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Nureyev & Baryshnikov


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#1 Melissa

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Posted 29 January 2002 - 01:01 PM

Undoubtedly this topic has already been discussed, but I thought I'd bring it up anyway. Who do you think was the best dancer from a technical/artistic standpoint and as a partner, Nureyev or Baryshnikov?

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 29 January 2002 - 04:33 PM

Melissa, we have had this topic before, which may be why no one has answered yet. It provoked some rather strong responses.

I think they were such different dancers it's hard to compare -- different bodies, different temperaments, different roles, different times. Technically, Baryshnikov did things no other dancer of his day in the West could do (and the fact that dancers today can doesn't detract from that achievement). Nureyev, for me, had more depth as an artist. Baryshnikov was generally not regarded as Partner of the Year -- but then, his repertory was not primarily made up of partnering roles, so that didn't matter.

My sense of our past discussions is that people who saw Nureyev in his prime would vote "Nureyev" and people who came to ballet during the Baryshnikov era would vote "Baryshnikov". Another reason why it's hard to compare them, is it's difficult to compare a 26-year-old with a 36-year old.

#3 mussel

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Posted 29 January 2002 - 11:36 PM

Alexandra, do you have the prior discussions achived?

#4 Drew

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Posted 30 January 2002 - 12:09 AM

It is perhaps a minor point when one is talking about dancers of such major stature (BOTH of them), but in my experience Baryshnikov was a great deal more consistent. When Nureyev was 'off', his performances could really be appalling -- for some viewers his 'charisma' made up for this, but it never did for me. Towards the very end of his ballet career Baryshnikov may not have 'done' quite everything he did earlier, but I never saw him seemingly improvise his way through a performance in a merely bad mood -- with the actual balletic content practically nil. And, as you may infer, I did see Nureyev do pretty much that and long BEFORE the end of his career. That said, the greatest Nureyev performances I saw were simply among the most thrilling and artistically profound of my entire ballet going life. I saw much more of Baryshnikov than Nureyev and, on the whole, the qualities of Baryshnikov's dancing were more to my personal taste than Nureyev's, and yet I don't think I ever saw Baryshnikov dance anything that gave me the sheer 'frisson' of terror and delight that the best of Nureyev did.

Partnering-wise, I always heard outrageous stories about Nureyev, but never myself witnessed anything too egregious and occasionally witnessed a very fine job of presenting a lesser light (actually he danced a lot with lesser lights); Baryshnikov I did see behave very rudely, but likewise saw performances in which he partnered with, at least to a mere fan's eyes, great skill.

(By the by -- my ultimate male pantheon goes by way of neither of the above, but Bruhn and Dowell.)

[ January 30, 2002: Message edited by: Drew ]



#5 Helena

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Posted 30 January 2002 - 05:39 AM

I agree with most of what Drew says. I saw more of Nureyev than I did of Baryshnikov, but (intentionally) I didn't see Nureyev's later performances - I didn't want to see his decline when I had such amazing memories of his early career. My impression is that Baryshnikov was probably the better technician from a purely academic point of view. Nureyev, even when young, was variable. To some extent this added to the excitement - you might see something beyond the apparent bounds of possibility, or you might see him fall over. The risk element was huge.

Ballet, though, is much more than technique. It is theatre, and in this sphere Nureyev is for me the winner by miles. I love Drew's expression " frisson of terror". Every performance was uniquely exciting, his "acting" didn't seem to be acting at all, it simply seemed real. Nureyev was without doubt for me the greatest artist I have ever seen.

I agree that Dowell and Bruhn were superb, but in my experience Nureyev, at least when young, had a magic that seemed to belong to another world. It was almost beyond humanity. No amount of academic perfection can compete with that.

[ January 30, 2002: Message edited by: Helena ]



#6 felursus

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Posted 03 February 2002 - 10:45 PM

I saw Nureyev the first time he came to the US with the Royal Ballet, and I saw Baryshnikov on his first trip to London. Baryshnikov was far, far and away the better dancer, but he lacked the sheer animal magnetism that Nureyev had. The girls all went silly over Misha, but grownups were ready to strip naked for Rudi. Unfortunately, I think Nureyev quickly became overly mannered. He didn't have a very good body for ballet and, to earn lots of money, scheduled far more performances in too many places than were good for him. He started to cheat, and the cheating showed. Also, he was a LOUSY partner - primarily because he didn't really care about his partners - except for Fonteyn (and I saw him behaving badly toward her - at a rehearsal at the old Met) and Merle Park - who refused to put up with his nonsense - and later, Makarova, who didn't HAVE to put up with his nonsense.

#7 aubri

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 11:15 AM

I have to answer to Felursus and correct him, Nureyev was not schedule way too many performances for the money, I agree that he was performing extensively, I saw him perform in venue where he was making very little money, he wanted to dance as much as possible, not missing one minute,you see he never missed class, his dedication and love for ballet was unlimited, Rudy was working very hard and did until the last moment devoting himself to his art. And towards the end of his carreer, I asked him when he would stop dancing, and he answered, I will die on stage. and people still came to see him, maybe sometime to see how bad he became but still came.No I don't think Rudy was dancing for the money, however he made a lots of it and never refused it.
And also loved Bruhn and Dowell.

#8 Mashinka

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 12:38 PM

Making comparisons between dancers is something that on the whole is best avoided, Nureyev and Baryshnikov were two very unique talents and the ten year age gap between them meant that their careers didn't completely overlap. Also Baryshnikov after his defection, danced almost exclusively in the US whereas Nureyev took his talent to every corner of the earth. To accuse him of doing so for the money is absurd and disrespectful to his memory. I believe he had a great compulsion to dance continuously that was the basis of his very complex personality.

During his lifetime Nureyev divided both audience and critics: you either loved him or hated him and I write as one who loved him faults and all. Baryshnikov was a highly academic dancer and an accomplished technician but unlike Nureyev he won't be remembered as a ballet immortal.

As to partnering skills, I believe Nureyev's reluctance to rehearse with many of his partners led to the lapses that have been well documented. Interestingly, Baryshnikov was also challenged in the partnering department as his lack of height meant that his list of suitable partners was more restricted than Nureyev's.

Nureyev by the way, considered his colleague at the Kirov, Yuri Soloviev to be his better in terms of pure technique and his admiration of Bruhn is well known but Nureyev possessed an asset that the others didn’t – he had Fonteyn.

#9 Manhattnik

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 01:19 PM

I certainly don't see what's wrong with comparing dancers. Or choreographers, designers, composers or musicians. Comparing things is one way of getting a better understanding the special qualities of each.

Except for one wonderful Swan Lake with Cynthia Gregory in the late seventies, the Nureyev performances I saw were mostly memorable in spite of his failing and inconsistent technique, not because of it.

It's certainly easy to look at Baryshnikov and Nureyev, and see that Baryshnikov's technique was far beyond Nureyev's. And there's nothing wrong with that; and it can be interesting to consider in what manner Baryshnikov's better technique manifests itself. It can also be useful, and educational, to look at areas where Baryshnikov might not measure up to Nureyev. I'd consider it an education in stage presentation, personality, varieties of star power, etc.

So I'm quite happy to read and indulge in comparisons such as these; it's not for nothing dancer comparisons have been going on since Taglioni and Elssler. (Well, since before than, but that's the historical one that comes to mind).

#10 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 02:06 PM

Also, to compare and contrast doesn't necessarily mean downgrading one artist in favor of the other, although in practice we all have opinions in this respect and often do so. Something N & B had in common was a status as cultural bellwethers as well as dancers; they had a media position that I don't think would be possible for any dancer today to achieve. The Cold War had a lot to do with this, of course, but if you look at pictures of Nureyev in the early sixties -- he and the Beatles appear to have adopted approximately the same hairstyle at about the same time -- he was clearly part of that pop culture moment. You could also argue that the Nureyev precedent made the Baryshnikov phenomenon possible. (Although Rudi never put his name on a perfume, God bless him.)

I suppose Baryshnikov's forays into the modern dance repertory and movies have been considerably more successful, but things might have been different, in the movies anyway. I used to think it was too bad "The Turning Point" couldn't have been made in 1964.

#11 Helena

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 04:54 PM

Don't forget that Nureyev went straight from the school to solo roles in Leningrad - he was never in the corps de ballet. They must have considered him good enough - they certainly knew a star when they saw one. It wasn't just after he defected that he was considered brilliant.

#12 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 05:21 PM

It's good to be reminded of things like that. One hears and reads so much these days about Nureyev's technical inferiority that you might easily get the idea that he was personality and harem pants and nothing else.

#13 Alexandra

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 05:59 PM

Helena makes a good point. When Nureyev was 19, they revived some older ballets that had been out of repertory because no one could dance them. (Laurencia being one.) Because Nureyev's decline was so, well, spectacular, it's hard to remember what he was like as a young dancer. Hard, too, to think that when he first came to the West, no one could dance Solor.

#14 Manhattnik

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 07:19 PM

I recall reading that in Russia Nureyev is credited for being the first to do turns a la seconde en releve. Anyone else read this?

I also think a Soloviev/Nureyev comparison might be a bit more apt, since they were contemporaries (although wasn't Soloviev a bit younger?). From what I've seen, Soloviev was absolutely more accomplished, technically, and not without considerable presence himself, although of an altogether different nature. I don't think he had the "electrifying" presence that Nureyev sometimes had, but one of the great "what-ifs" of ballet is "what if Soloviev had defected?"

#15 dirac

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Posted 06 February 2002 - 07:39 PM

From what I've read, if Soloviev had defected, he wouldn't have been Soloviev, so it may be something of a moot point. He just doesn't seem to have been the defecting type.


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