Invitation to the dance

It was a delightful evening of ballet memories at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville this past Wednesday as the center hosted a docudrama and book signing that focused on three of the great male dancers – one past and two present.

The Burns launched its annual “Dance on Film” series with “Rudolf Nureyev: Dance to Freedom” (2015), a fascinating chronicle of Nureyev’s leap from behind the Iron Curtain when Leningrad’s (now St. Petersburg’s) Kirov Ballet performed in Paris in 1961. Bolshoi Ballet star Artem Ovcharenko captures Nureyev’s singular, fiery talent and temperament in a Cold War drama that resonates today.

Afterward, Ovcharenko’s former Bolshoi colleague, American Ballet Theatre star David Hallberg, chatted with choreographer Peter Pucci onstage about his own reverse leap, as it were, when he became the only American to become a member of the Bolshoi in 2011 – a half-century after Nureyev’s defection. It’s a story charted in Hallberg’s excellent new book “A Body of Work: Dancing to the Edge and Back” (Touchstone/Simon and Schuster, $28, 424 pages).

Hallberg’s journey wasn’t quite so dramatic as Nureyev’s – “I took a plane,” he told Pucci – but it was clear that it was fueled by the same insatiable hunger to take risks, learn and grow that spurred the supernova that was Nureyev.

Hallberg and audience members then retreated upstairs for a book signing and reception that concluded a most satisfying night.

For more, visit burnsfilmcenter.org. And for more on how Hallberg overcame bullying and a career-threatening injury to become what The New Yorker called “the most exciting male dancer in the Western world,” look for my profile in WAG’s December “Exploring Grace-Filled Spirits” issue.

Georgette Gouveia

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