20 years ago, Ralph Fiennes read a biography of Rudolf Nureyev, the outstanding Russian ballet dancer, and the story of his early life, as he says, got under his skin.Scripted by David Hare and directed by Ralph Fiennes, White Crow tells some of that story up to the time he defected to the West in 1961.
The film moves backward and forward between Nureyev’s impoverished childhood, his time at ballet school and his visit to
Fiennes had to decide if he was going to choose an actor and teach him to dance or choose a dancer and teach him to act.Wisely, he chose the latter: although there is sadly not a lot of dancing, it is important that the person playing that part is a superb dancer.This Oleg Ivenko is, but he has also proved to be a good actor (as well as a decent lookalike for Nureyev), portraying his mercurial character, the brooding, the petulance, the love of art – and the amazing talent.To quote Fiennes, 'We need great artists and great artists come with all kinds of difficult, jagged edges'.
In Ralph Fiennes’ view, it is no longer acceptable for English-speaking actors to put on an accent to play a non-English part, as he himself did 25 years ago in Schindler’s List (where he played an Austrian).Consequently, the Russian parts are played by Russians, actors unknown to most English audiences: Fiennes himself plays the part of Nureyev’s tutor Pushkin, but only because he can speak Russian. This gives the film much more authenticity - and no famous faces to distract. The brutality of being poor in Russia; the minders who follow the ballet dancers in Paris; the Russians’ wonder at the colour and vivacity of Paris – all these are vividly portrayed, and the defection scene, although you know the outcome, is genuinely gripping. The story certainly gets under your skin.
The Picturehouse does several live screenings of ballet from the Royal Opera House every year and, if you want to see another biopic of a ballet dancer, Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, who went on to dance with the Royal Ballet in London for nearly twenty years, then there is a one-night only performance of Yuli on 3rd April, based on his life.