Rudolf Nureyev
'Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration'
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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

From the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Official Page at Facebook


First thoughts in Paris after the Kirov Company had left

By Patricia Boccadoro

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
The biographer of the world’s greatest dancer reveals that beautiful women – not men – were his first passion

Julie Kavanagh
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
14th-Feb-2011 07:27 pm - Nureyev: The last 10 years
A...BBC documentary seeks to suggest that Rudolf Nureyev's last decade was lived and danced beneath the shadow of impending death. John Percival, the star's friend and biographer, begs to disagree

John Percival
Saturday, 11 January 1997

**This is an old article, but I had not seen it before. I like it very much.

Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev on his arrival in Moscow 14 November 1987 (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

De mortuis - well, it used to be nothing but good that should be spoken of the dead, but now the idea seems to be that dishing the dirt is what matters. This is not just a question of the way newspaper obituaries have become more frank and honest over recent years - that is cause for gratitude - but elsewhere the trend has gone too far. And I am not the only person who will be hopping mad about the Omnibus programme marking the fourth anniversary of Rudolf Nureyev's death...

What an opportunity lost! Granted, this programme does not parade supposed facts which are simply untrue; in that respect, it is unlike two biographies of Nureyev (one English, one American) that were rushed out once he could no longer sue. But the documentary, covering the last 10 years of his life, is both incomplete and heavily slanted, its bias indicated by the title: "Dancing through Darkness".

At least two of Nureyev's closest friends, the American Wallace Potts and the French Douce Francois, withdrew their co-operation from the programme- makers during filming because, Potts told me, "their approach was misleading - they had said it was about his professional life, but it became clear that they wanted to concentrate on his illness." Other witnesses who did take part, such as Nureyev's colleague Patricia Ruanne, can be seen on camera gritting their teeth against questions they find inappropriate. And some dancers are shown only in brief snippets although they actually recorded far more; did their comments not fit the chosen line?

People with much less knowledge of Nureyev, however, are allowed to pontificate about his thoughts and motives. Among these I am inclined to place the American agent, Andrew Grossman, who took over from Nureyev's long-term adviser, Sandor Gorlinsky. Grossman reveals a somewhat shaky grasp of what Nureyev actually achieved during his time in Paris, and his surprise at his client's reluctance to sign a contract for The King and I is revealing. Maybe he did not realise that what Nureyev really wanted at that point was a renewal of his Paris contract on acceptable terms.

"He made a million dollars" from The King and I, Grossman claims. Nureyev liked to make money, but after 1975 it all went to the Foundation he had set up. Some was invested in the paintings and antique furniture that filled his various homes, but when his dearest friend Maude Gosling expressed worries about his extravagance, he begged her "Don't stop me, because I love to have them around me. When I'm gone, they can all be sold." The proceeds, after providing for his relatives, were to benefit dance, and especially young dancers; and indeed several scholarships have already been awarded.

The starting (and finishing) point of the BBC programme is Nureyev's last big production: an opulent version of the classic La Bayadere, premiered at the Paris Opera on 8 October 1992. Nureyev had not long recovered from painful kidney stones, then struggled against a heavy respiratory infection to stage the three-act work in just three weeks. The film shows him taking a rehearsal, hardly able to talk but his eyes not missing a point, conveying his corrections by gestures and through an assistant.

No wonder that, by opening night, he was worn out and had to watch the performance from a couch in a stage-box. Cameras focus on his gaunt face as he is helped on stage to acknowledge an ovation. This is a sad sight, and the implication we are left with is that afterwards he just curled up in a corner and waited to die.

Actually, no, he didn't. At the dinner after the premiere, he talked to Maude Gosling about his plans for choreographing Hans Werner Henze's Ondine. When I visited him two days later in his apartment on the Quai Voltaire, he was delighted that he had persuaded his doctor, Michel Canesi, to certify him fit to fly the next day to the Caribbean island of Saint- Barthelemy, where he had a house. "I'll never shake this off in all the cold and damp here in Paris," he told me, "but in the sun I'll soon be better." That evening he went off to the Opera-Comique to watch Roland Petit's Marseilles Ballet and afterwards to discuss plans for conducting some performances of Petit's Coppelia. And when his dancer friends Charles Jude and Florence Clerc accompanied him to Saint-Barth's, Nureyev started working out movements on Jude for a future production of Britten's The Prince of the Pagodas.

All his life Nureyev had been used to overcoming illness and injury. Rather than lose his role in a new ballet by Frederick Ashton, he struggled into Covent Garden with a temperature of 102 for the premiere of Jazz Calendar. (Royal Ballet dancers punningly nicknamed him Randolph Neveroff.) When an injury during Act 1 of La Sylphide once forced him to allow a replacement to go on in Act 2, he still got on stage somehow for the evening's last ballet, The Lesson, where he could adjust the steps to save the hurt leg, and his acting could cover any shortcomings in technique. And after one performance, I remember watching him remove yards of elastic bandage worn for support like a puttee round one ankle under his tights.

So when Dr Canesi diagnosed him as HIV-positive in 1984, this did not make him change his professional way of life. The film's implication that he began rushing to cram everything in is a misreading: he had always rushed, all his life wanted to do more than there was time for, simply because he had so many ambitions and interests. Besides, as Canesi says, at that time the expectation was that Aids would kill only one in 10; the grimmer, longer-term truth became apparent only gradually. And Nureyev acted as if he would beat this illness like the others.

The 10 years covered by the programme were a period of astonishing achievement. Nureyev's transformation of the Paris Opera Ballet is described by the ballet master Patrice Bart, but it could surely have been made clearer to a non-specialist audience just how he changed the dancers' approach, allowed young talent its head, and widened their range with a whole new repertoire. From historical re-creations to new commissions, from classic revivals to the most extreme modernists, from his own productions to a steady stream of visiting choreographers, they tackled everything and did it well.

I cannot think of anyone else who has achieved so much on taking over an established company. What Nureyev did at the Paris Opera would have been a full-time job for anyone else, but (while keeping in touch via daily phone calls whenever he was absent) he combined it with guest appearances and productions, world tours, and launching a further career as a conductor.

That was not just a whim but a way of continuing to perform when he could no longer dance, and also of enriching his love of music. Herbert von Karajan had advised him to do it and even said "I'll teach you". Nureyev studied conducting seriously in Vienna and California, directed concerts, and conducted an American Ballet Theatre gala of the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet. A fascinating development for a dancer - but one that is not shown at all in this programme, and gets only a throwaway mention: "He conducted and choreographed and continued to dance."

How good it would have been to see some of this, as well as more detail about what happened in Paris, instead of the interminably repeated pictures of dancers walking through corridors, interspersed with the most hackneyed and irrelevant background shots of motor traffic and trains, people smoking or sitting in cafes, even that wonderful old cliche, the Eiffel Tower. Add lots of slow motion and soft focus, with a melancholy soundtrack specially composed by Alexander Balanescu, and you have what often looks more like a travel commercial than an arts documentary.

The programme's makers might have probed further into why, after such a triumph as ballet director, Nureyev's contract was not renewed. Jack Lang, the former Arts Minister who originally appointed him to the job, claims not to know why Nureyev was edged out, but mutters darkly about "personal problems" and his health. Nobody breathes the name Pierre Berge (head of Yves Saint-Laurent) who had been put in charge of both the Paris opera houses and whose main achievement there was to have sacked not only Nureyev but the musical director Daniel Barenboim in favour of replacements neither of whom lasted long.

Still, Nureyev (as so often in life) actually has the last laugh in this programme. Forget the baleful comments; ignore the lugubrious background music. Just look at Nureyev's face. In almost every shot, he is either smiling or laughing outright. And this is the man under imminent threat, the man "dancing through darkness"? Or is it the man I remember, who loved life and enjoyed it to the full? Decide for yourself.
10th-Feb-2011 06:45 am - That face!

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Text excerpt from the
5 Feb 2011
**Telegraph link via

Sunday Telegraph 50th anniversary: Stories of the 1960s

One of the newspaper’s strengths from the outset has been its arts coverage. When Rudolf Nureyev made his first appearance at Covent Garden opposite Dame Margot Fonteyn on February 25 1962, our critic Susan Lester was in the front row. “His Albrecht — the hero of Giselle — is a fascinating study, which rivets our attention from start to finish,” she wrote.

February 1962: English ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919 - 1991) and Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev (1938 - 1993) in 'Giselle' at Covent Garden, London.

“Nureyev imparted his emotion with much economy of gesture and subtlety of bearing and timing… There are moments when his concept seems at odds with the Royal Ballet’s, but considering the amount of work involved in bringing them together, and more particularly, in uniting him and Fonteyn, who dances Giselle, the result is amazingly good. Fonteyn obviously wants to do her utmost to co-operate and her performance is the richer for her tenderness and unobtrusive behaviour.”

When, 17 years later, Fonteyn announced she was hanging up her ballet shoes, The Sunday Telegraph was granted an exclusive interview. “Margot Fonteyn opened her hotel room door apologising for her bare feet,” wrote Catherine Stott. “Naturally I couldn’t take my eyes off them after that since they are two of the most famous, hardest wired feet in the business. For one horror-stricken moment I thought her toes were covered in dried blood, that she had danced the nails away, but it turned out to be a gruesome shade of nail varnish.

“The celebrated feet now curiously resemble the shape of a ballet shoe, toes furled over into sawn-off points by a slow process of attrition after 55 years of dancing on them – much as the sea shapes rocks. And all the time she talked she rubbed them tenderly as though they hurt – as well they might.”

5th-Feb-2011 02:44 am - Nureyev and Fonteyn

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