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Rudolf Nureyev: Genius beyond Borders

Wednesday, 02 June 2010

rudolf nureyevThey say that talented people belong to the whole world. However, there are countries that hold the credit for giving the genius to the world and have therefore more claims to his fame. Does Pushkin belong to the world? Yes, but first and foremost he is a Russian poet. Is Leonardo da Vinci one of the world's greatest painters? No doubt about that, but Italy has more reasons to claim his as its own. Are Shakespeare's works a global legacy? Of course, but the British have every reason to call the Bard «our Shakespeare». However, brilliant ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev spent his whole life in quest of ultimate freedom and independence, trying to break free from any ties and bonds, and succeeded - today Nureyev is seen as a genius beyond nationalities and borders.

Nonetheless, Rudolf Nureyev was born in Russia, on a Trans-Siberian train near Irkutsk, Siberia, while his mother Farida was travelling to Vladivostok, where his father Hamat, a Red Army political commissar, was stationed. It happened on March 17, 1938. From Siberia Nureyev's family soon moved to Moscow, but with the onset of World War II the Nureyevs evacuated to the city of Ufa, where Rudolf Nureyev was raised.

Independent and willful, Rudolph was difficult to deal with from his early years: he would fight with his father, defending his right to independence, and had no friends in his class due to frequent fits of rage on his part provoked by his mates' incessant teasing and bulling. Nureyev's academic progress was poor and getting worse each year, but the boy hardly cared as he was fully engaged in something else - when his mother smuggled him and his sisters into a performance of the ballet «Song of the Cranes», he fell in love with dance. As a child he was encouraged to dance in Bashkir folk performances and his precocity was soon noticed by teachers who encouraged him to train in Leningrad.

On a tour stop in Moscow with a local ballet company, Nureyev auditioned for the Bolshoi ballet company and was accepted. However, he felt that the Kirov Ballet School was the best, so he left the local touring company and bought a ticket to Leningrad. It was not until 1955 when he was accepted by the Leningrad Choreographic School, the associate school of the Kirov Ballet. He was 17 at the time. In his three years with the Kirov, he danced fifteen roles, including full length roles in Don Quixote, Gayane, Giselle, La Bayadere, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty. He became one of the Soviet Union's best-known dancers and was allowed to travel outside the Soviet Union, when he danced in Vienna at the International Youth Festival.

His offstage reputation was equally sensational, bringing him constant trouble with both the Kirov management and the Russian political authorities. In the Kirov's first-ever appearance in Paris in 1961 Nureyev was an outstanding success, yet his defiance of company regulations provoked a command return to Moscow. On June 17, 1961, Nureyev «dashed to freedom» and cut his ties with the Soviet Union, seeking political asylum at Le Bourget Airport in Paris.

It's still unclear whether this escape was pre-planned or was an impulsive move o a desperate man who tasted freedom. According to some sources, Nureyev's defection was triggered by the actions of KGB: having obtained information about homosexual liaisons of the dancer in the Paris artistic milieu (Nureyev ceased to conceal his orientation as soon as his crossed the border though never advertised his sexual preferences), the KGB officials decided to send Nureyev back to Moscow immediately. Nureyev, who didn't want this to happen, chose to remain in France. It is interesting that Nureyev was never critical of the socio-political system of the Soviet Union.

Within five days after his defection, Nureyev embarked on a six-month season with the international Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas, dancing the Prince and the Blue Bird in The Sleeping Beauty. As partner to Rosella Hightower, he made his London debut in October 1961 at the Royal Academy of Dancing, where he met the ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who subsequently became his principal partner for many years. Together Nureyev and Fonteyn premiered Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet Marguerite and Armand, a ballet danced to Liszt's B minor piano sonata, which became their signature piece. They always completely sold out the house. Films exist of their partnership in Les Sylphides, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and other roles.

Nureyev became a regular guest artist with the Royal Ballet from 1962 to the mid-1970s, in addition to performing with Ruth Page's Chicago Opera Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and on U.S. and French television. In 1962, Nureyev made his screen debut in a film version of Les Sylphides. In 1977 he played Rudolph Valentino in Ken Russell's Valentino, but he decided against an acting career in order to branch into modern dance with the Dutch National Ballet in 1968. During the 1970s, Nureyev appeared in several films and toured through the United States in a revival of the Broadway musical The King and I.

With an inexhaustible stamina, Nureyev continued to perform at a non-stop pace, acquiring over 90 roles and appearances with over 30 major ballet and modern dance companies. Nureyev's own first production was the last act of La Bayadere for the Royal Ballet in November 1963, and his first reconstruction the 19th-century three-act classic Raymonda for the Royal Ballet in June 1964. Self-reliance and a compulsive drive directed his energy into a performing schedule around the world that only Anna Pavlova could equal. His guest performances were slightly curtailed with his assumption of a three-year directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983. He is credited with bringing new life to the Opera Ballet, restoring it to a position as one of the world's great companies and nurturing a whole generation of wonderful stars. A mercurial character, shrewd, cunning, charming, and passionate, Nureyev demonstrated a commitment and a savage power equaled by no other dancer in his day.

He socialized with Freddie Mercury, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Talitha Pol, but developed intolerance for celebrities. When AIDS appeared in France around 1982, Nureyev took little notice. For several years he simply denied that anything was wrong with his health. When, about 1990, he became undeniably ill, he is said to have attributed the symptoms to other ailments. He tried several experimental treatments but they did not stop his deteriorating health.

In March 1992, Rudolf Nureyev, living with advanced AIDS, visited Kazan and appeared as a conductor in front of the audience at Musa Calil Tatar Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Kazan, who now presents the Rudolf Nureyev Festival in Tatarstan.

At his last appearance, a 1992 production of La Bayadere at the Palais Garnier, Nureyev received a standing ovation. He died in Paris a few months later, aged 54. His grave at a Russian cemetery in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois near Paris, features a tomb draped in a mosaic of an oriental carpet as Nureyev was an avid collector of beautiful carpets and antique textiles.

Nureyev's influence on the world of ballet changed the perception of male dancers; in his own productions of the classics the male roles received much more choreography. Another important influence was his crossing the borders between classical ballet and modern dance by performing both. Today it is normal for dancers to receive training in both styles, but Nureyev was the originator, and the practice was much criticized in his day.

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