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The South Bank Show

S1-E4 Male Roles in Contemporary Ballet

S1-E4 Male Roles in Contemporary Ballet

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Ballet this week, and the rise of the male lead: having scrapped his way to stardom from grim provincial Russia, Rudolf Nureyev wasn't about to be second on the bill, even if the traditions of the form demanded it. He prompted a shift towards a new kind of dancer, and dance, in the second half of the 20th century, as documented by Melvyn Bragg's interviews, fresh and archive.

The focus is not just on the likes of Nureyev and Carlos Acosta, but also on choreographers, the creators who tell these tautly strung instruments which notes to hit. We see Kenneth Macmillan dropping fag ash on Lynn Seymour's shoulder as he creates the lustful entanglements of Mayerling, and Wayne McGregor "rewiring" modernist Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson in rehearsal for Metamorphosis.

It's a lucid, engaging film. If, say, you know Mikhail Baryshnikov mainly as the suave Russian bloke off Sex and the City, the door to another world cracks open here.


Melvyn Bragg analyses the development of male roles in contemporary ballet, exploring the work of dancers and choreographers including Rudolf Nureyev, Matthew Bourne and the Ballet Russes. The programme features interviews with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tamara Rojo and Edward Watson, as well as archive clips of Kenneth MacMillan, Michael Clark and Wayne McGregor and performances by Carlos Acosta.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Contributor Rudolf Nureyev
Contributor Matthew Bourne
Contributor Mikhail Baryshnikov
Contributor Tamara Rojo
Contributor Edward Watson
Contributor Kenneth MacMillan
Contributor Michael Clark
Contributor Wayne McGregor
Performer Carlos Acosta
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