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Rudolf Nureyev : Three Years in the Kirov Theatre

Rudolf Nureyev

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 August 1999
- Since his death in January 1993, so much has been published on Rudolf Nureyev either vilifying or sanctifying him, that I have almost lost sight of the man himself, and now approach any new offering with an increasing sense of unease.

However, here is a book containing refreshingly different information on the little-known Kirov years. Honest and sincere, it is a collection of anecdotes and reminiscences by those who knew him best in Saint Petersburg, and loved him for what he was and not for what the world demanded.

For Tamara Zakrzhevskaya, Liubov Myasnikova, and Natalia Dudinskaya*, to name but three of the authors, knew 'Rudik', as he was called in Russia, when he was a student at the Leningrad Ballet School.

The first thing they establish is that when Nureyev requested political asylum in France in 1961, at the age of twenty-three, he was already a star in his own right in Russia.( With as much to give as to take from Erik Bruhn, and Margot Fonteyn, the West's finest classical dancers.) Not only had he interpreted every major role in the Kirov repertory, but at the end of the 1950's, he had an army of frenzied fans who would shower him with flowers at every performance.

Ninel Kurgapkina* tells an amusing story of how, after Nureyev's solo in Don Quixotte, the stage would be so littered with flowers that she did not want to risk dancing on the slippery petals. She recalls asking him to ensure his followers threw their floral tributes at the end of the ballet rather than in the middle.

Kirov Ballet School

The steps leading to the Kirov Ballet School,
otherwise known as "Rossi Street".
But the next time they danced together, the flowers continued to hail down and so Nureyev simply bent down and scooped every last one of them up before continuing with the performance.

The authors also emphasise the fact that Nureyev was a phenomenon in Russia long before the rest of the world ever heard of him. Dancers rarely attracted the attention of the press, yet reviews and features on him abounded in Teatralnaya Zhin, Neva, and Smena. His star potential was recognised and eminent ballet critics would devote whole articles to him. Not least of the book's merit is that we learn Nureyev was not adulated in every role. Controversial from the start of his career, the graceful boy who won gold medals and scored full marks on graduation from the school was often severely criticised in certain works.

Of particular interest too amongst the score of reviews included at the end of the book is Serge Lifar's** piece, written in April, 1963 for Paris Jour, and which appeared in Izvestiya. Of the greatest romantic classical dancer in the world, Lifar wrote, "He has become a star by sheer virtue of the fact he is a traitor". No wonder there was such antipathy between the two men!

This fascinating book, which is neither a list of compliments to the Russian dancer nor a catalogue of the people with whom he might have slept, succeeds admirably in bringing him back to life for a short while. Nureyev is alive, "brilliant, complex, contradictory, indefatigable"; he's not a statue in a church, and once you've read this, it's hardly necessary to read anything else for it gives the answers to everything that happened to him later. It is all the more moving as it is told by those who cared about him so deeply. Events are recalled and put down on paper, most appearing in print for the first time.

Even the one hundred and fifty photographs which illustrate the work, excluding the handful smuggled out of Russia, have not been seen in the west before, but come from the personal collections of several families there.

As far as his defection is concerned, several versions exist so the authors opted to leave the last word to Nureyev and have included the first chapter from his own autobiography of 1962.* No second, third, or fourth-hand research here, just the voice of the Russian dancer himself.

Perhaps the only question to be asked is why we had to wait so long to hear the authentic music of the Nureyev legend, wading through the plethora of self-serving books by people who never knew him and who only wrote for commercial reasons. In Rudolf Nureyev : Three years in the Kirov Theatre, he is dancing across every page.

The book includes contributions from dancers Ninel Kurgapkina (prima ballerina at the Kirov 1947-1981), Nikita Dolgushin (dancer at the Kirov 1959-1961), Natalia Dudinskaya (prima ballerina at the Kirov 1931-1962), Olga Moiseyeva (prima ballerina at the Kirov 1947-1973) Alla Osipenko (prima ballerina at the Kirov 1950-1971), Mikhail Baryshnikov (soloist at the Kirov 1967-1974), and friends outside the dance world Liudmila, Leonid Romankova, and Liubov Myasnikova, née Romankova, and Tamara Zakrzhevskaya.

** Serge LIFAR, Russian dancer and choreographer, who directed the Paris Opera Ballet from 1929 to 1945 and from 1947 to 1958.

The Kirov Theatre, St Petersburg

Rudolf Nureyev : Three years in the Kirov Theatre
The book, of interest to all dance lovers as well as those who admired Nureyev, can be obtained from:

The Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation
311, West Superior Street, Suite 525,
Illinois 60610
Cost $40 including postage

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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Rudolf Nureyev's "Raymonda" Thrives at the Paris Opera Ballet

DVD: "Don Quixote" on Film: Restoring the Impossible Dream

Kirov Ballet's Saison Russe: A Window Into Ballet History

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