DRAMA; 2hr 7min (Russian with subtitles, English)
STARRING: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes
Big slippers: Ivenko
Given that he was born in 1938 on a Trans-Siberian train, and that his childhood nickname, The White Crow, is a Russian idiom for an unusual outsider, it’s perfect synergy that dancer Rudolph Nureyev (acting newcomer Ivenko) was supremely at peace when in motion on a stage. The Invisible Woman director Ralph Fiennes and screenplay writers David Hare and Julie Kavanagh take a plodding yet scattershot approach to the man of the hour in their adaptation of Kavanagh’s 2007 book: Opening with that inconvenient, on-the-rails birth, they fast-forward to Paris 1961 and 23-year-old Nureyev’s sensational Cold War defection to the West, before skipping back six years to his time as a student under consummate technique teacher and mentor Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin (an unassuming Fiennes).
Go with this artsy, ongoing to and fro and a picture starts to take shape of a defensively arrogant lone wolf with a fixation for dance as art, for art as life, and for life itself. “I’d rather die than live under the rules,” a glowering young Rudi proclaims—a prediction that proves dramatically apt. For Nureyev, repression is a death of the very spirit that keeps his performances so alive.
Channelling the legend, Ivenko’s dancing is an amazement in its fire and ice fusion of passion and technique. Offstage, though, that fluid dazzle is muted to a mostly cool aloofness. Nureyev may have been the unparalleled artist of his time, but as far as Fiennes and Co are concerned, that doesn’t make him personality of the month. The White Crow’s refusal to mythologise its subject shouldn’t necessarily have been a failing. Nureyev was human, after all. Where this uninspired version of events falls short is in not humanising him enough.