Rudolf Nureyev, who was once proclaimed by the late George Balanchine as "the only true star," still works the box-office magic that earned him that distinction: He sold out the 6,225-seat Shrine Auditorium for a one-night stand Saturday.
Of course, this functional definition of stardom would now have to include Nureyev's Soviet compatriot, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Other than for these two, such crowds are not easy to entice.
This time, returning after a five-year absence, the dashing Nureyev came as company director of the Paris Opera Ballet. And, bearing the signs of a committed man, he brought along six etoiles from that glittering but beleaguered organization.
The event, "Nureyev and Friends," is one of his originals. And what he did Saturday showed little deviation from course. The package, similar to one he supplied a decade ago at the Greek Theatre, came packed with sophisticated fare, new here for him--Balanchine's "Apollo," Maurice Bejart's "Songs of a Wayfarer" and David Parsons' "Two Brothers."
Always a generous performer, Nureyev danced all of the above, which took up a full hour. But he did not stint on showpieces for his half-dozen "friends." By the time they performed sundry standard pas de deux, there was no need for the three inexplicable pit-band interludes that stretched the final curtain to 11:30 p.m.
But those who equate the 49-year-old dancer with classical princes and bravura exercises he no longer can sustain got a welcome glimpse of the Nureyev whose charismatic presence lights up dramatic works.
True, he couldn't vouchsafe the plastic elegance of "Apollo," even though the turns and leg beats are still there. This 1928 matrix of neoclassicism--set to the Stravinsky score and inspired by its spare, witty and sweet aura--exposed his effort and lacked the lean little surges of power that the insouciant god is supposed to summon. Nor did his choice of black tights and white T-shirt, an outdated uniform, help the image.
Yet he shepherded his muses with a virility and the long-legged Clotilde Vayer, Isabelle Guerin and Fanny Gaida made their steps appealingly legible.
His difficult assignment out of the way, he turned to the most rewarding one: "Wayfarer." For the occasion, Rodney Gilfrey sang Mahler's songs of aching beauty in his fine-grained baritone and 16 years after Bejart made this remarkable piece for Nureyev, he brought a new understanding to it: Grief stands for his age and is mirrored in the youth of his Doppelganger, Charles Jude, whose physical beauty and buoyancy contrast with the hero's profoundly moving struggle against time.
Again, Jude was his partner in "Brothers," a quirky black cartoon with angular movements of indolence that suddenly energize to semi-dramatic rivalry between the two--all of it an apt setting of Stravinsky's Concertino.
For the program's remainder, balletic bonbons that consistently won huge ovations, there was the knowing deliberateness of Florence Clerc, with Jude, in "The Sleeping Beauty" grand pas de deux. Its counterpart from "Don Quixote" featured the dazzlingly articulate Laurent Hilaire, whose pointing-arrow feet are quite possibly without peer. His Kitri, Isabelle Guerin, danced with cold precision. But the pas de six from Bournonville's "Napoli," guaranteed demure smiles, if not the last degree of Danish authenticity.
Varujan Kojian led the tidy orchestral performances.