“The White Crow” Dances into New York. Tributes, talks and new projects for Tovah … Debbie … Cher and Madonna!

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Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev walks down the Palais Garnier's Grand Staircase in The White Crow (2018).

“IF YOU are waiting for an apology from me, little girl, you are with the wrong man!”

That is dancer and fledging actor Oleg Ivenko, as ballet’s brilliant and unrepentant egomaniac Rudolf Nureyev in Ralph Fiennes “mad, mad, mad” labor of love, “The White Crow.” (Those were the words of Fiennes himself at an Andrew Saffir Cinema Society screening of the film, this past Monday.)

I love a good ballet movie.  I don’t care much for “the dance” itself, but movies about the art tend to be invariably entertaining and/or over-the-top. (“The Red Shoes,” “The Turning Point,” “Black Swan” “White Nights” — yes I know the latter is much derided but I love it, not in the least for a very sexy Helen Mirren as the director of the Kirov Ballet.)

Ralph Fiennes and Oleg Ivenko in The White Crow (2018)

“The White Crow” is not quite as compelling as it could have been. But despite a certain lack of cohesion, director Fiennes, who also has a role in the movie, captures more than enough tension, glamour and poignancy in this glimpse of Nureyev, as he agonizes over defecting from Russia. (“Your family will be pariahs! Think of them!”)  As the credits rolled, applause was robust and sincere.

Fiennes along with screenwriters David Hare and Julie Kavanagh, attempt to flesh out Nureyev, then only 23, in Paris with the Mariinsky Ballet corps — his humble childhood (born on a Siberian train!), the burgeoning talent, the rapacious ego and rebellious nature. I would have preferred something more linear. In fact I would have preferred the entire film to have taken place at the Le Bourget Airport, where despite the efforts of the KGB, Rudy dramatically defects. The movie suddenly becomes a dazzling thriller, and would have benefitted inhabiting that genre from the get-go.

But so what? Young Mr. Ivenko, born in Ukraine, is a brilliant dancer, lovely to look at and makes a smooth acting debut.  Fans of ballet likely wish there were more dance sequences.  I was fine.  Members of the LGBT community have complained that Ivenko’s Nureyev isn’t gay enough. He is shown sleeping and flirting with several women, while merely eyeing his delectable — and admirably nude — fellow dancer and roommate, played by Louis Hofmann. Oh, please!  Rudy had a robust sex life after he defected, and he died tragically from complications of AIDS at the age of 54.  His sexuality, which was indeed fluid, was the least of his tale.

And although I don’t mind reading subtitles — which pop up with frequency here — I do sometimes yearn for the good old days of movie-movies when we just suspended disbelief and everybody — no matter where they were supposed to be from or what was happening spoke English with a variety of bad accents.

THE PARTY after was in typical Cinema Society style — a high-flying new restaurant, R17, The Roof of Pier 17.  Lots of famous faces: Mikhail Baryshnikov (Mr. Ivenko looked like he died and went more-than-happily to heaven during their post-screening chat) … Sarah Jessica Parker … Anna Wintour … Bianca Jagger … Calvin Klein … Trudie Styler and Sting … Patti Smith … Rosie Perez.  Teeny-tiny edibles were passed around — nobody took me seriously when I kept asking for a steak!  I passed up lethal-looking drinks called A Dancer’s Passion made with Monkey 47 Gin, and instead sipped vodka in a nod to all things Russian.

There was a vast terrace, a comfortable late night breeze and a spectacular view of the city.  I was happy enough to attempt  A DEMI-DETOURNE!

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Oleg Ivenko.
Tommy Dunn, Tiler Peck, and Daniel Benedict.
David Hare, Oleg Ivenko, Gabrielle Tana, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Levitas, Ilan Eshkeri, and Carolyn Marks Blackwood.
Bianca Jagger and Carolina Herrera.
Ralph Fiennes, Andy Cohen, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Sting and Trudie Styler.
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anna Wintour.


… OVER the years Tovah Feldshuh has carved a more-than-substantial place in my heart. Theater (“Yentl,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Golda’s Balcony,” “Irena’s Vow), movies (“A Walk on the Moon,” “Love Comes Lately, “Kissing Jessica Stein”), cabaret, recently. Innumerable TV appearances — iconic in that medium for her role as the righteously zealous defense lawyer Danielle Melnick on “Law & Order.” She even reprised the thorny Danielle two years ago on “Chicago Justice.”

Tovah Feldshuh as defense lawyer Danielle Melnick.

On Monday May 6th, Ms. Feldshuh will sit with theater critic Linda Winer for “A Conversation with Tovah Feldshuh” at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium. (65thStreet & Amsterdam Ave.)  It’s free, first come, first seated. I’ll likely attend, not simply out of admiration for Tovah—ah, remember her on the trapeze in “Pippin” a few seasons back? But I lived up in that area for a number of extremely happy years in my youth.  Although much has changed, I always feel sweet sixteen again when I’m in the neighborhood.

… I NEVER met the divine Debbie Harry in a restaurant and if I ever had, I’m certain I’d have known she was no debutante.  But over the years I interviewed her officially and found myself seated near her at various events. She is a great beauty, funny, wry, approachable (within the limits of propriety; celebs need to be a bit on guard), and her mythic goddess status as Blondie’s lead singer remains unblemished.   Like the best of the greats she takes her work seriously, but not herself.  She doesn’t encourage gushing, but won’t stop you if you do. Debbie knows fans just can’t help themselves. (I sure couldn’t!)

On May 8th Debbie will be feted at the Riverkeeper’s Fishermen’s Ball at The Lighthouse, Pier Sixty One on Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers.  She is being recognized for decades of environmental activism. (Riverkeeper is New York’s Clean Water Advocate.)  She is to become one of Riverkeeper’s “Big Fish.”   Pace University’s Environmental Law Program will also be honored. Documentary filmmaker Fabien Cousteau and newsman Steve Liesman host.  Willie Nile performs.  Call 914-478-4501, ext. 228 or email events@riverkeeper.org.

… ON May 19th the annual Chita Rivera Awards honor choreographer, dancer and director Graciela Daniele for Lifetime Achievement.  Also, Flody Suarez, Jeffrey Seller and the one-and-only Cher. (These three — producers of Broadway’s “The Cher Show” — will receive the Ambassador of the Arts Awards, marking their work on the convergence of theater, film and TV.)  This happens at NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (566 LaGuardia Place.) Call 1-855-NYC-5678 or go to www.ChitaRiveraAwards.com

Nope, I haven’t seen “The Cher Show,” which definitely makes me wonder about my sexual identity after all these years. However, I did catch the icon on Jimmy Fallon about a week ago.  The entire hour was dedicated to Cher, her show, the various talented ladies who portray her at the Neil Simon Theater, and the guy who plays Sonny Bono.  It was delightful, over-the-top.  I didn’t even mind Fallon.

Cher was loose and funny, hugely entertaining; quite the opposite of her brief, please-I’d-rather-not-watch-this appearance in “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.” (All the reviews said, “Wait for Cher!”  So I did and then I’d rather I hadn’t, despite her strong vocal on “Fernando.” At least that spawned her amusing ABBA-dedication CD, “Dancing Queen.”)

99.9 percent of the time, Cher gets it exactly right concerning her career and image. She knows who she was, who sheis, and most vitally, what her fans want.  It takes genius, chutzpah, a lot of love and a LOT of cynical detachment to get up, as she did on the Fallon night, and sing “I Got You, Babe” with the faux Sonny.

Who didn’t speed travel back in time to the famous David Letterman late-night reunion of Sonny and Cher in 1987?  That evening, with some prodding, Cher was induced to perform “I Got You, Babe” with her ex. He was moist-eyed.   She was cheerful and cooperative.  Not moved to tears. Fans were hysterical with joy.

By then she’d pretty much pulled back on constantly ragging Sonny in the press. Somebody must have reminded her that whatever she felt she’d suffered under Sonny’s heavy-handed guidance, she was the Oscar, winner, the continuous hit-maker.  She’d “escaped” and made a great career.  Sonny, not so much. (Although he was about to become the Mayor of Palm Springs!)

I thought her intense grief at his funeral a decade later contained a lot of regret that she’d held on, publicly at least, to so much anger. (I’ll never forget watching her raw eulogy, and realizing with a gut-punch shock that she seemed to be totally unaware she was being filmed.)

Cher is now 72.  Quite a few years ago I asked her if she could imagine herself at 75?  She laughed: “75?  Geez!  I don’t have any idea.   Maybe plays by then, the stage.  Or maybe by that time, I’ll just have decided the world’s had quite enough of me.  And I’ll be climbing mountains.  I have that thing in me.  I have that desire to be an old lady climbing mountains and going to Tibet and driving my truck.  I could see myself puttering around, exploring.”  She paused and added: “I have a belief that everyone’s got to have a dream.  And if they reach that dream, then they’ve got to have another.  Because it’s not achieving your dreams that counts.  It’s going toward them!”     Words to inspire.  Although clearly that dream of being an old lady in a truck in Tibet is on hold.

… FINALLY, drum roll, please!  On June 17th  Madonna’s 14th studio album, “Madame X” lands.  15 tracks.  The good news is that the songs celebrate her well-known admiration for Latin music and culture. (“La Isla Bonita” remains as exquisite now as when the song and video debuted back in 1986.)  Madonna will sing in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

The bad news is that the first single “Medellin” with Colombian pop sensation Maluma, is fine, okay, but — without hearing anything else from the album — not sensational. The video is yet another compilation of the many Madonnas we already know quite well — black-haired Madonna, eye-patch Madonna, wanton Madonna, a bit of dominatrix Madonna, dancing Madonna, and at the start of the song, self pitying Madonna: “How could I not want to run away, again and again. I will never be what society wants me to be.  I have been kidnapped, tortured, humiliated. And yet I still have hope.  I still believe in the goodness of humans. Thank God for nature and the spirits that surround me, for the spirit of my mother, who is always protecting me. From now on I am Madame X. And Madame X loves to dance.”

And then, in the video, Madame X dances, makes out with Maluma (I get that!), rides horses, is pursued dramatically at night. Dances more — on tabletops — makes out more with Maluma.

“Madame X” the album is the result of many producers, which hasn’t worked out entirely well for M. in recent years.  But she really doesn’t care.  She has tasked herself to never, well — have a “Cher Show.”  Although she repeats certain themes in her work, she will not court genuine nostalgia, or pander in any way to those who loved her work in the ’80s, ’90s early ‘2000’s.  I think her best work had fewer cooks stirring the broth. She is a more-the-merrier girl.

That can be admirable but frustrating.  I thought her last album “Rebel Heart” was a hot mess that wasn’t entirely her fault. (The music was hacked, and she had to rush the CD out.)  I loved a lot of it — the “Heart” part of the music.  She has nothing to prove as a  “Rebel” anymore. And I could live happily never hearing the word “bitch” or her own name in any of her songs again.   That’s just my opinion; believe me, she couldn’t care less.

Desperately Seeking No One’s Approval …

And it’s worked for her.  She’s fabulously wealthy, healthy, not a substance abuser, has the large family she always wanted, involves herself in worthy charity and humanitarian endeavors. Every conceivable accolade from the music industry crams her shelves, and her tours are still wildly profitable.  But do NOT expect to ever see her “in residency” in Las Vegas.

As a fan, I want just one more great album. M herself would say, “Yeah, bitch?  So, this is it!” And maybe it is!

I’ll always love Madonna for a variety of reasons — the pleasures of her artistry, the pleasures of her company, back in the day (so much softer, more vulnerable, funnier than she usually appears), and the remarkable access she and her press rep Liz Rosenberg allowed me over the peak years of La Ciccone’s white-hot fame. I’m never gonna have that much fun again. My nerves couldn’t take that much fun again.

Photographs by Paul Bruinooge/PMC (The White Crow)

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