The White Crow

From Billy Elliot to Black Swan, ballet movies equal big surprises and critical acclaim. 

In cinemas from 22 March, Ralph Fiennes’ The White Crow looks certain to continue this trend – and here’s why.

It’s based on an astonishing true story


There are no red shoes or black feathers – yet the story behind The White Crow is even more incredible because it’s based on true events.

Scripted by David Hare (The Hours), and informed by Julie Kavanagh’s 2007 biography, the film follows Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev’s life and defection to the West while on tour with the Kirov Ballet in 1961 – despite being closely trailed by the KGB.

Known as the “Lord of the Dance”, he was one of the greatest performers of his generation, and his story leaps between art, ambition, politics and sexuality in a life still so controversial in Nureyev’s home country that a Bolshoi Ballet production about the subject was cancelled just last year.

Ralph Fiennes is back behind the camera (and in front)


Fiennes only discovered directing eight years ago. It turns out he’s pretty good at that, too. His debut feature, Corialanus, earned him a BAFTA nod, while his sophomore film, Charles Dickens drama The Invisible Woman, was also nominated for an Academy Award .

In both, Fiennes played the lead role, yet in his ambitious third directorial feature, The White Crow, he relinquishes top billing to play the enigmatic role of dance mentor Alexander Pushkin. But, in case you thought he’d chosen the easy route, he also delivers all his lines in Russian. 

The superb reviews


“The White Crow traces the arc of an irrepressible musical talent vaulting over the Iron Curtain – leaving heartbreak, yes, but also streaks of transcendent beauty in his wake,” says Vanity Fair. It’s high praise for the movie that’s taken festivals by storm and looks set to make a big entrance at cinemas this month.

Cineuropa says, “It’s an expertly constructed movie that will serve as an excellent introduction to Nureyev for the uninitiated,” while the Standard goes on to praise the “extraordinary performance by Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko as the legendary Rudolf Nureyev”. And the defection sequence, according to Screen Daily, is “terrifically tense and slickly executed” – quite the finale.

Oleg Ivenko in his first film role


World-class ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko, a principal with the M. Jalil Tatar State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre in Kazan, makes his big screen debut in the lead role of Nureyev. The dancer effortlessly spins his artistic talent from one discipline to the next, taking on the enigmatic role with confidence and just the right amount of fiery arrogance to bring the character to life. 


The incredible dancing


The intensity and mastery of the dancing is just as thrilling as any KGB chase. In addition to casting Oleg Ivenko in the lead role, Ukrainian “bad boy of ballet” Sergei Polunin plays fellow dancer and Nureyev’s roommate Yuri Soloviev.

Both are huge stars and highly accomplished dancers, whose talent translates to the screen as elegantly as the most extended grand jete. Adding further gravitas to proceedings, former principal dancer at London’s Royal Ballet, Johan Kobborg, serves as the film’s dance consultant and choreographer, overseeing the breathtaking artistry with aplomb. 

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