« An escape in the line of the spy novels of the Cold War » René Sirvin.
Between KGA and CIA, truths or fictions, the history of Nureyev overflows with incredible events. Nothing but his youth resembles a film. Nureyev, the fourth child and only son of Hamet and Farida Nureyev, was born on 17 March 1938 on the Trans-Siberian Lake Baikal.
Beast of stage, Nureyev also defrays the chronicle by his sexual appetite. Homosexual, he becomes not only a political icon but erotic. « In the middle of the Cold War and the expansion of mass capitalist culture, he is the right person at the right time, » says Christophe Fiat. « He is emblematic of sexual liberation in the 1960s. Like Jackie Kennedy, but his lovers are men, his escort boys »
While Kirov Ballet was preparing to go on a tour to Paris and London, Nureyev’s rebellious character and a non-conformist attitude made him an unlikely candidate for a trip to the West, which was to be of crucial importance to the Soviet government’s ambitions to portray their cultural supremacy.
Nureyev was seen to have broken the rules about mingling with foreigners, which alarmed the Kirov’s management and the KGB agents observing him. The KGB wanted to send him back to the Soviet Union. As a consequence, Sergeyev (Kirov’s artistic director) told him he would have to return to Moscow for « a special performance » in the Kremlin, which, of course, was just a pretext to send him back in URSS and punish him for his attitude in Paris. As Kirov refused, Sergeyed told him his mother had fallen severely ill and that he needed to visit her in emergency. Nureyev refused again, believing that on return to the USSR he was likely to be imprisoned.
While Noureev was partying in France, he met up with two of his close friends including the dancer Pierre Lacoste and Clara Saint, , who was engaged to the son of the French Minister of Culture Andre Malraux. Pierre Lacotte, who was at the airport with him says: « He threw himself on me and said, » We’ve just spoken to me, it’s terrible, it’s over…I’m being sent back to the Soviet Union, and I will never dance again. I’m going to end up in Siberia. » However, also monitored from the corner of the eye by KGB agents, Lacotte writes the name and telephone number of C.Saint on a piece of paper that he manages to slip to a stranger. Clara Saint finaly comes, and spots Rudolf sitting at the aiport’s bar. The two agents of the KGB intercept her, but, playing her charm, she managed to coax them by making them understand that she came to bid farewell to her friend.
Clara and Nureyev quickly exchange a few words in English:
« I want to stay here. Please help me! »
She’s worried :
« Are you sure ? »
« Yes, I’m sure. »
On arriving at Le Bourget, Clara had spotted an antenna of the French police on the upper floor, she thus ran to interpellate the french police.
« There are downstairs two KGB guards who want to forcibly return a Kirov dancer to his country, when he does not want it. »
Nonetheless, Noureev has to come by himself to the police. As a consequence, C.Saint leans towards her friends and whispers (in order not to be heard by the guards) :
« Look at the two policemen leaning on the bar. You go to them and tell them you want to stay here. »
Rudolf leapt to his feet and fled at full speed towards the two policemen. Still running, Rudolf shouts to the two Frenchmen « I want to stay in France! I want to stay in France! »
Nureyev trembles with all his members. He sees the two guards of the KGB rushing on him and trying to seize him. In Russian, they cry to the kidnapping, but the two French policemen do not let themselves be impressed.
They drag the star of the Kirov into a room to ask him to think carefully about his decision. Noureev hesitates for 20 minutes. If he pushes the door through which he entered, he is recovered by the two Soviets with no other hope of getting out of Russia.
If he pushes the other door behind which the two Frenchmen are waiting for him, it is freedom, but also the loss forever of his mother, his country, his youth.
He has a few minutes to choose between two futures, two destinies. The rest of the story is known.
Indeed, R. Nurevey choose liberty and obtains the political wing. However, the Sovet Union sentenced him in absentia to seven years in prison for high treason. Nevertheless, Rudolf is free to dance around the world.
Dance career :
From 1962, Rudolf Nureyev danced for several years at the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, London.Star of the Royal Ballet, Margot Fonteyn (42 years old) will become his most beautiful partner. Both will form the most famous pair of the universe of classical dance.
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev dance for the first time together « Giselle » on February 21, 1962. When the curtain falls that night, the audience is so amazed that there is a silence of a few moments before the applause, followed by 23 reminders.
In 1964 Rudolf Nureyev created his first swan-lake choreography for the State Opera of Vienna. In this ballet he interprets the role of the prince alongside Margot Fonteyn who interprets Odette and Odile. At the end of a performance, there are 89 curtain levies, a unique event in the history of ballet. It’s only in 1982 that Rudolf Nureyev becomes an Austrian citizen and is appointed an honorary member of the Vienna Opera.
As a matter of fact, Rudolf Nureyev performs on the stage of all major international companies. The star receives $ 7.9 million a year, the biggest stamp a dancer has ever received.
In the 1980s, Rudolf Nureyev danced regularly at the Paris Opera. He was appointed director of the ballet of the Opéra national de Paris from 1 September 1983 by Jack Lang, then Minister of Culture. Rudolf Nureyev held this position until 1989.
After many requests, he finally obtains from Gorbachev, at the end of 1989, a forty-eight-hour visa in Leningrad to see his mother. He returned to St. Petersburg for the first time, quoting Ossip Mandelstam’s verse: « Return to my city known to tears … » 29, to visit his dying mother.
Disease and death :
In 1984, when Rudolf Nureyev lost a lot of weight and suffered persistent fever, he underwent medical examinations and discovered that he had HIV (AIDS). For many years he denied the fact. When, by the year 1990, he became obviously ill, he courageously fought his disease without ceasing to dance. He tries several experimental treatments that do not slow the inevitable degeneration of his body. He appears emaciated and has more and more difficult to move.He must, however, face reality. At that time, his courage aroused the admiration of many of his detractors. His physical decay makes him suffer, but he continues to fight by showing himself in public. During his last public appearance on October 8, 1992, for the first of his production of La Bayadère at the Palais Garnier after Marius Petipa, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
Rudolf Nureyev died in a clinic in Levallois-Perret three months later, on 6 January 1993, at the age of 54 years. The presenter of the French television news channel, Christine Ockrent, made the announcement:
« From the beast he had a burning look and movements too. Powerful and shuddering, the Tatar prince, the lord of the dance, who fled the communists, Rudolf Nureyev died in Paris. He was only 54 years old. »
During the same show, Pierre Bergé, director of the Opéra National de Paris at the time, remarks:
« It’s great to have 19 out of 20. It’s very rare to have 20 out of 20. But to have 21 out of 20, it’s still much rarer. And that was the case of Nureyev. Rudolf Nureyev is the lord of dance, an unclassifiable dancer »
Tributes and Distinctions :
– Rudolf Nureyev was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1988.
– On October 8, 1992, the then Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, awarded him the highest cultural award, making him Commander of the Arts and Letters.
– At the Opéra National de Paris, a « Tribute to Rudolf Nureyev » dance evening takes place every ten years. They took place on 20 January 2003 and 6 March 2013.
Video « The Nutcracker » :
Video (rare solo) :