Rudolf Chametowitsch Nurejew

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Rudolf Nureyev (1973)

Rudolf Nureyev ( Bashkir Рудольф Хәмит улы Нуриев , Tatar Rudolf Xämät Uli Nuriev / Рудольф Мөхәммәт улы Нуриев, Russian Рудольф Хаметович Нуриев , scientific. Transliteration Rudol'f Chametovič Nuriev * 17th March 1938 near Irkutsk , † January 6 1993 in Levallois-Perret , France ) was a dancer of Tatar origin who grew up in the Soviet Union and took Austrian citizenship in 1982 .

He is considered one of the best ballet dancers of the 20th century and was the greatest star in classical ballet in the second half of the 20th century. Nureyev influenced the interpretation of roles in the classical repertoire as well as modern choreography . After leaving the Soviet Union, Nureyev founded the emancipation of the male role part in ballets that were tailored to ballerinas as the focus.

He transferred virtuoso technique and athletic presence, as they were cultivated in Soviet ballet, to the West and thus initiated a renaissance of classical ballet here. His ballet partnership with the prima ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn from the Royal Ballet is considered an interpretation highlight in the classical repertoire. An icon of dance during his lifetime, he became known to a broad audience, including those who were not ballet, through media presence and reporting.


Family and childhood

Natalia Dudinskaja, Nureyev's teacher and first solo partner at the Kirov

Nureyev was born to Tatar parents on a train on the Trans-Siberian Railway near Irkutsk in Siberia . His mother was on the way to Vladivostok , where his father was stationed as a soldier in the Red Army . He grew up in a village near Ufa in Bashkortostan .


In Ufa, Nureyev began his training as a partner to his sister in ballet lessons. After having experienced folk dance, he also took private ballet lessons for the first time with former professional ballerinas Anna Udeltsova and Elena Vaitovich. These introduced him to classical ballets and encouraged Rudik, as he was mostly called, to run for state ballet training in Leningrad , despite his father's resistance and despite his advanced age - Rudolf was already 17 years old . Surprisingly, Nureyev, who was actually too old for the Kirovs Ballet Academy, was able to begin ballet training at the Leningrad Choreographic Institute in 1955 . His persistence and talent made him into the famous men's class of Alexander Pushkin (Pushkin also trained Mikhail Baryschnikow ), but had to start in the sixth grade and was therefore three to four years older in the group than the other students. Nureyev's training time at the Kirov was characterized, among other things, by constant confrontations with the board of directors. Nureyev ran the risk of not being able to complete his training because of his rather provincial nature and his irrepressible refusal to submit to the ballet direction. In addition to character barriers, Nureyev was particularly plagued by the fact that his fellow students were several years ahead of him. Nureyev later admitted that his classmate Yuri Solovyov was technically much better than him.

Soloist in the Leningrad Kirov Ballet

Nureyev owed his familiarization with the classical repertoire and his dance refinement to his ballet teacher at the time for the classical pas de deux Natalja Dudinskaja , a first soloist and long-time instructor at the Waganowa Ballet Academy in the Kirov Theater ; Dudinskaya was a role model for him, especially in expression and presence. He had his first solo role in Kirov as a partner of Dudinskaya on November 20, 1958 in the ballet Laurentia, which she favored . The success in Laurentia and his sensational appearance with Alla Sisowa in Le Corsaire at the 1958 ballet competition in Moscow consolidated Nureyev's position and he was hired as a soloist. His partner in Leningrad was mainly Ninel Kurgapkina , but he also continued to perform with Natalia Dudinskaja (Laurentia) and Alla Sizova (Le Corsaire).

He soon enjoyed the privilege of going abroad, which was rare at the time , and danced again with Sisowa at Le Corsaire in Vienna at the International Youth Festival , where they won a gold medal despite stiff competition. Juri Solowjow and Natalia Makarowa from the Kirov Ballet and the first soloists of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, Ekaterina Maximowa and Vladimir Vasilyev, danced there . Shortly afterwards, he was banned from traveling abroad for disciplinary reasons. Instead, he toured the Russian provinces and the GDR. After the Berlin Festival in October 1960, Nureyev had to go on a forty-day tour of 5000 km through the GDR. Accompanied by only one pianist, Nureyev found himself in a circus-like company in third-class performance venues, which only intensified his rebellion against the ballet direction.

Within two years, Nureyev became one of the most famous dancers in the Soviet Union as a soloist in the Kirov . His first performance of Siegfried in Swan Lake , in which the nine-year-old Kurgapkina danced Odette / Odile, took place in Leningrad in April 1961, just two months before he emigrated to the West.

Despite his late entry, his talent for dancing prevailed. His dancer personality was recognized by name in his special charisma, musicality, masculinity and technical virtuosity, even if he never reached the technical brilliance of contemporary soloists such as Erik Bruhn , Anthony Dowell or Michail Baryschnikow . However, with his stage presence, which was obvious at the beginning, he soon overshadowed those dancers who had enjoyed a more complete education and also achieved greater technical perfection, such as his classmate and fellow student in Alexander Pushkin's master class, Yuri Solovyov . However, his extremely difficult temper was also evident. Unruly language, quick-tempered demeanor, stubbornness and later also pronounced arrogance made working with Nureyev difficult.

Star career after emigration

Escape in Le Bourget

Nureyev shortly after his escape in 1961

On June 1, 1961, Nureyev danced for the first time in the western hemisphere. A mutual exchange of the leading ballet houses in West and East made it possible for Nureyev to appear with the Kirov Ballet in the Paris Palais des Sports as Siegfried in Swan Lake at the opening of the Paris season of the Kirov Ballet . The day after the last performance in France on June 15 in the Palais Garnier , the ballet management announced Nureyev on the morning of June 16, 1961 at Le Bourget airport that he had to go to Moscow immediately at the request of the Soviet party leadership. This although the tour was to continue in London after the acclaimed performances in Paris, and the rest of the company flew to London. Nureyev took an opportunity that morning to flee to the west. Whether it was carefully planned or whether Nureyev followed a spontaneous impulse is answered differently by different sources. Nureyev, supported by his friends Pierre Lacotte and Clara Saint , left the company in the check-in hall and asked for political asylum in France.

Left to his own devices and besieged by the press, Nureyev tried to establish a connection with a western company as quickly as possible. Already in the first week he signed an engagement of a maximum of six months with the Ballet des Marquis de Cuevas and danced from June 23 to July 29 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Sleeping Beauty with Nina Wyrobowa . The company then performed at a gala in Deauville in August and continued its tour of Europe and Israel. Rosella Hightower and Yvette Chauviré were Nureyev's first known partners in the West. Nureyev was not ready for a longer engagement with the private company, because he secretly hoped to be engaged in the Royal Ballet in the long term .

Through the mediation of the older Russian ballet emigrants from the area of ​​the Ballets Russes , Nureyev quickly began to familiarize himself with the differences to the Soviet style, also by studying roles in western ballets that were unknown to him. The meeting with the most important Danseur Noble of the West at the time , Erik Bruhn , who was ten years older and became his lover and closest friend for many years, was decisive for his further development . He helped Nureyev to refine his then technically unpolished and rather robust style. Nureyev first appeared with Bruhn at the Casino in Cannes in January 1962.

Ballet legend Nureyev - Fonteyn

Nureyev 1973 backstage

A memorable ballet partnership began with the invitation of the English prima ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn , 19 years her senior , to take part in a gala performance in honor of the Royal Academy of Dance on November 2, 1961. They had their first joint appearance at Covent Garden Opera in an exemplary Giselle performance on February 21, 1962, when the couple was called 23 times in front of the curtain. This evening established the classic partnership of the unequal couple, and they became the “dream couple of dance”. His debut at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London created a connection with the leading ballet ensemble in Europe, which lasted until the end of his dance career without ever becoming a member of the Royal Ballet. Because of the refusal of the management to offer Nureyev a permanent soloist position, Nureyev was dependent on engagements in various houses throughout his career. Nureyev therefore began to use his popularity economically with his own productions and built himself up as a trademark. As the first dancer, he demanded high individual fees, which was unusual until then.

The classical repertoire of Nureyev and Fonteyn included in particular the classical works of the Romantic period such as Petipa's Swan Lake , Sleeping Beauty , The Nutcracker , Don Quixote , Le Corsaire and Giselle . For the first time since the Ballets Russes and a single pre-war performance of Sadler's Wells Ballet under Ninette de Valois, Nureyev worked in the West on an original version of Petipas and Tchaikovsky's longest and most elaborate ballet, Sleeping Beauty . In Ninette de Valois, Nureyev had also found an important sponsor. But Margot Fonteyn also benefited from the rejuvenation that Nureyev brought to the ballet world. The aging prima ballerina Fonteyn, who was at the end of her career at the age of 42 and was no longer the first choice of the Royal Ballet, achieved a fame through Nureyev that was unprecedented in ballet of the second half of the 20th century.

The popularity of Nurejew / Fonteyn prompted the then chief choreographer and later director of the Royal Ballet, Frederick Ashton , to choreograph a full-length action ballet Marguerite and Armand based on Alexandre Dumas' Lady of the Camellias with music by Liszt for the two of them. Only after the deaths of Fonteyn and Nurejew was this choreography performed again for the first time with Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche . During Fonteyn / Nureyev's lifetime there was an unspoken ban on studying the ballet with other casts. Another important step was Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet with a choreography from the Soviet Union, which Ashton brought out on February 9, 1965 at the Covent Garden Opera in London. After the performance, the audience applauded for 40 minutes.

Major productions

Nureyev appeared alongside Fonteyn with all leading ballerinas in the West and Soviet emigrants. His Nutcracker production for the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1968 with Merle Park as Clara was based on a Soviet choreography and was considered outstanding. It remained part of the company's repertoire in the late 1970s. With Carla Fracci , Nurejew appeared in Giselle in the Balletto dell'Opera di Roma and in his own Nutcracker choreography at Milan's Teatro alla Scala . In 1962 he presented the Soviet choreography of Le Corsaire in the West with the Royal Ballet in London . In 1966 he brought his version of Sleeping Beauty to La Scala in Milan . In 1972 he went to Australia at the instigation of Robert Helpmann , where he made his directing debut with Don Quixote . With the Australian National Ballet , Nureyev produced Don Quixote in 1970 and Raymonda in 1975 for the American Ballet Theater stage. In 1975 he created a new choreography of Sleeping Beauty for Eva Evdokimova and the London Festival Ballet (English National Ballet) . In the 1986 production of Cinderella for the Paris Opera , he raised the future star of the European ballet scene, Sylvie Guillem , to the rank of " Étoile ". With the Ballet de l'Opéra, Nurejew concluded on October 8, 1992 in the Palais Garnier with his last major production, La Bayadère , just months before his death, his reinterpretation and new staging of classical ballets.

Since his emigration, Nureyev also tried his hand at modern dance, including the Dutch national ballet and works by contemporary choreographers, including George Balanchine , Hans van Manen , Glen Tetley , Roland Petit and Martha Graham .

Later career and personal matters

From 1961 to 1986 the dancer Erik Bruhn (1928–1986) was his partner. In 1964 he came to Vienna , where he worked as a dancer and choreographer for the Vienna State Opera Ballet until 1988 . Because he had lost his Soviet citizenship after his escape, which made traveling as a stateless person very difficult, he took on Austrian citizenship in 1982 through the mediation of the then ballet director Gerhard Brunner .

In 1971 Maurice Béjart created a ballet for him and Paolo Bortoluzzi based on Gustav Mahler's cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen .

In 1983 he became director of the Paris Opera Ballet , which he directed, where he danced, and where he promoted particularly young dancers, such as the exceptional talent Sylvie Guillem . He danced many classical roles with her as a partner.

From 1979 to 1993 the dancer Robert Tracy (1955–2007) was his partner. Despite his progressive AIDS disease, he worked tirelessly as a dancer and choreographer.

Sickness and death

Nureyev's grave in the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris

The immune disease AIDS became known to the general public in France in 1982 . Nureyev was believed to have contracted the HI virus in the early 1980s . For many years he denied rumors about his health, and around 1990, when his illness was evident, he brought forward other ailments. In his last performance of La Bayadère in 1992, Nureyev, who was already too weak and had to sit on a chair, suffered a fit of weakness during the spontaneous ovations of the audience. The French Minister of Culture Jack Lang awarded him France's highest cultural distinction, and Nureyev was made a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres .

Rudolf Nureyev died a few months later at the age of 54 of complications from AIDS . His coffin was laid out in public and, on January 12, 1993, according to his last will, he was buried in the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris. The extraordinary tomb of Nureyev (1996), which is covered with a mosaic in the form of an oriental kilim rug , was created by the Italian set designer Ezio Frigerio .

In 1998 the Rudolf-Nurejew-Promenade in Vienna- Donaustadt (22nd district) was named after him.

Nureyev's effect

Nureyev brought about a revival of the classical repertoire in the West. He freshened up the Soviet choreographies of the great classical ballets with his changes. He also favored a more technical virtuosity-oriented conception of the roles, for example in the romantic ballet Giselle , in which the mimic-theatrical moment emerged beforehand. Nureyev's stage presence gave more weight to the male part, which in Soviet ballet with virtuoso bravura solos required a more athletic type of dancer. This also changed the lyrical ballet, which was tailored to ballerinas, to a type in which the solo dancer played an equal role and no longer only functioned as a pas de deux partner of the dancer.

Nureyev in film, literature and art

In addition to ballet, he was also active in other artistic fields. During the seventies, Nureyev appeared with limited success in several films and toured the United States with a revival of the Broadway musical The King and I . In 1976 he played Rudolph Valentino in Ken Russell's film, but he had neither the talent nor the discipline for a serious film career. In 1977 he was a guest star on the Muppet Show (2nd season).

The Irish-American author Colum McCann set Nureyev in his novel biography The Dancer a literary monument. The Franco-German sculptor and graphic artist Arno Breker drew Nureyev, who was his model, in Paris in 1974 with two lithographs that Chagall's master printer Fernand Mourlot made . The American photographer Richard Avedon took pictures of him immediately after Nureyev's arrival in Paris.

In July 2017 a ballet about Nureyev was to be premiered in the Bolshoi, which was staged by Kirill Serebrennikow together with the choreographer Yuri Possochow . The current director of the theater, Vladimir Urin , decided to cancel the production three days before the premiere.

In 2018, the film The White Crow by director Ralph Fiennes premiered at the Telluride Film Festival . The film is about Nureyev's dramatic escape to the West during a guest performance by the Mariinsky Ballet in Paris. The Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko plays Nureyev and Fiennes his ballet master Alexander Pushkin .



  • Nureyev - The White Crow ( The White Crow ). Feature film, Great Britain 2018, 122 min. With Oleg Iwenko . Directed by Ralph Fiennes .
  • Rudolf Nureyev. The leap into freedom. (OT: Rudolf Nureyev - Dance to Freedom. ) Documentary with game scenes, Great Britain, 2015, 90 min. (Original version), 60:10 min., Written and directed: Richard Curson Smith, production: IWC Media, Absinthe Film, BBC , ZDF , German first broadcast: August 31, 2016 on arte, table of contents by ARD ; with Artem Ovcharenko, the first dancer (Primoballerino) in the Bolshoi Ballet as Rudolf Nurejew.
  • Nurejew - From Russia with Love . Documentary, Great Britain, Russia 2007, 89 min., Script and director: John Bridcut, production: BBC , ZDF , arte , German first broadcast: March 17, 2008, summary by arte, ( Memento from July 28, 2010 in the Internet Archive ).
  • Homage to Rudolf Nureyev - excerpts . Documentary, France 2002, 26 min., Director: Denis Caïozzi, production: arte, first broadcast: September 25, 2004, summary by arte, ( memento of August 13, 2010 in the Internet Archive ).

Web links

Commons : Rudolf Nurejew  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Memories of Rudolf Nureyev. "Who else if not me?" In: NZZ , January 6, 2003.
  2. ^ Rudolf Nureyev Foundation: Biography - Childhood in Russia.
  3. Jennifer Dunning: Love Lost and Fame Gained for a Young Nureyev. In: New York Times , August 29, 2007.
  4. ^ Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh. ( Memento of January 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ). In: London Review of Books , November 29, 2007.
  5. Obituaries: Ninel Kurgapkina. In: Daily Telegraph , May 15, 2009.
  6. ^ Matthew Gurewitsch: The Nureyev Nobody Knows, Young and Wild. In: New York Times , August 26, 2007.
  7. ^ Clive Barnes: Attitudes - About Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyew. ( Memento from July 8, 2012 in the web archive ) In: Dance Magazine , August 2003.
  8. IMDb
  9. ^ Artem Ovcharenko . ( [accessed January 12, 2018]).