NUREYEV: THE RUSSIAN YEARS tells the story of Rudolf Nureyev, the world-famous ballet dancer who defected from the former Soviet Union to France in 1961. The film documents Nureyev’s humble beginnings, his late start as a dancer, and his relentless quest to become the best and most famous ballet dancer in the world. It also presents life in communist Russia and the role of the government in controlling virtually all aspects of its people’s lives that caused some, like Nureyev, to defect.

Time Allotment:
Approximately five to seven 45-minute class periods

Subject Matter:
History and Language Arts


Students will:

1. Utilize their imagination to envision life in a communist country as they listen to a description read by the teacher.

2. Learn the definition of various social studies terms including “communism,” “capitalism,” “democracy,” “totalitarian,” “Cold War,” “defect,” and “asylum.”

3. Participate in large and small group discussions related to the terminology they have learned and the relevant information presented in the film.

4. Work as a class to construct a graphic organizer comparing and contrasting the rights of U.S. citizens to those of people who lived in communist Russia.

5. Utilize critical viewing and note-taking skills as they watch the film and complete the related viewing guide.

6. Participate in large and small group discussions related to the historical aspects of the film.

7. Complete an individual research project related to the Cold War period of history.

8. Present their individual projects to classmates and provide constructive feedback to one another regarding project content.
Access to Internet and/or library resource materials
Access to various art supplies (optional)
Access to various computer software (optional)

Prep for Teachers:
Prior to teaching the lesson, record the broadcast of NUREYEV: THE RUSSIAN YEARS (check local listings to determine if and when the program will air in your state), review the program for content, bookmark the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer, and download the necessary plug-ins. Print out and make copies of the related handouts: A Day in the Life, Viewing Guide, and Project Guidelines.

Bookmark the following sites:

Rudolf Nureyev Foundation
Find biographical information and a catalogue of Nureyev’s main roles, works he choreographed, and dance partners along with a photo gallery and memories of the dancer from those who knew and worked with him.

Ballet.co: Rudolph Nureyev
Features a biography, photos, video clips, and related information about Nureyev and his career.

BBC Four: Interviews: Rudolph Nureyev
Listen to interviews with Nureyev from 1969 and 1971.

CNN Interactive: Cold War
Provides an in-depth look at the history, key events, and people associated with the Cold War.

Cold War International History Project: The Cold War Files
Find documents from the Cold War and profiles of crucial events and individuals from the era.

PBS: AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: “The Nuremberg Trials”: The Start of the Cold War
A page about the key people and events related to the beginning of the Cold War.

The Cold War Museum
Offers time lines, exhibits, and activities related to the Cold War period.

PBS: RED FILES: “Soviet Sports Wars”: Soviet Athletes Who Defected
Profiles of Soviet athletes who defected to the West.

Connection Newspapers: “An Orchestrated Defection”
An article about the defection of bassoonist Arnold Irchai from the Soviet Union.

Constitutional Rights Foundation: “Life Under Communism in Eastern Europe”
A description of the economic and social conditions and the status of human rights under communist governments in Eastern Europe.

Geographia: Asia: Russia: History of Russia: The Soviet Era
Provides a brief history of the Soviet Union from the 1930s through 1991.

Grove Music Online


Art Connections
Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines.

Historical Understanding
Understands the historical perspective.

World History
Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relationships took shape, and colonial empires broke up.

Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.

Language Arts

Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.

Listening and Speaking
Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Working with Others
Contributes to the overall effort of a group.

Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.

Thinking and Reasoning
Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities and differences.

This lesson was prepared by Lisa Prososki, an independent educational consultant and instructional design specialist who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for 12 years.