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As time went on, he entered the production field, staging his own, always thought-provoking, versions of familiar classics like "Swan Lake," "The Sleeping Beauty," and "The Nutcracker," and less familiar ballets like the "Kingdom of the Shades" [scene] from La "Bayadère" (for the Royal Ballet) and "Don Quixote" (for Vienna, and then the Australian Ballet). He tested himself in ballets by Royal Ballet choreographers -- Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, John Cranko -- and gradually widened his range to include works by Rudi van Dantzig, Jerome Robbins, Maurice Béjart, Paul Taylor, and Martha Graham. Illuminating interpretations resulted -- treasured memories include his lightly humorous touch in "Dances at a Gathering" (Robbins), his depth of feeling in "Song of a Wayfarer" (Béjart), his range of reaction in Balanchine's "Prodigal Son," and his delicately delineated and intensely passionate Des Grieux in MacMillan's "Manon."

Difficulties in working with Nureyev always existed, but they primarily reflected his perfectionism both where he himself and others are concerned. As Marcia Haydée said (quoted by John Percival in his biography of Nureyev): "I love working with Rudolf. He has the reputation of being difficult and complicated, but I suppose all artists are complicated and most of us can be difficult at times. ... Anyone who does not work hard he has no time for. He made me do all sorts of things I thought I could not do and he was so helpful." He certainly offered the dance world an example of drive, dedication, broadmindedness, and audacity. John Percival aptly wrote, "All through his career he ... forced himself to attempt difficult things," pointing out that he constantly widened his range both within and outside classical dancing.

During the years from 1983 to 1989, when Nureyev was artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, his influence gave the company a more catholic repertoire and a higher reputation in the international field. In his personal career, he successfully tackled the role of the King of Siam in "The King and I," and at last came to terms with the years in roles like Dr. Coppélius in "Coppélia" and the leading role, a 50-year-old bank clerk, in Flemming Flindt's ballet "The Overcoat," both of which he danced for the Cleveland San José Ballet.

When Nureyev died in January 1993, it was not a great surprise, as he had been visibly ill for some time -- but it was nevertheless an event which stunned and saddened the ballet community the world over. As controversial as he may have been at times in his life, there was no controversy in what dance critics and historians stated at his death: he changed the face of twentieth-century ballet, and his influence will never be forgotten.

Source: Excerpted from "Rudolf Nureyev." INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF BALLET. 2 vols. St. James Press, 1993. Reprinted by permission of The Gale Group.

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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