was a famed Soviet dancer and choreographer who transformed the global perception of a male ballet dancer with his phenomenal dancing, transformative choreography, distinctive and brooding good looks. Not to forget his political daring.
He achieved rock star status when he became the first high-profile Soviet artist to defect during the Cold War, leaving the Soviet Union to work in the West in 1961.
Dubbed by the media of the day as the “Lord of the Dance” he is best remembered for his technical prowess and his innovative choreography – in which he reinterpreted traditional ballet classics for a new generation – including Swan Lake, Giselle and La Bayadere.
Nureyev’s early career was with The Mariinsky Ballet, the resident classical ballet company of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. After defecting to the West, he went on to dance with the Royal Ballet in London from 1983 to 1989. He then served as director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983 until 1989, and its chief choreographer until October 1992.
Stars of the Ballet Russia is presented by Edouard Miasnikov Agency, whose objective remains to widen cultural exchange and sharing between Russia and South Africa.
Booking for the national tour is at Computicket outlets.