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Birth: March 17, 1938 in Irkutsk, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Death: January 6, 1993 in Paris, France
Nationality: Russian
Occupation: dancer, choreographer, ballet director

The extent of Rudolf Nureyev's influence cannot be overestimated. Probably no-one in the history of ballet has had a wider concept of ballet and dance or a more complete experience of its scope and variety. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the great ballet masters worked in many different countries, so that tracing the careers, for instance, of JeanGeorges Noverre or Marius Petipa is a geographical exploration -- but Nureyev has gone further, not only as a world traveler but also in terms of working in and studying forms of modern dance as well as classical ballet.

An outstanding theatrical personality of our time and in his prime a superb and exciting dancer, Nureyev caught world headlines in 1961 when he claimed political asylum in Paris while on tour there with the Kirov Ballet. He had already made his mark in the Soviet Union. A Tartar from Ufa in the Ural Mountains, he was a late starter in ballet, taking his first lessons at the age of eleven, and being admitted to the Leningrad Kirov school at the unusually late age of seventeen. By his final year he was recognized as an outstanding virtuoso talent, and was able to choose between offers from the Kirov, the Bolshoi, and the Stanislavsky companies. He chose the Kirov and within a year was dancing leading roles in "Don Quixote" and "Giselle."

Marked out, therefore, for an important career at home, Nureyev took a decision to stay in the West that was motivated purely by his hunger for artistic freedom, his desire to work in any way that appealed to him in the theatre. It is now obvious that his instincts were right -- had he stayed in Russia he would have been the prisoner of a narrow and conventional repertoire instead of being able to respond to a wide diversity of challenges.

Nureyev's London début at a Royal Academy of Dancing Gala, organized by Margot Fonteyn, led to an invitation from Dame Ninette de Valois to appear with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden with Fonteyn in "Giselle" in February 1962. It was one of ballet's historic occasions -- the beginning of an acclaimed partnership and the obvious introduction of a lively and positive new element into the life of the Royal Ballet. In the years to come, in London as well as in every company with which he was associated, Nureyev acted as a major stimulus and catalytic force. He disturbed the smooth ripples of many organizations, forcing artists to think seriously about themselves, and providing a standard of performance for young male dancers to emulate.

Source: Excerpted from the INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF BALLET. 2 vols. St. James Press, 1993.

Top banner photos: Rudolf Nureyev in St. Petersburg, Russia (photos: Thirteen/WNET New York)..

Nureyev with Alexander Pushkin, Natalia Kamkova, and Alla Sizova (photo: Thirteen/WNET New York)

Nureyev with Alexander Pushkin, Natalia Kamkova, and Alla Sizova.

Rudolf Nureyev (photo: Thirteen/WNET New York)

Rudolf Nureyev

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