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Review: NUREYEV'S EYES Takes Stage at Delaware Theatre Company


What does it take to paint one of the greatest male ballet dancers of the 20th century? One can surmise, a talented artist. But, what if the task of painting an icon became a challenge between capturing the dancer in motion and becoming conscious of the motion of the dancer?

David Rush provides a satisfying glimpse into the relationship between the iconic dancer, Rudolph Nureyev, and famous American realist painter, Jamie Wyeth, in his two-character, 90 minute play, Nureyev's Eyes. In an imaginary telling based on a true life friendship, Wyeth (William Connell) desires to paint Nureyev (Bill Dawes) not only to immortalize the legend, but to also capture the true motion of the great ballet dancer in the hopes of reaching a creative pinnacle on the way to becoming as notably famous as his artists grandfather and father. Nureyev desires to be immortalized; however, more so through his dance prowess than on a canvas, as evidenced by his insatiable draw to the spotlight and strong-willed pursuit to be appointed director for New York City Ballet.

The men meet at a posh Manhattan party where Wyeth divulges his desire to paint Nureyev. At first, Nureyev quickly dismisses Wyeth's requests for a portrait session. That is until Wyeth throws into the conversation the fact that he is close with Lincoln Kirstein, the co-founder of the NYCB (and the person who can bestow upon Nureyev the coveted position). Does Nureyev continue the dialog with Wyeth simply as a stepping stone? Perhaps, at first. What transpires between the two men over the course of time, in this case 16 years, is a relationship that soars, dips and dives well beyond friendly exchanges between artist and subject. There is plenty of discourse between the two men at the beginning of the new found "collaboration." The mischievous way in which the two learn about each other - by trading (sometimes) barbarous riddles - is an unexpected delight. "How is Wyeth like the K.G.B.?" By the end, the two men forge a camaraderie rooted in the shared ardor for their individual artistry.

Connell genuinely portrays Wyeth as a down-to-earth, friendly guy with calmness and clarity. As written, Wyeth tends to lack an urgency to openly express passion for his art. Surely Wyeth has a deep-seeded, burning of his own that exposes itself every now and then. The play is formulaic at times and lacks the intensity of similar works such as Red or Freud's Last Session. Wyeth's composition is in direct contrast to his counterpart. Dawes skillfully and realistically exudes Nureyev's tour-de-force personality. Dawes never strays from maintaining a dancer's physical stature or his character's mindset. While giving a barre lesson to Wyeth, one learns that the simple act of standing as a ballet dancer isn't easily achieved (and provides a bit of comedy to those watching). The time spent together allows each to expose their inner turmoil. But it is Nureyev's dance that morphs the often simplistic written word into a truer form of the man. Choreographer Charlie Williams' disciplined movements effortlessly melds with the sound design and original music of Scott Killian to infuse the heightened emotion lying within each step of a dancer. The lighting design by Christopher J. Bailey effectively conveys the mood of each shifting scene.

As Nureyev once stated, "Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration." While there is plenty of superbly crafted technique throughout this production courtesy of director, Michael Mastro, the moments of inspiration are enough to please audience members out for an evening of live theater.

NOTE: Jed Peterson will play the role of Rudolph Nureyev beginning March 16.

Nureye's Eyes runs through March 20, 2016.

Delaware Theatre Company, 200 Water Street, Wilmington, DE 19801.

Visit or call (302) 594-1100 for tickets.

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