Film Review: ‘Nureyev’

Variety | 4/19/2019 | Owen Gleiberman
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It would be absurd to say that Rudolf Nureyev lived, or danced, in anyone’s shadow. He was a man who leapt and twirled and flew onstage, all muscle but light as a feather, with a freedom and force that reconfigured the human spirit. There’s no denying, though, that over the last few decades, and especially since 1993 (the year he died of AIDS), the image of Nureyev as the flashing erotic god of ballet has been eclipsed, more than a little bit, by that of his compatriot and inheritor Mikhail Baryshnikov. There are several generations who are now more familiar with the life story, and the unearthly grace, of Misha than they are with the florid Cold War animal magnetism of Nureyev.

That makes a finely crafted, impeccably researched documentary like “Nureyev” a very welcome experience. The film’s release, on April 19, is clearly timed to coincide with the April 26 release of “The White Crow,” the upcoming biopic written by David Hare and directed by Ralph Fiennes that dramatizes Nureyev’s defection to the West in 1961. And while there’s not necessarily any why-Nureyev-why-now? logic to this moment, the documentary feels not so much timely as eternal. To plunge into this saga, especially if you don’t know it, and to see what it was that made Rudolf Nureyev onstage such a furious and transporting poet-of-the-body, is to be at once moved and awed.

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The directors of “Nureyev,” Jacqui Morris and David Morris, present a great deal of dance footage that has never been seen before, and it’s a thrill to behold; nothing tells Nureyev’s story half as well as simply staring at him in his prime (in pieces choreographed by Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, and Murray Lewis, among others, as well as older footage from...
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