Artem Ovcharenko portrays the legendary title character in “Rudolf Nureyev-Dance to Freedom.” (Courtesy IWC Media)

Thrilling Nureyev docu-drama kicks off SF dance film fest

The U.S. premiere of “Rudolf Nureyev-Dance to Freedom,” which cleverly recreates how the world’s most famous dancer defected from the Soviet Union in Paris at the height of the Cold War, screens on Oct. 19 to preview the seventh annual San Francisco Dance Film Festival.

Taking an unusual and compelling tack, writer-director Richard Curson-Smith mixes new testimony from folks who were there at the time — French socialite Clara Saint, dancer-choreographer Pierre Lacotte, Russian prima ballerina Alla Osipenko — with re-enactments of events in the dancer’s life in the months and days leading up to his famous “leap to freedom” at Paris’ Le Bourget airport on June 16, 1961,

Bolshoi Ballet star Artem Ovcharenko is clearly up to the challenge of portraying Nureyev, not just in the awesome dance scenes, but also bringing out the artist’s testy (complex) personality. Other actors play key characters, from Konstantin Sergeyev, the somewhat beleaguered artistic director of the Kirov Theatre, to KGB agent Vitaly Strizhevsky, whose job was to keep tabs on the rebellious dancer.

As its promotional material promises, “Dance to Freedom” is a “multi-layered account of one of the most thrilling intrigues of the 20th century.” As it interprets why the defection occurred, it’s also a “timely reminder of what happens when art and politics collide and how truth can often be more astonishing than fiction.”

Wednesday’s screening of the 2015 film, which includes a Q and A session with filmmaker Richard Curson-Smith, is a fund-raiser for the four-day festival, which begins Oct. 20.

Tickets are $21 to $75 for the event, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Taube Atrium Theater, Veterans Building, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.; visit www.sfdancefilmfest.org for details.

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