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  • Fiona Prior

White Crow

White Crow

Director: Ralph Fiennes

Russian ballet, the Cold War, defection … A heady combination for this ballet nerd, particularly when it involves the life of the extraordinarily talented dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

I’ll get it out quickly. Nureyev was a complete narcissist. Director Ralph Fiennes in no way tries to turn the memory of the notoriously selfish superstar into anything close to nice. On the other hand, he does present Nureyev’s childhood scenes in bitterly harsh Siberian snowstorms sharing a bed with his ghostly pale, tired mother and three older sisters in such a way that you understand Nureyev’s steely desire to leave poverty behind and his absolute belief that dance perfection was his means to achieve this ends.

We are also shown that Nurevey (played by Ukranian dancer Oleg Ivenko) was an extraordinary beauty from early on in his adult life. Seduced by the wife of his ballet tutor Pushkin (played by ‘also director’ Ralph Fiennes), while sleeping with another young man who was teaching him English, Nureyev used every means to further his dance prowess.

When the Mariinsky (Kirov) Ballet Company was preparing to go on a tour to Paris and London to show off to the world the Soviet Union’s cultural superiority it was not definite that Nureyev would take this trip, as he was already considered by Soviet authorities to be headstrong and rebellious. However, as ever seemed the case with Nureyev, the opportunity to wow the rest of the world with this young dancer’s abilities was too great a temptation for the Soviet elites and Nureyev was included.

When in Paris these very same looks, talent and charisma charmed a group of young cultural intellects and moneyed, bright young things. They took Nureyev under their wing and show him Parisian culture, from the girlie shows of the Moulin Rouge to the exquisite stained glass of Sainte-Chappelle. Even to these contemporary and generous hosts Nureyev was at times insufferable!

During the Paris tour, with his new young friends Nureyev continually avoided curfews, was insolent to his diplomatic Soviet ‘minders’ (KGB agents) and showed his delight to be hanging with the gay young things; drinking and eating delicacies and living each day like a ravenous animal who could never get quite enough. His minders shadowed all these activities and were frequently insulted by the young Nureyev along the way. It would also appear that he captured the concern – if not the heart – of a young heiress Clara Saint (Adele Exaqrchopoulos). Clara had recently lost her fiancé and was partially frozen through grief; the late young man having been the son of the French Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux. Clara's connection to this influential man proved pivotal in the well known defection of Nureyev.

The defection scene in ‘White Crow’ at Le Bourget airport is fabulous. The KGB minders go from urbane chaperones to brutally ‘en pointe’ agents in seconds when they realise their prize dancer is absconding. Likewise, the blokey and congenial airport gendarmes instantly transform into highly trained paramilitary when they, too, realise what is occurring.

…. And the world changed a little bit for evermore when the exotic Russian superstar arrived as a world headline in a way no ballet performance – no matter how perfect – could ever have achieved.

I loved ‘White Crow’.

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