Nureyev’s take on “Swan Lake” (1984) is often said to be tricky, narcissist, untidy. It is all that, to some extent, but it’s also one of the most mature, intense versions of the crowd-pleaser that has gone free from emotional stirring around the world. In Nureyev’s version, the psychological depth, ingrained in the Prince’s psyche, is reminiscent of the choreographer’s dark side. And when you watch men waltzing holding hands like women traditionally do in Romantic ballets, it feels close to what could have been in Tchaikovsky’s imagination. Part of his sorrow came from his attraction to men, which he had to repress because of “good morals.” The haunting pain of his occasionally bursts from the music and all of a sudden everything makes sense; that Siegfried is as torn apart as the choreographer and the composer were. Call it extrapolation, but there’s a reference, maybe, to Ludwig II’s tragic fate, as Neumeier later emphasized it. No matter what actually crossed Nureyev’s mind when he poured his thoughts into his masterpiece, the male hero is clearly not just another foil to the Swan Queen. And that’s why the “Swan Lake” which landed at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1984 is worth watching once in a lifetime, regardless of its imperfections.
Laura Hecquet and Audric Bezard in Nureyev's "Swan Lake." Photograph by Ann Ray