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The Nureyev-Wyeth Connection

The Nureyev-Wyeth Connection

nureyev's eyes actors
March 7, 2016

“How is a dancer like a painter?” When the dancer is Rudolf Nureyev and the painter is Jamie Wyeth, they’re alike in more ways than you might think. The play Nureyev’s Eyes by David Rush (at the Delaware Theatre Company through March 20) explores this riddle—and many others—in a two-man production that imagines the relationship between these two great artists and their years of friendship.

As the drama unfolds, Wyeth persuades Nureyev to model for him and begins a body of work that can now be found in the collection of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. The men discuss how they are each heirs to great traditions, with all the privileges and difficulties that entails. His predecessors, Nureyev remarks, sit upon his shoulders, “all of them adding weight to each jump and turn.” Meanwhile, he observes that Wyeth also has a “dozen Wyeth people looking over your shoulders,” a “whole country of Wyeths” to live up to.

N. C. Wyeth, Tapping up and down the road in a frenzy, and groping and calling for his comrades, 1911, Oil on canvas.
In their discussions, the artists share their greatest aspirations— for Nureyev, to be the ballet master at the New York City Ballet—and their greatest fears—for Wyeth, darkness. N. C. Wyeth’s painting Blind Pew, an illustration from Treasure Island, is used onstage to remarkable metaphoric effect to embody the fears of both Jamie Wyeth and Nureyev.

Rush was inspired to write the play after visiting the Brandywine’s galleries, where a selection of Wyeth’s Nureyev works are always on view. The paintings and the play go hand-in-hand, one enhanced by the other. In the fall of 2014, a production of Nureyev’s Eyes was mounted at the American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, Florida. It ran concurrently with an exhibition of Wyeth’s paintings of Nureyev at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg’s. Now the play has made its way to Wyeth country, opening first at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey before making its move to Delaware.

The Brandywine is hosting two gallery talks in honor of the artistic collaboration of Wyeth and Nureyev. Free with museum admission, Wyeth & Nureyev, A Grande Révérence will be offered on both March 9 and March 16 at 2 p.m.

Top photo by T. Charles Erickson, courtesy the Delaware Theatre Company
N. C. Wyeth, Tapping up and down the road in a frenzy, and groping and calling for his comrades, 1911, Oil on canvas
Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), Mort de Noureev, 2001. Mixed media. Purchase made possible by the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation; the Roemer Foundation; the Margaret Dorrance Strawbridge Foundation of PA, I, Inc.; and an anonymous donor. © Jamie Wyeth