See his autobiography (1962); biographies by C. Barnes (1982), D. Solway (1998), and J. Kavanagh (2007).
Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn
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Owing to the disruption of Soviet cultural life caused by World War II, Nureyev was unable to enroll in a major ballet school until 1955, aged 17, when he was accepted by the Leningrad Choreographic School, the associate school of the Kirov Ballet.
Alexander Pushkin took an interest in him professionally and allowed Nureyev to live with him and his wife. Upon graduation, Nureyev continued with the Kirov and went on to become a soloist.
In his three years with the Kirov, he danced fifteen roles, usually opposite his partner, Ninel Kurgapkina, with whom he was very well paired, although she was almost a decade older than he . He became one of the Soviet Union's best-known dancers and was allowed to travel outside the Soviet Union, when he danced in Vienna at the International Youth Festival. Not long after, for disciplinary reasons, he was told he would not be allowed to go abroad again. He was confined to tours of the Soviet republics.
On June 16 1961 at the Le Bourget Airport in Paris Rudolf Nureyev defected. Within a week, he was signed up by the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas and was performing The Sleeping Beauty with Nina Vyroubova. On a tour of Denmark he met Erik Bruhn, a dancer who became his lover, his closest friend and his protector for many years.
Although he petitioned the Soviet government for many years to be allowed to visit his mother, he was not allowed to do so until 1989, when his mother was dying and Mikhail Gorbachev consented to the visit. During this visit, he was invited to dance with the Kirov Ballet at the Maryinsky theatre in Leningrad. The visit gave him the opportunity to see many of the teachers and colleagues he had not seen since he defected, including his first ballet teacher in Ufa.
Dame Ninette de Valois offered him a contract to join The Royal Ballet as Principal Dancer. His first appearance with the company was partnering Margot Fonteyn in Giselle on 21 February 1962. Fonteyn and Nureyev would go on to form a partnership. Nureyev stayed with the Royal Ballet until 1970, when he was promoted to Principal Guest Artist, enabling him to concentrate on his increasing schedule of international guest appearances and tours. He continued to perform regularly with The Royal Ballet until committing his future to the Paris Opera Ballet in the 1980s.
Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn became longstanding dance partners and continued to dance together for many years after Nureyev's departure from the Royal Ballet. Their last performance together was in Baroque Pas de Trois on 16 September 1988 when Fonteyn was 69, Nureyev was aged 50, with Carla Fracci also starring, aged 52. Nureyev once said of Fonteyn that they danced with "one body, one soul".
Together Nureyev and Fonteyn premiered Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet Marguerite and Armand, a ballet danced to Liszt's B minor piano sonata, which became their signature piece. They always completely sold out the house. Kenneth Macmillan was forced to allow them to premiere his Romeo and Juliet, which was intended for two other dancers. Films exist of their partnership in Les Sylphides, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, and other roles.
When Fonteyn was suffering from cancer, Nureyev paid many of her medical bills and visited her constantly despite his busy schedule.
When Nureyev admitted that his body was too wracked with disease and injury to dance, and he was considering conducting, Fonteyn exclaimed, "Darling, that's perfect!!!"
In March 1992 Rudolf Nureyev, living with advanced AIDS, visited Kazan and appeared as a conductor in front of the audience at Musa Cälil Tatar Academic Opera and Ballet Theater in Kazan. This was his only appearance on the stage of the Musa Cälil Tatar Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, which now annually organizes the Rudolf Nureyev Festival in Tatarstan .
In 1962 Nureyev made his screen debut in a film version of Les Sylphides. In 1977 he played Rudolph Valentino in Ken Russell's Valentino, but he decided against an acting career in order to branch into modern dance with the Dutch National Ballet in 1968. In 1972 Robert Helpmann invited him to tour Australia with his own production of Don Quixote , his directorial debut. The film version (1973) features Nureyev, Lucette Aldous as Kitri, Helpmann as Don Quixote and artists of the Australian Ballet.
During the 1970s, Nureyev appeared in several films and toured the United States in a revival of the Broadway musical The King and I. He was one of the guest stars on the television series The Muppet Show where he danced in a parody called "Swine Lake". In 1982 he became a naturalized Austrian. In 1983 he was appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet, where as well as directing he continued to dance and to promote younger dancers. He remained there as a dancer and chief of choreography until 1989. Among the dancers he groomed were Sylvie Guillem, Isabel Guerin, Manuel Legris, Elisabeth Maurin, Elisabeth Platel, Charles Jude, and Monique Loudieres. Despite advancing illness towards the end of his tenure, he worked tirelessly, staging new versions of old standbys and commissioning some of the most ground-breaking choreographic works of his time. His own Romeo and Juliet was a popular success.
Nureyev was homosexual at a time when it was illegal and might have ended his career had it become known. It is thought that he would occasionally solicit male prostitutes, and he was known to frequent the gay baths in New York. He was a very reclusive person.
He socialised with Freddie Mercury, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and Talitha Pol, but developed an intolerance for celebrities. He kept up old friendships in and out of the ballet world for decades, and was considered to be a loyal and generous friend. He was known as extremely generous to many ballerinas, who credit him with helping them during difficult times. In particular, the Canadian ballerina Lynn Seymour - distressed when she was denied the opportunity to premiere Macmillian's Romeo and Juliet - says that Nureyev often found projects for her even when she was suffering from weight issues and depression and thus had trouble finding roles. He is also said to have helped an elderly and increasingly impoverished Tamara Karsavina.
By the end of the 1970s, when he was in his 40s, he continued to tackle big classical roles in the late 1980s, and his rather diminished capabilities disappointed his admirers who had fond memories of his outstanding prowess and skill. Towards the end of his life, in the later stages of AIDS he worked on productions for the Paris Opera Ballet. His last work was a production of La Bayadere which closely follows the Kirov Ballet version he danced as a young man.
When AIDS appeared in France in about 1982, Nureyev took little notice. For several years he simply denied that anything was wrong with his health: when, about 1990, he became undeniably ill, he is said to have attributed these to other ailments. He tried several experimental treatments but they did not stop his deteriorating health.
At his last appearance, a 1992 production of La Bayadère at the Palais Garnier, Nureyev received a standing ovation. The French Culture Minister, Jack Lang, presented him with France's highest cultural award, the Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He died in Paris a few months later, aged 54.
His grave, at a Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris, features a tomb draped in a mosaic of an oriental Turkic-style carpet. Nureyev was an avid collector of beautiful carpets and antique textiles.