I'm sure many would agree that the Rudolf Nureyev collection on laser video is not nearly large enough. But the above two releases go a long way toward correcting that.
The first, containing Kultur's resurrection of the 1963 anthology film "An Evening With the Royal Ballet," presents the dancer in what was arguably his prime, together with his most celebrated partner, Dame Margot Fonteyn.He may appear in only two of the four selections - "Les Sylphides" and the "Corsaire" pas de deux - but they are enough to cause one to marvel at his athletic grace (especially the "Corsaire" extract, filled with bravura leaps and turns) and earn him top billing on the cover.
But no less admirable is his ability to bring out the best in his partner. Thus in "Sylphides" one is made more than usually aware of Fonteyn's elegance and innocence, a Giselle-like fragility that stops just short of being a china doll. As a more extended souvenir of their collaboration, I would probably opt for their 1966 Vienna "Swan Lake," on Philips CD Video. But neither would I want to be without the "Sleeping Beauty" extract incorporated here, primarily for her technically flawless Princess Aurora, but also for Brian Shaw's airborne gymnastics as the Blue Bird.
Even here camera angles are less interesting than they might have been, and one is frequently aware of the technical limitations of the house. I have also seen choreography that made greater sense of "La Valse" than does Frederick Ashton's, its lavishness overwhelming any scent of danger. But the corps itself is more refined and precise than the Vienna Opera's, for example, and throughout it one receives the definite impression that this is the way it really was.
Nureyev himself is the choreographer, as well as producer-director, of the above-listed Pioneer Artists "Cinderella," taped in 1987 at the Paris Opera, and a stunning achievement it is.
For what he gives us is the Perrault story dressed up as a modern fairy tale, set, more or less, in early-'30s Hollywood. In this vision the Prince becomes a film star - a role Nureyev himself has tried to fill on occasion (e.g., "Valentino") - the castle a film studio (complete with King Kong and the Keystone Kops) and at the end it is not a marriage pact Cinderella signs but a movie contract.
That results in a few oddities. The humor, for example, is supplied not by the ugly sisters - an unusually mean-spirited pair - but by the various studio types, including Nureyev himself as the cigar-chomping producer, here something of a Drosselmeyer-type fairy godfather. (At one point we even see him do a Groucho Marx lope along an avenue of giant-sized Betty Grable pinups.)
But humor there is, along with the willowy intensity young Silvie Guillem brings to the title role. Supple but strong, she embraces everything from the poignant isolation of Act 1 (in which Nureyev gives her a remarkable "little tramp" dance with a coat rack and cane) to the Hollywood-style exultation of Act 3, which closes with her trailing a billowing silk swath a la Cyd Charisse.
In short, it is inventive, colorful and does little or no violence to the evergreen Prokofiev score, here conducted in semi-lively fashion. In addition to which, it is fascinating to see how much Charles Jude, as the prince/film star, comes across like a young Nureyev, if without quite his strength and panache.
A bit of wish-fulfillment on the director's part? Perhaps, but as even the brief overview above reminds us, in terms of his own career he could have done worse.