I Am a Dancer was made in 1973 as a French television special, and later adapted for cinema release. This is the cinema version, with all narration in English.
That's a shame, since it would be so much better not to be able to understand the pretentious, crass and very precious dialogue about how hard dancers work, how hard Rudy works, etc etc. Hearing it once is OK, since it's all true. But we don't need to be reminded of it every five minutes. Give us a break! The art of ballet is to rise above the work and pain, not to keep harping on about it.
Legend has it that Rudolf Nureyev and director Pierre Jourdan didn't really hit it off during the making of this movie. And it shows. Jourdan seems never able to make Nureyev comfortable about the camera's presence. He's painfully aware of it, and of the unseen audience.
And that might be why, compared to so much other film record of Nureyev, the performances on this film seem somewhat mannered and remote. They never catch fire and startle us with brilliance.
He dances excerpts from La Sylphide, partnering Carla Fracci, and Sleeping Beauty partnering Lynn Seymour. Respectable performances, but nothing to write home about. The rehearsal footage of Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand with Margot Fonteyn (a spin on the Our Lady of the Camellias story) is probably the highlight of the movie; the only time Rudy seems to be conscious of who he is partnering, rather than just focusing on himself.
There's an inadvertently comic piece, which shows how quickly some modern dance pieces can date, once they've lost their immediately contemporary relevance. This is Glen Tetley's Field Pieces, a very famous work at the time, which, Tetley says, explores the distance between people and how people preserve that important space.
Then on comes some truly awful electronic music by Carlheinz Stockhausen, and out come Rudy and his partner, Deana Bergsma. The distance and space Tetley talks about doesn't really seem to exist, this work is mainly about tight groin-to-groin contact.
It's very early-1970s, and inadvertently humourous in a cringing kind of way. And the only person who exhibits any excitement about all this is Rudy himself - those ballet tights are a bit of a give-away. But then, someone out there might like that...
The full-screen image is only just acceptable. It's very soft and quite a few signs of wear and tear appear throughout, along with very evident grain. Flesh-tones are far too red.
The image really is only fractionally above average video quality, though it never becomes bad enough to be totally unacceptable. The television origins of the film are clearly evident.
Rent this one only.
There are some really great ballet DVDs out there. A quick shortlist of locally available titles would include The Australian Ballet's own Don Quixote, starring Lucette Aldous, Rudolf Nureyev and Robert Helpmann, the Paris Opera's production of La Bayadere directed by Rudolf Nureyev, and two outstanding historical compilations from Warners, The Glory of the Bolshoi and The Glory of the Kirov. Try those before this one!