With Ralph Fiennes’ new film The White Crow - about the defection of legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev to the West - in cinemas, we look at the history of the dance idol.
Nureyev was born on a Trans-Siberian train near Irkutsk in Siberia while his mother, Farida, was travelling to Vladivostok, where his father Khamet, a political commissar, was based.
He fell in love with dancing as a child, often performing in amateur folk productions. Teachers noticed his precocious talent, and encouraged him to train in St Petersburg.
The dancer auditioned for, and was accepted by, the Bolshoi ballet. He was more impressed by the Mariinsky Ballet (now Mariinsky). Due to the disruptions of the Second World War, however, he wasn’t able to commence training. He ended up training with the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet of Saint Petersburg, the associate school of the Mariinsky.
Upon his graduation in 1958, Nureyev joined the Mariinsky Ballet. He moved immediately beyond the lower levels and was given solo roles as a principal dancer from the start. Before long he became one of the Soviet Union's best-known dancers. From 1958 to 1961, in his three years with the Mariinsky, he danced 15 roles
Always a non-conformist, Nureyev started to experience tensions between himself and principals at the Kirov. The Russian authorities were persuaded to let him perform in Paris - at a time when relations between the West and Russia were in deep freeze. Nureyev broke strict rules laid down by the Soviet authorities by mingling with ‘foreigners’.
At Le Bourget Airport - with the Mariinsky company - Nureyev was told he had to return home because his mother was ill. He became suspicious, and with the help of the French police and a socialite friend, he fled the airport and claimed political asylum.
He joined the Royal Ballet as Principal Dancer, forming a legendary partnership with Dame Margot Fonteyn, with whom he first performed in 1962. He stayed with the company until the 1970s.
In 1983, Nureyev (by new a naturalised citizen of Austria) was appointed director of the Paris Opera Ballet, regularly providing opportunities that encouraged young, upcoming dancers.
Although he petitioned the Soviet government for many years to be allowed to visit his mother, he was not allowed to do so until 1987, when his mother was dying and Mikhail Gorbachev consented to the visit.
His last public appearance was on 8 October 1992, at the premiere at Palais Garnier of a new production of La Bayadère that he choreographed after Marius Petipa for the Paris Opera Ballet.
Rudolf Nureyev died of AIDS-related complications on January 6th, 1993 aged just 54.
The White Crow is in cinemas now. IMAGE CREDIT: Nureyev as Romeo, 1980, photo by Lelli e Masotti