To make up for all the schadenfreude: a smart review of the Nureyev bio
Many of the reviews of Julie Kavanagh's recent Nureyev bio have enshrined the author--they're not really reviews but mini hagiographies--while pillorying the artist himself. It's as if the reviewers--principally, Joan Acocella in the New Yorker, who thinks "Kavanagh gave Nureyev too many breaks" -- always wanted to get their revenge and now this bio has given them permission.
Acocella goes so far as to say, "It seems to me that there was a connection between Nureyev's lack of moral feeling and the general unintelligence of his work--both his performances and his productions." Is there an editor in the house? This statement begs too many questions.
About those performances, the way Nureyev gave equal weight to transitional steps and to big ones is an example of his intelligence, him upending the cliches of ballet phrasing. It puts him in the company of Balanchine, who often uses run-on rhythms, so you feel you can't catch your breath. Paradoxically, this enjambment (as it's called in poetry) made Nureyev seem to appeal to our lower "instincts," as Acocella describes it.
If by "intelligence" Acocella means self-consciously pointing to himself as intelligent, Nureyev may have wanted to do something else. He may have wanted to make an existential point about not being able or allowed to stop--or about the big and small within the wash of life. But that's the thing: Acocella's outrageous assertion needs some backup. The review would then have been really interesting.
I know it's a symptom of the age we live in that even the dead aren't exempt from lambasting, but I would have thought that dance critics--who whenever it suits them don't notice the time they're in--would have known better.
My favorite review, though, is from my friend (and regular Foot contributor) Paul Parish. Kavanagh's bio is immoral by way of being amoral. She lets the dozens of Nureyev hangers-on tell the story for her; the book has no reigning voice, least of all that of Nureyev himself (which the recent TV documentary "The Russian Years" and his own ghostwritten autobiography suggest was compelling and unpretentious, even if he spoke as if the tongue were foreign). Kavanagh doesn't bother to decide the relation between the myriad facts of his life. She just stuffs them all in there, to deadening effect. Here, on the other hand, is Paul.
UPDATE: Fantastic comments--by Swan Lake Samba Girl, counter critic, and choreographer Lise Brenner. But don't forget to read Paul's review. (That's why I haven't pasted the comments in the entry: I don't want people to skip over his fantastic review. It's got the best final line of an essay I've read in a million years. Here!)
[Nureyev mania on Foot began with this commentary on the PBS documentary of his youthful days in Leningrad. After the above post, we noted with relief one review and another that did more justice to the man than the bio itself.]
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