Nureyev – this name says it all!

No wonder that such a brilliant artist with exuberant personality, with a soul wide open, flaunting his life on display provokes to explore unconceivable twists of his life, imagination frenzy and extremes of his ardent heart. All of the above are good elements for biopics. Ballet, which is not the easiest genre for biography, became our main hero’s real passion and his entire life. It will take own place in this endless list of biopics (where you can find biographical books and articles, TV programs, movies, docudramas, series of talking photo portraits and even a novel).

In 2003 famous Irish writer Colum McCann published novel about Nureyev (10 years later it was translated to Russian). McCann never had a chance to watch ballet performance live before he started learning about Nureyev’s life. In his interviews he shares what made him immerse so much into life and destiny of this Dancer. It was a story told by his friend that gave him an impetus. Ordinary Irish working family. Drunken father is drugging TV into the house, trying to turn it on- it won’t work, scolds his children, and drops dead asleep. Seven years old Jimmy- McCann’s friend- tries the best he can to solve situation, connects extension, begins to whirl around the room with TV box - and oh, miracle! - image comes up: Nureyev is dancing. Boy is mesmerized - once and forever. How could Russian dancer change life of a seven years boy, from so-called working outskirts of Dublin? This question kept haunting the writer, he began reading about Nureyev, and realized that he (Nureyev) influenced lives of many and many related to ballet and even beyond people. His research results in a novel that represents an interesting attempt to comprehend Russia and measure our hero by the size that, of course, does not fit it all.

The whole twist of his life, though, (not even the fact that he was born on a train station somewhere between Irkutsk and Slyudyanka) - of his artistic life- amazes us more than the story of a little Irish boy. Just to go ahead and start dancing in after war Ufa, in a family where a boy - dancer could only be a character from nightmare. And then, conquer Moscow during Decade of Bashkir literature and art, outdo all possible age restrictions- at the age of seventeen!- enter Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet- the cradle of all Russian ballet schools; become Alexander Pushkin’s favorite(number one ballet master); swiftly progress in career; immediately join Mariinsky (former Kirov Ballet); dance with legendary ( much older) ballerinas; in an instant feel a will to resist and crave for freedom; win over Paris; make friends there with foreigners; being a citizen of St. Petersburg just for few years to leap across notorious barrier at Paris airport and ask for asylum; shine on the best world stages; give a second life to English Prima Ballerina Dame Fonteyn; become model for outrageous photoshoots (portrait in the cap by Irving Penn that became his trademark for a long time is no less popular than series of photos by Avedon); make sacrifices on the altar of love and friendship and wait for sacrifices in return; be hungry for art; create new performances ;revive classics and to complicate variations; distribute his editions around the world; direct the Paris Opera Ballet; groom and bring up to étoile level practically yesterday’s alumnus; fight and break up with them when they are at the zenith of fame; compromise with pop music; persistently continue dancing when public is solely attracted to a name , not so much to the dance anymore; almost incognito – persona non-grata return to Russia under existing court verdict to see dying mother; do triumphal comeback ; demonstrate what’s left of his previous virtuoso splendor to perform a role of James in La Sylphide at the Mariinsky Theatre ; visit his old teacher and listen to compliments; be sick and work on his final production of La Bayadère that turned out to be a swan song, and, at the premiere at Palais Garnier , not being able to sit straight, half lying look at how shadows are descending…; turn into ‘island’, purchase an island; wallow in wealth to the extent that even after his death there will be a wave of glossy and multicolored exhibitions (even in Moscow) and auctions where inconceivable luxury items will be included as well as attributes of profession; being unable to refuse art and enduring applause, despite his sick body, to master new profession and get into orchestra pit as a conductor. You cannot defeat death. Conduct life – any time. But only if you are Rudolf Nureyev.

So who are you, Mr. Nureyev? Same did we, curious and intrigued, decide to ask this question. Audience will decide if the question was answered. Yet, at any event, as always, both throughout all his life, and after death, he will leave no one indifferent.

Nathalie Shadrina

Translated by Anna Muraveva.