Monday, October 13, 2008


A Dancer's Revenge

Critical assessments of Margot Fonteyn's dancing life invariably point out how her extended career got in the way of other younger dancers. This was brought home to me today while reading the obituary of Royal Ballet principal Nadia Nerina. Apropos my gushing post about Nureyev and Fonteyn, I was struck by a very funny passage in the aforementioned obituary.

By the early 1960s Ms. Nerina was often spoken of as the natural heir to Fonteyn. But her career path was diverted by the defection of Rudolf Nureyev, who joined the Royal Ballet and whose pairing with Fonteyn postponed Fonteyn’s expected retirement and revitalized interest in her career. Ms. Nerina danced successfully with Nureyev, but their relationship was often testy. He discomfited Ms. Nerina’s frequent partner Erik Bruhn by aggressively critiquing his performances.

In one famous incident, Nureyev, in a performance of “Giselle” with Fonteyn, created a sensation by inserting 16 entrechats-six — a figure in which, in a single jump, the legs open and close and open and close with the right leg first passing behind and then in front of the left — into the choreography of the second act. Ms. Nerina, feeling this was simply showing off and not artful, rebuked Nureyev when she danced “Swan Lake.” She inserted 32 entrechats-six to replace the 32 continuous fouettées — whiplike turns that are elegant but less muscular — in the ballet’s “Black Swan” pas de deux. Nureyev, seated in the hall with Ms. Nerina’s husband, Charles Gordon, stormed out.

Even pretty ballerinas seek their revenge. I admire her pluckiness.

As a child, the most romantic thing in the world to me was a future in the Royal Ballet, where I would change my name to sound more Russian. Obviously, it never happened, but like lots of young girls, I read and reread Camilla Jessel's Life at the Royal Ballet School, even trying to pucker my lips the way the girls in the photos did. There is a Royal Ballet school "face." For an updated version, look here.

Today I meant to haul my lugubrious self to adult ballet class, but edits kept me sitting and dreaming in my seat. No ballet for me.

I looked for Youtube clips of Nerina; none were to be found. But I did find this lovely tribute. Included is Nerina's own take on her infamous entrechats.

(....) I only once decided to show off, and if it was naughty it was also great fun. When Rudolf Nureyev did his first 'Giselle' in London he caused a sensation by interpolating sixteen superb entrechat-six into the second Act. it was a rare achievement but it caused dismay amongst some of the company, who could do as well but, not being guest artists, would not dare change the choreography (....)

One night in Swan Lake with Erik Bruhn, when we came to the Black Swan pas de deux, on a sudden impulse I decided to do thirty-two entrechat-six instead of the usual fouettés. I would show our guest artist what the Royal Ballet could do, for I knew that Nureyev was in the audience watching the performance. I always like the music for the fouettés to be slow, and the thirty-two entrechat-six fitted perfectly. Erik was absolutely amazed, and so was the conductor. And so was I, because I just went on beating sixes. If I had thought about it I don't suppose I could possibly have done them. But the audience loved it - I know I did - and so did the company."

Left out of both accounts is the fact that Bruhn and Nureyev were lovers. What a tangle.

curses. every time you post about dancers i waste at least half an hour googling things. whyyy are they so interesting.
Hahaha! Well, that was an interesting time for dance. And the Nureyev/Fonteyn pairing is fascinating and legendary and deservedly so. There's so much to learn from those two--about art and dedication and love.

There are many who say that we are living in a historic moment for dance right now, just not so much in New York City Ballet or ABT, but with the smaller companies. To that end, I'll be going to the Joyce rather religiously this fall.
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