One of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century, Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev displayed an artistically expressive skill that combined classical ballet and modern dance and changed the perception of male ballet ... Read more »
One of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century, Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev displayed an artistically expressive skill that combined classical ballet and modern dance and changed the perception of male ballet dancers. He was born on March 17, 1938 while his mother Feride was aboard a Trans-Siberian train. He spent most of childhood and youth in Ufa, the capital of the Soviet Republic of Bashkir. From his earliest days, the young Nureyev loved music. When his mother snuck him and his siblings to a performance featuring ballerina Zaituna Nasretdinova, it was the tipping point for Nureyev to pursue a life in dancing. He began taking dance lessons and eventually enrolled at the Kirov Ballet's Leningrad Choreographic School in 1955 at the age of 17. He trained under the legendary ballet teacher Alexander Pushkin, who also taught Mikhail Baryshnikov. He quickly became a sensation in the Soviet Union, having danced 15 roles within his three years at the Kirov Ballet. However, the Soviet Union's stifling protectiveness over one of its cultural icons became too much for the headstrong Nureyev. On June 16, 1961 Nureyev flew to Paris and defected from the Soviet Union. Now unfettered by the USSR's communist regime, Nureyev signed up for the Grand Ballet du Marquis Cuevas and continued to tour all over Europe, which ensured that his career and recognition would turn international. He made his first appearance in the United Kingdom when he danced Poeme Tragique, a solo choreographed by renowned British dancer Frederick Ashton, and the Black Swan pas de deux. In 1962, The Royal Ballet founder Dame Ninette de Valois offered him to join her company as Principal Dancer; he stayed there until 1970. Aside from his numerous stage performances, Nureyev shared his elegant dance forms in several films. He made his screen debut in a film version of "Les Sylphides" (1962). Nureyev made his directorial debut in a film version of Sir Robert Helpmann's production of "Don Quixote" (1972). Nureyev was one of the first guest stars of "The Muppet Show" (syndicated 1976-1981) when it was still a fledgling show, and his appearance was often credited with turning the Jim Henson series as one of the most sought after programs for other celebrities to appear in. In his later years, Nureyev was appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983, and continued to dance and teach younger dancers. Unfortunately, Nureyev was one of the earliest victims of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. He tested positive for HIV in 1984, but continued to remain active in the dance scene. He was allowed to return to his native country for the first time since his defection to visit his dying mother in 1987. Two years later, he was invited to dance the role of James in "La Sylphide." As his illness began to enter its final and ultimately fatal stages, Nureyev began to suffer several medical problems. His last public appearance was on October 8, 1992 at the premiere of "La Bayadere" at Palais Garnier. Nureyev succumbed to his medical complications on January 6, 1993 at the age of 54. Although Nureyev's life was tragically cut short, his influence on ballet and modern dance was an everlasting legacy.