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ballet dancer and choreographer
Rudolf Nureyev was born on a train on March 17, 1938; his mother was traveling eastward with her three girls to join her husband at Vladivostock when she went into labor. When he was three, Germany invaded Russia, and his father was called into the Army. The family settled in a little village in the province of Bashkir, where it shared a tiny hut with two other families. The family later moved to Ufa, and it was there that he first developed an interest in dance.
Initially a very bright school student, Nureyev's studies began to suffer when, at age eight, he began dreaming of a dance career. He began stealing away at night to take walk-on parts in the local opera house, for which he was paid a few rubles, and eventually managed to get into the Ufa Ballet Company classes. While his class was in Moscow for a Festival of Bashkir Art, he took the opportunity to audition for the Bolshoi Ballet School. He was immediately accepted, but was forced to turn down the offer because he couldn't pay for boarding. After returning to Ufa, he collected all of his back pay from the opera house and used it to buy a train ticket to Leningrad. On August 24, 1955,, Nureyev was accepted into the Leningrad Kirov Ballet Company, where he came under the tutelage of Alexander Pushkin.
After two years of study Nureyev danced the solo from Le Corsaire at a dance contest in Moscow. That solo got him an offer to become a soloist with the Bolshoi Company, but he chose to stay with the Leningrad Kirov Company instead. He made his debut as a soloist on October 28, 1958, in Swan Lake. As a full member of the Kirov Company, his talent was widely acclaimed but his personality often got him into trouble, with both fellow dancers and with Soviet authorities.
In 1961 the Kirov Company was scheduled to appear in Paris, France, and then in London, England. The company's principal male dancer, Konstantin Sergeyev, was considered too old for French audiences, and Nureyev was chosen to replace him. Although Nureyev's performance earned him a great many French fans, his personality left him alienated from his fellow dancers. On June 17 the company was at Paris' Le Bourget Airport waiting to boad a plane to London when Nureyev was approached by a Soviet official and told to board another plane and fly back to Moscow immediately. Instead, Nureyev ran to a French policeman and asked for asylum, which was subsequently granted.
Immediately signed by the Narquis de Cuevas Ballet, Nureyev subsequently spent six months touring Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and also danced in London at a gala organized by Dame Margot Fonteyn. He made his first visit to the United States in 1962 to appear on a television program with Maria Tallchief, after which he and Fonteyn teamed with the Royal Ballet in Giselle. He subsequently became a regular guest artist with the Royal Company, and continued as such until 1977. He added choreographer to his resume in 1978, and dance director of the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983.
Nureyev was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, but he refused to admit he was sick and continued his rigorous schedule. The illness finally caught up with him, however, and he died in a Paris hospital on January 6, 1993.
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This page was last updated on 12/19/2018.