The Young man and Death

Roland Petite Noureev le jeune homme et la mort

Music : Johann Sebastian Bach – Choreography : Roland Petit

It was the filming of Roland Petit’s Le Jeune homme et la mort for French television in 1966 that seems to have given Nureyev the opportunity really to learn about dance on screen. The ballet was filmed by its choreographer who was also an experienced film maker. It was by no means a straight transference of the stage work to screen, and Petit clearly takes into account that Nureyev is a very different dancer from Jean Babilée who created the role of the young man. Petit simplified the setting and jettisoned some powerful stage effects (actually leaving some viewers who know the stage work feeling a little cheated) and made the ending, with no resolution to the suicide, more sombre. But no one can fault the way Petit records the stunning film performances by Nureyev and Zizi Jeanmaire.

Diane Solway in her biography of Nureyev states that “Le Jeune homme et la mort was one of the first dance films staged for the camera and not simply a filmed stage performance. Roland Petit directed it after working on a number of movies in Hollywood. Thinking that Rudolf had ‘the face of a movie star’, Petit edited the film to make ample use of close-ups. ‘I would tell him how photogenic he was and remind him to put on some lipstick before we shot, saying he was like Marilyn Monroe, because he would take the light like her. And he was so happy…’.” from Dancing Times