The name Rudolph Nureyev will immediately conjure images of his ballet performances in Swan Lake, La Sylphide, and Romeo and Juliet, and his partnerships with Dame Margot Fonteyn and Natalia Dudinskaya.
Nureyev transformed the discipline and technical accomplishment of classical dance movements into a fluid expression of high art.
Nureyev is the subject of The White Crow (portrayed by Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko), but the film is about more than glides, jumps and turns. It is about an extraordinary man and an exceptional ballet dancer.
His performances at the world's grand opera houses are interjections to Ralph Fiennes' exploration of the child that fathered the man that become Rudolph Nureyev.
Fiennes interweaves three storylines about Nureyev's poverty stricken childhood, his precociousness at ballet academies and his emergence as the embodiment of modern and classical ballet.
All of this is set against Nureyev's socialist Soviet commitments and his yearning for freedom in a capitalist society embodied in the cultural and bohemian freedom of Paris. He breaks the rules and expectations set by his KGB watchdogs. He believes his stage performances repay his debt to the state for his training. The guardians of the state disagree. Social disobedience erupts in conflict.
The film covers many elements in his life, including his father and his sexual inclinations. However, these aspects are only touched lightly.
Fiennes finds it difficult to select essential life stories and use them to present the man and the dancer. As it is, segments around his father add little that we don't get from the interactions with others.
We discover a petulant man who is preoccupied with his own greatness. When he speaks of his ability, he doesn't prevaricate.
There are only a few people from whom he desires approval. Later, as his confidence in his dance skills develop, he demands that people recognise his greatness.
Ballet is the path, but the film is about drive, ambition, self-confidence, strength, arrogance, narcissism, and political ideologies.
Ballet will either elicit delight or disinterest. The White Crow does not demand that you are an aficionado of ballet. It does invite, even command you, to explore what it is that drives an individual to attain the highest levels of artistic achievement and what it is in that person's past, both positive and detrimental, that has influenced that drive.
You don't have to be a lover of ballet to appreciate The White Crow, although, if you are, you will derive additional pleasure from Nureyev's story.