Rudolf Nureyev
'Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration.'
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rudi-margot
**An old article, just for fun.

By David Wigg
Daily Mail
26 Novemeber 2009

The setting was a discreetly fashionable London restaurant, the haunt of the great and the good, from international stars to royals, models and politicians.

I was sitting at my favourite table under the stairs waiting for my guest, when Lord Snowdon, who was also lunching there that day, asked who I was expecting. I told him that Dame Margot Fonteyn was on her way to meet me.

'Oh, do treat her with care,' he said, clearly impressed. 'She is a very special lady.'



Passion: The electricity between Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn was evident when they performed Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

A few minutes later she made her entrance. I would not have been surprised if she had demanded attention like a true prima ballerina - grand, haughty, serious, spoiled, and very self-important.

Instead, she slipped shyly into her seat without fanfare and over the next two hours I was enchanted by this petite dark-eyed beauty with a fine sense of the ridiculous, a zest for life, a talent for merciless mimicry, a good line in self-deprecation and a genuine interest in everyone and everything.

She loved to laugh almost as much as she loved dancing. And that lunchtime - the start of our great and enduring friendship - she confided to me over her veal cutlets and salad the truth on the subject about which everyone was gossiping: her relationship with Rudolf Nureyev.

A major ballet star in Russia at the age of only 22, in 1961 he had defected at Le Bourget airport in Paris and been given political asylum in the West.

He had turned up on the doorstep of Fonteyn, 20 years older and the star of the Royal Ballet, who had invited him to stay at her London home.

When they danced together, the electricity between them was palpable. 'It is the world's most exciting dance partnership', said the choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. 'They were made to work together'.

'But it almost didn't happen', giggled Fonteyn to me. 'Well, I thought, what am I doing at my age dancing with this boy? When it was first suggested I should dance with him at Covent Garden, I really didn't want to do it.

'But I came to realise that it's much better to dance with somebody who is very strong, in personality and presence on stage, because they lift the audience up.

'Rudolf would do a solo and there would be tremendous excitement. The audience would all be up on their feet. Then I would dance my solo and I would get much more applause simply because he had already warmed them up.

'I knew it was better to go where the excitement was. Without him, I might have just been in the dull performances. So I thought, better to go with it. With him there was always an excitement that I could never resist.'



Chemistry: Nureyev and Fonteyn share a joke during rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet in London in 1964

However, the decision to pair up with him was not an easy one, she admitted to me. She worried that it would be too much of a challenge. After all, at 42 she had been expected to retire from ballet.

'He was a very strong, fantastic dancer, but remember I was 20 years older. So I thought: "If I'm going to go out there and dance with this boy, I'm really going to have to make a colossal effort."

'That really, in a way, was the basis of our success together.'

With a petite, slim figure, she couldn't have contrasted more with Nureyev and his powerful neck, broad shoulders and muscular body. He mesmerised audiences by the way he could lift ballerinas into the air longer than anyone else and his lightning leaps across the stage.

She, meanwhile, danced Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and Romeo and Juliet, performing astonishing fouettes en tournant - spinning on one toe for longer than any other ballerina of her day.

So much for their working partnership, but, I asked her, what does Rudolf actually mean to you? She suddenly became coquettish and for a moment seemed like a lovestruck young girl. 'I admire him tremendously as a person. I think he has enormous courage.

'He's very direct and doesn't go in for falseness or hypocrisy. If I talk to him about anything, he says exactly what he feels. I have to be careful what questions I ask, in case I can't handle the very honest and direct response I will get.

'I think somebody who cuts himself off from their home, as he has, is very brave. I always feel he didn't really like the separation from his family, but it had to be done.

'He wanted to dance, and he knew he could only flower, develop, learn, and be appreciated, in the West.'

It was clear that Dame Margot was in thrall to her partner. Were they lovers? Who can say for sure - nothing she said to me made me think they were any more than two very highly charged and talented people making the most of their astonishing chemistry together.

It's something that is dwelt on at great length by a BBC4 drama next week, based on Meredith Daneman's biography of Fonteyn, with Anne-Marie Duff playing the title role and Dutch actor Michiel Huisman as Nureyev. One scene which may shock the many ballet devotees who revered her is where Dame Margot is shown in bed, making passionate love to Nureyev.

Nobody really knows what went on in their private life, but she was fully aware of Rudolf's obsession with sex; that he was gay with a penchant for good-looking, strong young males, and known to be promiscuous with difficulty in committing to anyone.

She herself had had a chequered history with men, losing her virginity at 16, seducing the dancer Michael Somes and embarking on a long affair with her svengali - composer Constant Lambert. She was 18 and the married Lambert 20 years her senior.

In Paris in 1948 she and young choreographer Roland Petit, four years her junior, had a brief affair, during which they swam naked across the Seine.

Petit introduced her to couturier Christian Dior, who would dress her for the rest of her life and persuaded her to have plastic surgery on her nose.

Petit said that despite the demure, regal image she displayed to the stagedoor fans, she was a woman who really needed to have sex. There followed a liaison with the bisexual dancer Robert Helpmann and another lover, the film director Charles Hasse, who described her as 'insatiable'.

But in her mid-30s Margot married the Panamanian diplomat Roberto de Arias, whom she called Tito, turning a blind eye to his constant infidelities.

Nureyev meanwhile, claimed to have slept with very few women, and said that he was 'bored and repelled' by sex with them. But he adored Fonteyn. 'Our relationship works very well,' he told me one night in his dressing room.



Passion: Choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton said the pair was 'made to work together'

'I know that she says she felt she had to make a big effort if she was going to dance with me, but that's how I felt about dancing with her, too.'

With his sensual good looks, Nureyev never had any trouble attracting partners. He once said, though, that he had only ever loved three people - two of them were men and the other was Fonteyn.

However, he made it clear to me, as Dame Margot did, that all the magic and fireworks between them were confined to the stage.

'Anything that goes against my work, anything that stops me on the way, they have to be bulldozed.

'Romance is nice. But my romance is my dance. It is everything to me; my past, present and future. It is like my religion.'

Nureyev was known not to suffer fools gladly and I had been warned he was a man of extreme moods. 'No, I only explode when it brings results,' he told me.

But he admitted he had little time for developing long-term and solid relationships. 'I think work creates a man. Everything else is secondary. My motto is: "Everything betrays you sooner or later - only your work betrays you last."'

His work ethic matched Fonteyn's. She finally retired at 60, after a 17-year dancing partnership with Nureyev. She devoted her time to caring for her husband Tito, who had been left a quadriplegic by a bullet in the spine after an assassination attempt in 1964.

On that night, Fonteyn had again been dancing with Nureyev. Although she was aware of her husband's unfaithfulness, and at the time was contemplating a divorce, she remained devoted to him and would arrive at smart parties, determinedly pushing him in his wheelchair.

She nursed him in between fulfilling arduous dancing engagements, bankrolling first his political ambitions and then paying his private medical bills, which almost financially broke her.

'It was a good thing that I had my career to keep me going,' she told me, 'because it took a certain amount of concentration, which is a help if you are in a crisis.'

She had no regrets about anything, she told me, not even that she had no children. 'It would not have been fair on them. What if I had a little girl and everybody said: "Are you going to be a dancer like your mummy?" That's terrible pressure.'

Tito died in 1989, after Dame Margot had spent all her savings on nursing care for him, and she died two years later, aged 71, having fought cancer for more than a decade.

Nureyev died of Aids in 1993. Certainly it would never have bothered Dame Margot that her Russian partner was gay - she enjoyed such company, particularly as she had grown up with so many homosexual male dancers.

Towards the end, he said of her: 'We danced with one body, one soul. Margot is all I ever had, only her.'

The Fonteyn that I knew would have agreed with that, but with her fine sense of humour she would have shrugged it away.

'Rudolf?' she said to me once. 'I was just his London nanny.'

17th-Mar-2015 05:10 am - Today is Rudi's birthday
Nureyev

Since you can never have too many pictures of Mr Nureyev, I will post this one I found at the Regent House Gallery.

Original early 1970s photograph of Rudolf Nureyev by London based American photographer Leslie E Spatt from the collection of Joan Hargreves ARCA, DA, NDD 1920-2006. Taken during the production of Jerome Robbin’s ‘Dancers at a Gathering’. (Right-click and view image for slightly larger size.)



22nd-Feb-2015 07:07 pm - Official Nureyev page on Facebook
Nureyev

At Facebook, the official Rudolf Nureyev page is here: https://facebook.com/Fondation.Rudolf.Nureyev. You can like the page and subscribe to its posts.

Once in awhile the page posts very nice photos of Rudi. Here is one from today. Right-click image to view larger size. :)



21st-Jan-2015 09:43 pm - Nureyev and Me
jump

Robert Tracy (52) former ballet dancer and prolific dance writer. Besides several books on dance, Tracy also wrote articles on dance, theater, music, art, and film for newspapers and magazines. He died of AIDS in New York City on June 7, 2007.

From 2003: As Rudolf Nureyev's lover and confidant for 14 years, Robert Tracy knows more about the dancer than anyone. For a decade he has kept silent, but now, for the first time, he tells John Ezard and Carolyn Soutar about dancing, sex and caviar with one of the 20th century's greatest artists

John Ezard and Carolyn Soutar
The Guardian
30 January 2003



Rudolf Nureyev in 1980

At the zenith of their love affair, Rudolf Nureyev used to compare him to a god. Robert Tracy has dark-brown curly hair and a sturdy chest. When he was 23, he reminded Nureyev of Mars, the young god of vigour and war, in a favourite baroque canvas by Carlo Saraceni. "He used to say I was like the lover in the painting, lying on a bed," Tracy says 24 years later, speaking of their relationship for the first time.

When the two of them were dancers Tracy had an aerial leap that led Nureyev to tell a friend, "I would like to hire a theatre just so as to have people watch Robert jump." Coming as it did from the supreme jumper in the history of ballet after Nijinsky this was a compliment.

Robert Tracy, 4 years before his death in 2007

Tracy was the most durable of Nureyev's live-in companions. They were together from 1979, with only a break of eight months, until shortly before the dancer's death in 1993. For the first two-and-a-half years they were lovers - a long time by the standards of Nureyev's highly promiscuous and professionally driven life.

Tracy is rare among the artist's close companions in speaking about their relationship. He heard Nureyev talk in private about his anxieties over his fading youthfulness, about the women he had slept with, about his longing to have fathered a son. Their bond did not, however, mean that Tracy could expect to command the kind of fidelity which the god Mars would have demanded from a lover. Neither did he want to. "Rudolph told me there were going to be lots of boys around. There were lots in my life too. I was wild. That was just the gay sensibility.

"He was content not to commit himself to one person. I was happy not to be committed too, it meant I was free. It was 1979, towards the end of the gay revolution. I never thought he would live exclusively with me. I had boyfriends - and girlfriends - too."

On January 6 1993, Nureyev died at the age of 53 from Aids, a diagnosis which was kept secret until the morning after his death. Tracy has never accepted this diagnosis. He believes his friend, like other gays, was the victim of poisoning by governments. In speaking of their relationship, and the other relationships in both their lives, he insists, "Sex is not on trial here."

Nureyev made no will. He left an estimated $33m (£20m) to a foundation named after him. Under an agreement with the foundation which recognised his entitlement to some security after the long relationship, Tracy received $600,000 (£364,000), paid in instalments. One condition was that he did not talk publicly about the relationship.

The agreement has lapsed, but Tracy has remained in seclusion in New York, teaching dance history as an associate professor at Fordham University and publishing well-reviewed books. Last month, days before the 10th anniversary of Nureyev's death, a researcher who had spent six years looking for Tracy - who had been carefully guarding his privacy - finally succeeded in tracking him down at home for an interview.

The researcher is Carolyn Soutar, who remembered both men from Nureyev's historic seasons at the London Coliseum in the 1980s. Tracy, already his companion, danced in some of the ballets staged there.

Soutar recalls that one of Nureyev's tricks to fire himself up was going on stage 15 minutes late, with audiences slow hand-clapping. Another was to be naked in his dressing room when Soutar went to call him. "He would ask, 'You want me to go on like this?'" she remembers. "It always put a sparkle in my eye."

After warming up in the wings of the stage, he would say, "Let's see if Old Galoshes can dance tonight."

The remark was light but rueful. Nureyev was then in his early 40s, an age at which most male dancers have long given up. He had a spur on his ankles, a bony growth veteran dancers get which makes it painful to land after a step. He had chronic back pain from decades of lifting ballerinas. All the star ballerinas were heavy, he complained.

In an interview during this period he explained he had given 250 performances that year. How many were good? he was asked. Nureyev answered, "I have done three good performances." Yet, with Margot Fonteyn's example and his own prodigiously consuming love of the art to sustain him, he was still struggling to produce Petipa's La Bayadere at the Paris Opera in the weeks before he died.

When he met Tracy he was 39 and already preoccupied by a sense of time passing. Tracy, who is now 48, says, "He was always talking about my youth. He felt his own youth was being taken away from him. At the age of 23 I didn't understand. I had no idea I was going to go through it myself."

Tracy, son of an English teacher, grew up in Massachusetts. He took a degree in Greek and Latin at a New York University, where he was encouraged to train as a dancer. He went to George Balanchine's School of American Ballet. There in 1979 he was one of a few students hand picked by Balanchine to perform in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a work the Russian-born choreographer created for Nureyev.

Nureyev and Tracy met on the way to rehearsal. Tracy, who knew Nureyev had recently visited Egypt, asked him about the country. Nureyev asked him where to buy batteries for his ghettoblaster. After the rehearsal and further chat, Nureyev asked him for tea at his New York hotel suite that afternoon. They ended up in bed.

Nureyev asked him to phone next day. Tracy thought he was joking. A day or so later at rehearsal, Nureyev asked why he had not phoned. Tracy looked at him in amazement. They went out together for three evenings, then Tracy moved in with him. Nureyev introduced him proudly to his circle. "This is my young friend, Robert Tracy."

Tracy says, "I always wondered why it was me. He had three million young men. He just liked me. It was my intelligence, and he liked my legs, and my jump. We were almost instantly physically attracted. It was a whirlwind. I was 23, wild and open to anything. I just let him call the shots. I always thought it wasn't going to last. There were always, always other guys around, younger, with better bodies."

Tracy says, "I just went with it, and the relationship lasted all that time. He gave me great trust and friendship. He did not take my youth. He shared it with me. He shared his wisdom, knowledge and experience. It was a master and apprentice role as well. One thing that attracted Rudolph to me was that I was not a stud. I was an academic."

Nureyev's friends were relieved to see him with a young man who was not a hustler or rough trade, someone who could converse over dinner. One friend called Tracy "very lucid, full of energy". But superstar life came as a culture shock to the younger man, used to living on a $200 (£120) a month student grant. At an early date in the cordon bleu Russian Tea Room on 57th Street, he ordered his student standby meal, a tuna sandwich. "How dare you be so American?" Nureyev said.

Tracy got to like caviar, and the lifestyle: the apartment above Lauren Bacall's in the Dakota building opposite Central Park, the house beside a nudist beach at St Barts in the Caribbean, the Virginia ranch house where a whole room was devoted to an organ so that Nureyev could play Bach.

Some of their happiest times were at the ranch house. Jackie Onassis would come to ride, friends and dinner would be flown in from New York. "That was life - helicopters, private jets."

But Tracy is conscious that he caught Nureyev in his physically declining years, on "the downside of the ecstasy" of a great artist's life. He realises too that he was one of a series of close acolytes which such artists seem to need. Balanchine was the same, he says, in relations with women. Each close relationship seemed to last about two-and-a-half years. "I think that kind of situation fuels an artist's creativity."

Nureyev hit him once in Caracas, in a row over a man. Next morning on a flight Tracy woke from a nap to find his friend patting his head, a memory which still moves him. But they had another row, drifted apart and split. Nureyev had been teaching him the virtuoso role of the Bluebird in Sleeping Beauty for the Vienna State Opera Ballet. One of the first parts Nureyev himself had danced after defecting to the west in 1961, it suited Tracy's prowess at jumps. But in leaving Nureyev he lost that chance. He felt an element of relief, however. "I did not want to be thought of as Rudolph's protege. There was no way I could live up to that. I knew my potential."

Eight months later they were brought back together by Nureyev's friend Violette Verdy, ex-prima ballerina of New York City Ballet. This was partly because Nureyev's circle was worried about the alternative company he might find. But they stopped having sex. "Rudolph used to say you become friends once you get sex out of the way," Tracy says.

He became Nureyev's social organiser and secretary as well as companion. "I never thought of myself as a great dancer," he says, "I would rather have organised Rudolph's dinner and document his work."

It was Tracy in whom Nureyev confided his longing to have a son with Nastassja Kinski, who acted with him in the flop 1980s US film Exposed. The two them might have managed it, Nureyev said, "but I could not get rid of [her minder] for long enough". In his craving for fatherhood, he told Tracy, "I would have had two children, but both the women had abortions."

Tracy also says, "Rudolph told me he had slept with three women." He will not discuss names, but speculation by others in the dancer's circle points to a ballerina. The dancer named in this speculation is not Margot Fonteyn, Nureyev's earliest and most illustrious western partner.

But it was Tracy with whom Nureyev discussed the surreal notion of comforting Fonteyn in her last illness by ferrying tapes of the 1950s US television sitcom I Love Lucy to Panama where she was dying of ovarian cancer. Re-runs of the show were one of the early bonds between Tracy and Nureyev. "It was sheer, glorious anarchic slapstick humour. Rudolph would watch it after breakfast if he was feeling really wiped out. We loved it. Sometimes it would be on three times in the morning.

"He said somebody told him laughter was the best cure for anything, including cancer." Fonteyn died in 1991.

Tracy last saw his friend in May 1992. During the terminal phase of Nureyev's illness - with his production of La Bayadere triumphantly on the Paris stage - he phoned the Hopital Notre Dame du Perpetual Secours but was refused admittance. Only Nureyev's close family was allowed at the bedside.

He understood this, but left Paris, sensing that "the death circus" - the media vigil at the hospital, world publicity over the death and the international VIP funeral - was already beginning.

Afterwards Tracy went into what he calls "a period of social hibernation" publishing seven books on dance in seven years. "Rudolph's legacy is to have brought dance to the people. Dancers at the moment, like Sylvie Guillem, and all the others, have been so greatly influenced by him, by his choreography. Yet I am concerned that, in interviews, apparently Rudolph seems not to exist. They talk about Baryshnikov, but not Nureyev.

"He did more to emancipate the role of the male dancer than anyone else. He took them away from being merely a chevalier . I try to write about Rudolph in each book and every article I do. He is in everything and is everywhere. He permeates my soul."

• Robert Tracy in 2003 was currently working on a study of the dancer, choreographer and director Alvin Ailey. Carolyn Soutar was writing a memoir about working with Nureyev.

• Image of Nureyev uploaded to Pinterest by Lisa O'Brien

sepia

Today would be Rudi's birthday.

Photo by David Bailey from the album of Nureyev photos collected by Svetlana Borey on Facebook and shared by the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Official Page on Facebook. There are many more beautiful photos in Svetlana's album. :)


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23rd-Feb-2013 09:21 am - No finer face
Nureyev

From the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Official Page at Facebook


young

First thoughts in Paris after the Kirov Company had left

Nureyev
By Patricia Boccadoro
CULTUREKIOSQUE

Noureev L'Insoumis
By Ariane Dollfus
Softcover: 531 pages
Flammarion, January 2007

PARIS, 17 MARCH 2008-There are far too many ill-informed and biased opinions concerning Rudolf Nureyev (17 March 1938 - 6 January 1993) around. Was he really an "incompetent choreographer" and as "disgusting" as certain biographers, official and otherwise, who never met him and who never saw any of his ballets on stage, have proclaimed? And was his personal life really as important as his contribution to dance? Books divulging secrets by people who seem to have known everything about him including various doctors, chauffeurs and disgruntled lovers as well as a selection of second-rate dancers and envious contemporaries who, frankly, can say what they like now there is no one around to contradict them, are beginning to have as much credibility as a game of Chinese whispers.

Ariane Dollfus is a young French journalist who, after 5 years of meticulous research, has just published her own book on the man who was her childhood hero. For her, there were no expensive pre-paid trips to Russia, no big-media publicity, no "exclusive" interviews with the so-called, "inner circle", and above all, no hounding down of all of Nureyev's would-be lovers. On this last topic, she is quite clear, "Between those he's supposed to have slept with and those who say he slept with them..." -- She gave an eloquent shrug of her shoulders. "I wasn't there", she added, "were you? Does anyone really know? Erik Bruhn was the man who counted and whose influence on his life was inestimable. My goal was not to write a "tell-all" story, but to demonstrate that the great love of Rudolf Nureyev's life was dance".

Dollfus first saw Rudolf Nureyev dance in 1978. He was 40 years old, an age when most male dancers are hanging up their ballet shoes, but she was marked for life by the beauty of what she saw, Nureyev's own version of Romeo and Juliet at the Palais des Sports with the London Festival Ballet.

"I had been given the beautiful book, The Nureyev Image by Alexander Bland for my 10th birthday 2 years before, and I knew every photograph by heart. Like many small girls, I wanted to be a ballerina, but by the age of 18 I recognized my limitations and turned to journalism instead. If I couldn't dance for my living, then I would communicate my love of this sublime art by writing about it."

It so happened that when she arrived at France-Soir in the December of 1988, the Parisian newspaper where she remained as dance critic for the next eight years, one of her first assignments was to interview the legendary Russian on a movie set in Brie-sur-Marne, on the outskirts of Paris. He was filming his version of The Nutcracker with the Paris Opéra Ballet.

"I was shivering in my shoes, I was so nervous", she recalled. "I had been told he was going to nominate Elisabeth Maurin Étoile, and also that he was extremely difficult, so when I saw him coming with a face like thunder, his boots click-clacking down the corridor, I nearly turned tail and fled. I'm only small and looked much younger than my 22 years, and I was sure he was going to tell me where to get off, but he gave me an enchanting grin and was absolutely charming."

"I must have met him a dozen or so times after that and on each occasion he was highly professional. I knew then that I would write his biography, for he was far more than just an exceptional dancer or international star. He was an idol, an icon if you like, someone with a destiny who reflected the times in which he lived, from Stalinism, the Cold War crisis, sexual liberation and the era of Aids, and as such, a fascinating subject."

Ariane Dollfus told me that she began her research on Nureyev 8 years after he died. "It seemed the right time to begin", she explained. "People were ready to talk about him on a less emotional level, and I contacted over 100 witnesses, including several of his closest friends as well as people who had eyed him with suspicion and dislike, and all in all I think I was able to get a fairly complete picture".

One of the highlights of her book comes in her excellent account of his defection at the airport of Le Bourget, just outside Paris, where Nureyev was denied access to the plane leaving for London with the rest of the Russian dancers. Accurate eye-witness accounts have been given by the people who were there at the time, in particular by Pierre Lacotte, a French dancer who had befriended him, Clara Saint, the girl with whom he had visited Paris that night, and Janine Ringuet, the young woman who had seen him dance in Leningrad in 1960 and proclaimed him the greatest dancer in the world. All three are native French speakers and not a word they said has been misinterpreted. No, there were no political reasons for asking for asylum.

The myth of the "incompetent choreographer" has also been firmly dealt with. "Rudolf Nureyev", Dollfus said, "never intended to create a style; he had a duty to fulfill: to bring the work of the French choreographer, Marius Petipa to the West. He certainly didn't have the pretension to be a creative choreographer."

"His aim was to transmit the great traditional ballets. All of his productions are exceptional. Of course there are those who say there are too many steps in his re-staging just as one can lament there are too many notes in Mozart's music, but the ballets staged at the Paris Opéra Ballet reflect his own existence, excessive and bursting with life. All his re-readings of Petipa are psychologically fascinating, particularly Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker, while his versions of Don Quixotte and Romeo and Juliet are outstanding.

"He used to say that Petipa's ballets were like precious gems which needed to be put in their proper setting. It is also important to stress that while he was the director of the Paris Company for only six years, those years are amongst the most important in its history. Before his arrival, generally speaking, the dancers there were not too good, the level wasn't high and a succession of directors had been inefficient."

Indeed, Ariane Dollfus has put together a very fair picture of life at the Paris Opéra during the time Nureyev was there. Of course, the biographer informs us, there were conflicts because Rudolf was aiming high. He "shook them all up", she writes, "and in doing so, naturally, some of them made a fuss. He made Guillem, Guérin, Maurin, Hilaire and Legris into the great artists that they might never have been without him, by working with them in a completely different way."

The two chapters on this period rely less on hearsay or published interviews than direct contact with many of the dancers and choreographers Nureyev was working with at the time, from Michael Denard and Jean Guizerix, both nearing retirement age, to Charles Jude, the young dancer closest to his heart. First hand reports of events have been given from people such as Marie-Suzanne Soubié, Nureyev's assistant whom he adored, as well as comments from Brigitte Lefévre, the current director, who speaks of the heritage left by the great Russian dancer.

Strangely enough, the only witnesses missing from this lucid account come from among Nureyev's intimate circle and include Maude Gosling, Wallace Potts and Douce Francois, who were asked to sign a paper forbidding them to share their memories with anyone except an official biographer. Ironically, as a mere reader, I cannot help wondering in which biography they would have found the man they knew so well; the supposedly "official" one or this. Sadly, none of them are here to say. Moreover, it seems amazing that Mikhail Baryshnikov, with the stature he enjoys, should have refused to see Dollfus, replying that he needed permission from the Foundation before doing so, an "authorization" which was not forthcoming.

Here is a scholarly, objective book, written without the support of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation in Europe and the U.S., which nevertheless gets reasonably close to its legendary subject. Anyone who knew him can get a glimpse of the man they knew in this biography which does not hesitate to recount prurient details of his private life and illness, details which, however, in no way dominate the text.

Moreover, Dollfus admitted that she admired Rudolf Nureyev too much to let herself sink into writing a hagiography and so did not let him get away with anything, rather the reverse. She hoped that she had produced a work in which readers could get a glimpse of this extraordinary being.

Mission accomplished.

18th-Jun-2011 04:17 pm - Nureyev in love
young
The biographer of the world’s greatest dancer reveals that beautiful women – not men – were his first passion

Julie Kavanagh
Times
9 September 2007



As alluring as a young Gina Lollobrigida, Menia Martinez suddenly appeared at the Vaganova ballet school in Leningrad one day in 1955 like a rainbow in a leaden sky.

It was the middle of winter, yet she wore the thinnest of summer clothes – wild Fifties outfits such as zebra-patterned stovepipes, boat-necked tops, open-toed stilettos and huge hoop earrings. The girls in her dormitory begged her to do their makeup, tell them stories about life in Cuba and sing Latin American songs in her husky voice.

“She used to sit on a bench in our kitchen with an upended washbowl between her legs and beat it like a tomtom drum,” said Ursula Collein, an East German student who became her friend.

Like almost everyone at the school, Rudolf Nureyev was mes-merised by the Cuban girl, who was to become his first and only teenage sweetheart.

Rudik, as he called himself, was a 17-year-old from Bashkiria in the Soviet far east – as exotic as a Latin American to the Russians at the ballet school. He was noted for his wild performances on stage and his rebellious and sometimes coarse behav-iour off it. But mostly he was known for the obsessive desire to dance that had brought him, penniless, to Leningrad and had won him a place at the Vaganova academy, the training school for the Kirov Ballet.

Leo Ahonen, one of four students who shared a room with him, remembered: “When we played, he worked. The only important thing to him was to study classical ballet.”

Several students experimented with same-gender sex – nearby Eka-terina Square was a nocturnal, and highly illegal, cruising ground for gomiki – but Nureyev’s colleagues are convinced that if he felt an attraction towards any of the boys he did nothing about it. As with many of his boyhood friends, they were surprised when he later became actively homosexual.

If anything, he appeared to take a greater interest in girls than the others did. Ahonen remembers his liking for a soloist in the Finnish National Ballet, when it toured Leningrad. “She wasn’t special as a dancer, so he obviously noticed a pretty face.”

And like almost everyone at school, he was captivated by Menia Martinez. This “exotic bird” thrilled her fellow pupils but shocked some of her teachers.

“Such a thing was not supposed to enter this traditional institution,” said Collein. “I hope Menia never knew this, but we heard her being compared to a prostitute. We all liked her enormously, even though she didn’t share our hardworking Prussian ways – if she didn’t feel like it some days, she just wouldn’t get up – but she was such a winning personality that no one could be critical of her for long.”

No one except Valentin Shelkov, the college principal. Glaring at her long, heavily mascaraed eyelashes, he asked sarcastically if they were her own. Menia laughed coquettishly: “Nyet. Magazin.” [No. A shop.]

Soon after her arrival, her teacher told her about “a fantastic dancer who’s a little crazy and sloppy and needs to get into shape”. It was Nureyev. Menia loved the wild spirit of his dancing while he loved her moody recitals of Afro-Cuban song and dance.

How luscious she looked with her bare feet, flounced skirt and white bra showing through a tight, transparent black top; her eyes half closed and shapely hips swaying to the rhythm; and how well she could hold the stage alone.

“He once said to me afterwards, ‘I want to have the same emotion when I dance as you have when you sing’.”

Dismissing him as “just another stupid boy”, Menia was not romantically drawn to him at first; but two years later they began to grow attached. The same things made them laugh – Rudolf often made fun of Shelkov, standing stiffly in a Stalin-like pose and pointing to an offensive scrap of litter in the corridor – and they loved listening to music and talking about books they had read.

The friendship with Menia fanned his curiosity about the world outside. He would study photographs of Margot Fonteyn and other Royal Ballet artists in a calendar, as well as in copies of Dancing Times, which an English friend of Menia’s regularly sent to her.

His roommate Leo Ahonen, a Finn, had two passports, as the original was due to expire; Nureyev pleaded to be given the old passport. “He said, ‘We can change the pictures. It will be all right if the two of us keep this quiet’, but I was too afraid – I thought we would both end up in prison in Siberia. Yet I knew at that moment that he was going to defect one day. It came as no surprise to me when he did.”

At the ballet school, he began an intense collaboration with Alexander Pushkin, the most revered teacher. The results amazed those who saw him.

Natalia Dudinskaya, the Kirov’s prima ballerina – a national treasure in the final stage of her career – had been keeping an eye on him ever since Pushkin had called her into the studio to watch him perform. “I’d been surprised by how that boy, not even in the graduate class, could sense and feel the poses.”

On graduating, he was offered a post by the Kirov as a corps de ballet member – much to his dismay, as he had been bragging to classmates that he would start his career as a soloist, which was unheard of.

Dudinskaya found him moping in the corridor and the upshot was that he would partner her on stage – though each later claimed that the other had done the asking. For the Kirov’s 46-year-old prima ballerina to pick as her new partner a boy of 21 straight out of school was as much of an event as when Mathilda Kschessinskaya – star of the Imperial Ballet and one-time mistress of Tsar Nicholas – chose the 21-year-old Nijinsky to dance with her.

His first performance with her was thrilling – like “an eruption of Vesuvius”, said one critic – though some purists complained that his boiling bravura “disturbed the subtle choreography” of the ballet, Laurentia.

Offstage, his life was just as exhilarating. His relationship with Menia had developed into a romance. “It was the first experience for both of them to be in love,” said Liuba Romankova, a close friend. “Although Rudolf was always a little self-mocking – he was very proud and didn’t like to be seen to be sentimental – he was obviously very pleased that such a fabulous, sexy girl would give him her love.”

Just before Nureyev was due to partner Dudinskaya in Laurentia for the second time, he tore a ligament in his leg so badly that he was declared unfit to dance for two years. When Pushkin saw his pupil lying on his hospital bed in black despair, he invited Nureyev to move in with him and his wife.

Nureyev’s sudden success had brought home to the dance world how great a teacher Pushkin was, and the two had grown closer than ever. Now, from the moment he was taken into Pushkin’s home, he became more of a son than a pupil.

“There, thanks to Pushkin’s and his wife’s vigilant care, and the doctor’s daily visits, after 20 days I was able to go to class,” he remembered. There was more to his welcome than “vigilant care”, however.

Pushkin’s wife, Xenia Jurgenson, 42, was a tall, attractive Baltic blonde. She looked half the age of her husband (he was 10 years older) and was as earthy and extro-verted as he was spiritual and mild. One day, soon after Nureyev had moved in with them, all three went to Liuba Romankova’s apartment for dinner.

As the meal was coming to an end, Xenia, who was sitting beside Nureyev, reached across the table for a banana, which she slowly and suggestively began to peel. Just as she was about to put it in her mouth, she whispered something laughingly to Nureyev who, clearly embarrassed, snapped back one word in reply. “Doura!” [fool] Liuba’s mother, who heard what he had said, was shocked. When she and Liuba were alone together later, she said: “I do believe that Xenia is having an intimate relationship with Rudik.”

“Mama!” protested Liuba. “How could you think such a thing?”

In her eyes Xenia was an old woman. But over the next few weeks, as she observed them together, she began to realise that her mother must be right.

XENIA was more than ready for a romantic escapade. She had fallen in love with Pushkin when she was a ballet student and he was her teacher. As soon as she graduated, they married.

It was 1937. As the daughter of a St Petersburg couturier, Xenia was fashion conscious: she might wear jaunty white ankle socks with character shoes, a bow tied round her head, or jewellery with her two-piece swimsuit, the white beads of her necklace highlighting her dazzling smile, her wavy blonde hair falling in a Rita Hayworth mane. Her vivacity and sense of fun affected everyone around her.

Two decades later, although no longer the beauty Pushkin had married, she had a good figure and liked to make an impact, continuing to dress modishly. Theirs was a good marriage, but after 20 years of conversations that invariably reverted to dance, Xenia “wanted to hear something else”, according to a friend.

In 1959 she reached retirement age at the Kirov, where she had been a mid-ranking dancer, and this affected her bitterly. She felt lethargic and isolated. All Pushkin’s emotion was invested in his pupils, and when he returned home late at night he was always tired.

Then Nureyev arrived, and Xenia became fixated in a way she had never been before. “She fell totally in love with Rudik and wanted to fill her soul with this feeling,” Liuba said. “He was such an excitement in her life. After that, she had no other interests: Rudolf became her project.”

Xenia guided his reading, took him to the theatre and concerts and introduced him to her friends. Every meal at the Pushkins’ was a lesson in the finer points of etiquette: even when Xenia served just a snack, there would be a white linen cloth, candles, bone china and crystal glasses on the table.

To Rudolf, the strong-willed, sophisticated Xenia with her dancer’s body and flirtatious ways was an irresistible force. However much he recoiled from the implications of what was taking place – the betrayal of a man he loved who had invited him into his home – he found himself in her thrall: she was a woman of “enormous sexual appetite and great sensuality”, he a 21-year-old virgin who “wanted to know”.

He later told Menia that the first time Xenia made love to him she said: “I want you to know about this part of life . . . And also, I want you to feel like a man.”

Menia recalled: “She told Rudolf that Alexander Ivanovich no longer made love to her. And he was afraid, because he knew that she wanted him, and he had so much respect for Pushkin.”

A close friend believes the teacher had no idea of his wife’s transgression. “He loved Rudik as a son and he thought that Xenia Josifovna shared his attitude.”

Xenia was “very against” Menia, according to Liuba, and became “like a lioness” if she found out he had been with the beautiful young Cuban. The two women had virtually no contact with each other. It was impossible for the 20-year-old student to consider a woman twice her age (and one she saw as “large and looking like a man”) as a rival. “When Rudik told me he had been to bed with her, I thought: What! With that monster!” she recalled.

With Menia herself, Rudolf was so affectionately tactile that friends presumed incorrectly theirs was a physical relationship, too. When a friend asked Menia, she told her: “No, it’s not what I want, but I love him.”

Even when the opportunity was there, Rudolf did not attempt to take things further, telling Menia – “the only virgin in Leningrad” – that he respected her for holding back. “It’s good, Menia. Good not to.” Once, staying overnight with friends, they were given a single bed together. “They thought our situation was the same as theirs and put us in a room with a single bed. We couldn’t stop giggling because we were so squashed and had to hold each other so as not to fall out, and then we were giggling even more, thinking that they were thinking we were making love.” BY the early spring of 1959, the time had come for Menia to return to Cuba. On the day she was due to leave, Nureyev was not among the group of friends at the station who gathered to see her off. She boarded the Red Star to Moscow feeling badly let down. The train had barely pulled out of the station, however, when the door to her compartment slid open and a beaming Nureyev announced: “I’m coming with you!”

Throughout the journey they talked “about how we were going to stay in contact, how we could be together. Rudolf was very emotional – it wasn’t like before”.

Until then, in Liuba’s opinion, it had always been Menia who was the more committed of the two. “She couldn’t take her eyes off him. She was totally in love and dreamt that he would marry her. I had a lot of sympathy for Menia and tried to push Rudolf into proposing to her. ‘Oh, I know,’ he said, when I told him he should make a commitment to her, ‘but it would spoil my biography’.”

Now, realising that he was about to lose Menia, Nureyev began talking seriously about their future. In the middle of the night, stirred by the romantic atmosphere and rhythm of the train, he came down into her bunk and began to make love to her. “But at that moment I had no desire for him. I was stupid . . . A little girl.”

They spent their second night together in Moscow in a communal apartment near the Kremlin owned by Menia’s friend Bella Kurgina. Menia confided that he had proposed to her, adding excitedly: “If we’re together we can conquer the whole world!”

Bella, who had never warmed to Nureyev – “I found him very closed and uninteresting” – was concerned. “I felt he was using her as a way to get out of Russia without a scandal, and yet I could see it was complicated – that he was genuinely attracted to her, and there was great sympathy and feeling there.”

That night Menia slept on a camp bed with Nureyev beside her on the floor. “Most of the night he was kneeling, kissing her hand and being so loving. From the way he behaved with Menia I could never have imagined that he would turn out to be homosexual,” said Bella.

The following morning he insisted on going to the airport to see Menia off and paid for the excess weight of her luggage, which was crammed with books and records. When her flight was called, he had tears in his eyes and would not let her go. “He thought he would never see me again.” He was wrong. BACK in Leningrad, Xenia could feel her influence on Nureyev ebbing away. “She got very jealous when she felt anyone coming too close to him; she thought he belonged to her,” said Slava Santto, another friend.

“The situation with Xenia was very uncomfortable for Rudik,” remarked Liuba. “He couldn’t push her away because she loved him and did everything for him.”

He could be cruel to her, however. When he managed to get hold of a copy of a Russian magazine containing JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye he was captivated and had just finished reading it when Tamara Zakrzhevskaya, another pretty ballet-loving girl he had made friends with, called at the Pushkins’ apartment to see him.

Pointing at the magazine, he exclaimed: “You won’t be able to put this down!” Xenia overheard him, and said that she would love to read it, too. His reaction left both women speechless: “What do you need it for . . . Tamara can have 30 new thoughts in the time it takes you to come up with one!”

Xenia was visibly shattered, but she was unable to break free. “She was completely obsessed by him,” remarked one friend. “She wanted to live his life, and she enjoyed sharing his fame.”

“For the rest of her life there was only one person for her,” said another. “I think she made up some kind of fairytale for herself in her mind, building up the situation into romantic love.”

Years later Nureyev confided to friends that while he was living with the Pushkins he had made Xenia pregnant – fathering a son was a lifelong ambition – “but she didn’t want to let the baby live”. Again, in 1992, only months before he died, he asked a former Vaganova schoolmate: “What would you say if I told you I might have had a child by her?”

For Xenia to have undergone an illegal abortion would seem to have been the ultimate degradation, but in fact the procedure at that time was fairly matter-of-fact. “Everybody did it,” said one friend of Nureyev. “I did it six times. It was only a question of paying.”

Ultimately, Xenia became less possessive. Resigned to the fact that Nureyev would never reciprocate the passion she felt for him, she was more able to accept her role of taking care of him.

Liuba sees a parallel between Nureyev and the poet Alexander Blok, whose first sexual experience was at 16 with a woman twice his age. Blok developed a dualistic view of women as being either prostitutes or saints, and Liuba believes that Nureyev “also suffered from this double life. If a very young man has a relationship with an older woman, after the initial passion is over he begins to have other feelings. Rudik associated sex with shame, and women with the dark side of his nature: it’s the reason he began to look for pleasure in other places”. HE did not forget Menia, however. On an official visit to Vienna with other dancers for the Seventh Communist World Youth Festival in the summer of 1959, he spotted her in the Cuban delegation.

“He was so happy to see me. He came to our hotel, to our classes, and spent so much time with me that my friends were saying, ‘Menia, this must be love’.” she remembers.

Rudolf talked so openly about freedom that she feared for him. Although he insisted years later that defection was not on his mind at the time – “Not then” – the urgency with which he kept proposing to Menia in Vienna suggests that he was at least keeping the option open.

“He was much more insistent, saying, ‘We have to do it here.’ But Rudik at that moment was not very important for me.”

With her emotions now invested in the political upheavals of Castro’s new Cuba, Menia was no longer the doting young girl whom Rudolf had known in Leningrad; he found her “cold” and told her: “Now I think I love you more than you do me.”

Two years later Nureyev did defect to the West; and in 1966 – by then the most famous ballet dancer in the world – he learnt that the National Ballet of Cuba was due to appear at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. He went to Paris from his home in London, hoping Menia would be with them.

At the general rehearsal, trying not to be recognised, he spotted Menia onstage and sent a note to her: “When you’ve finished, go to the Hôtel des Ambassadeurs. I’ll be waiting for you.”

Alicia Alonso, co-founder and director of the ballet, forbade Menia to leave. She was backed by her husband Fernando, who had trained Menia as a young ballet student. They told her she was a representative of her country. Nureyev had betrayed the motherland; he was known to be a friend of Jacqueline Kennedy.

Menia refused to be deterred. “I don’t care,” she told the couple.

“Even if you fire me, I’m going. He was my best friend.”

The impasse was finally broken by a colleague who volunteered to chaperone her. It was a short walk from the theatre to the hotel, where Rudolf was standing outside. Seeing Menia’s male companion, he raised an ironic eyebrow. “Cuban KGB?”

“No,” she said firmly. “This is my friend.”

Her colleague left them, and they fell into each other’s arms. They were still “grasping each other” when a dance critic, Claude Baignères, passed by: “I saw Rudolf take the girl to the hotel. They looked as if they were going to stay there for three days without leaving!”

In fact they left soon afterwards to go for dinner, and noticed they were being followed by a photographer.

“No pictures! No pictures!” snarled Nureyev, throwing his jacket over Menia’s head and saying to her softly: “I don’t want them to hurt you.”

Under her coat she was still wearing her rehearsal clothes, but despite her protests Nureyev insisted on taking her to Maxim’s. It was important to him that she be made aware of his enormous change in stature.

He introduced her to Brigitte Bar-dot, and later they went on to Régine’s nightclub. Nureyev began to explain almost immediately why he had stayed in the West. He also told her how much he had learnt from Margot Fonteyn – “she was like a mother to him, he said” – and what a great revelation it had been to work with Erik Bruhn, the Danish dancer, with whom he had had a long affair.

Nureyev told her it had been so hard being constantly apart because of their different dancing commitments that Bruhn had finally decided to end things. “It’s finished,” he said, breaking down. “He’s the love of my life, but it’s finished . . . now I am alone.”

Menia recalled: “At that moment I could have gone to bed with him. It was so wonderful to see him again. He told me that there was something about me that he’d never found in anybody else, and he started to cry again, saying, ‘I love you . . . Please, Menia, stay with me. I want you to stay with me.’ I realised then why the Alonsos hadn’t wanted me to go.”

Rudolf was flying to Vienna first thing in the morning and he was insistent that Menia should accompany him: Vienna was where he had proposed to her all those years earlier.

“But why now?” she wanted to know. “I always thought you asked me only to leave Russia.”

“Well, I’m on the other side and I’m still asking,” he replied quietly.

Her first thought was that she could not let her ballet company down, but longer-term considerations made the idea of elopement seem even more “impossible”. She planned, as soon as she could, to return to Russia to dance with the Kirov or the Bolshoi.

Nureyev, more than anyone, could understand her obsession with “only dance, dance, dance”, and consequently kept contradicting himself. “He was saying, ‘Come . . . please come!’ And then, ‘No, I can see that you can’t’.”

Finally the answer Menia gave him was just as equivocal. “I told him not yes, not no, but potemu sto [because].”

It was after five in the morning by the time they left Régine’s and Nureyev dropped Menia back at her hotel. As she lay in bed, her thoughts still racing, she felt very sad, wondering if she had made a mistake. But instead of being impressed by his enormous celebrity it had made her “a little afraid”, and she knew without any hesitation that she did not want to spend the rest of her life just following him around.

“A few days later, I think it’s good that I say potemu sto.”

Extracted from Rudolf Nureyev: The Life, by Julie Kavanagh
© Julie Kavanagh 2007
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