Ralph Fiennes doesn’t shirk from a challenge; after directing and starring in Coriolanus (2011), about Shakespeare’s tragic Roman general, and The Invisible Woman (2013), the story of Charles Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan, he here turns to another difficult, uniquely talented figure, dancer Rudolf Nureyev, in a richly textured drama that very nearly reincarnates the legendary artist and the Cold War era from which he sprang. Fiennes, who speaks Russian, takes the supporting role of Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin, the ballet master of the prestigious Vaganova Academy in Leningrad, where the 17-year-old Nureyev enrolled in 1955. The onscreen mentor-student relationship parallels the director-actor one off-screen, because with the dazzling Ukrainian Oleg Ivenko, a principal dancer of the Tatar State Academic Opera and Ballet, Fiennes has launched a star. There can never be another Nureyev, but Ivenko comes remarkably close in conveying the athleticism and grace of the firebrand who revolutionized ballet by appropriating the more dramatic flourishes previously associated with female dancers; Nureyev insisted on being much more than the ballerina’s staid prop, injecting his solos with bravura jetés and pirouettes, and enthralling audiences with his charisma and heat. It’s astonishing that this is Ivenko’s first movie role, because he projects Nureyev’s drive, seductiveness, intellectual curiosity, imperiousness, vulnerability, and mercurial temper with a naturalism that seems effortless. Enhanced by the deft cutting of film editor Barney Pilling, David Hare’s screenplay (inspired by Julie Kavanagh’s book, Rudolf Nureyev: The Life) continually flows back and forth across time periods, simulating the connective tissue of memory: the 1961 defection sequence in a Paris airport plays like a taut thriller, while the scene that follows, from the icon’s childhood, is achingly poignant, illustrating how a dancer’s tumultuous journey toward liberation began with a few baby steps. In English and subtitled Russian and French.