I saw this movie when it was released many years ago, own it on VHS, and bought the DVD. It is for great fans of dance who want as complete a collection of dance films as possible. To be very clear, the movie as a film is something of a clunker. Alan Bates is great as Diaghilev, but the rest of the acting leaves MUCH to be desired. The director, Herbert Ross, and his producer/wife Nora Kaye, were former dancers (she with NYCB and ABT, a muse for Antony Tudor) and they are true to their school, I guess, by casting ballet dancers in many roles, including non-dancing parts. Hence, some not-very-good acting.
Ross, as a dancer, certainly understands how to direct dance for film.
Ross had directed "Turning Point" and Leslie Browne, an unknown ballet dancer at the time, got an Oscar nomination for playing... an unknown ballet dancer. Here, in the crucial role of Nijinsky's opportunist wife, she is totally wooden, though well-intentioned. Having seen her onstage many times during her ballet career, I can say she was an amazing dancer, and the best ballet Juliet of her era, but just not much of a movie actress.
The movie was originally conceived for Nureyev and then for Baryshnikov, but both dancers aged out of the part before the movie became a reality. Sadly, George de la Peña is neither a great dancer nor a great actor. He looks good, but there seem to be a lot of tricks and editing employed to try to make him into the most famous male dancer in history. Ironically, with Leslie Browne and Carla Fracci in the cast but relegated to roles where they are only briefly seen dancing, two great dancers are left to try acting, while a so-so dancer must try to convince us that he has such astonishing technique that he revolutionized ballet in the west.
The villain of the piece, a baron who is also a flaming queen, is somewhat entertaining, but one-dimensional and stereotypical.
So, one worthwhile performance and a lot of others on either end of the too-much or too-little spectrum (but watch for a brief appearance by Jeremy Irons as Fokine).
Why, then, buy this DVD? For the visuals. First, the design of the non-theatrical scenes is beautiful (though when Leslie Browne/s dress is ripped off by de la Peña revealing that she is wearing no underwear in 1914, this is totally inaccurate).
The ballet scenes and the record of the brilliant and historically-significant scenery and costume designs are the main reason I own this video and the main reason a dance or design afficianado should add it to a collection. The choreography is in many cases "recreated" by Kenneth MacMillan (a brilliant artist), so you don't get a historically accurate record of the ballets, but, rather, an impression of history created by a later artist. But the designs are reproductions of the originals by Bakst and Benois. These designs are considered to have jumpstarted to Art Deco movement, and are ravishing.
They were apparently borrowed for the most part from ballet companies that began staging Ballets Russes pieces in the '70s (the good old days when there was money and interest in ballet, including past masterpieces). So they are researched and reproduced with care.
So, in summary, a sort of historical soap opera, with a wide range of quality in the acting, good directing of the dancing, though with the weakest dancer in the largest dancing role, and a valuable film record of historical design.