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Repertory Archive

Rudolf Nureyev



Soviet-born ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev was one of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century and the first male superstar of the ballet world since Vaslav Nijinsky. He mesmerized audiences with spectacular leaps and turns, but it was his passionate temperament and flamboyance onstage and off that made him a phenomenon. Nureyev, who was of Tatar descent, was reared in Moscow and Ufa, where he studied dance and apprenticed with the Ufa Ballet. He was an outstanding but rebellious student at the Leningrad Ballet School from 1955 to 1958, when he bypassed the corps de ballet and graduated directly to solo roles with the Kirov Ballet. Three years later, on June 17, 1961, while on tour with the Kirov in Paris, he eluded Soviet security guards and requested asylum from officials at Le Bourget airport. In the following months he performed in Paris, New York City, London, and Chicago, but he reached a turning point in 1962 when he partnered the British Royal Ballet’s acclaimed ballerina Margot Fonteyn, who was 19 years his senior. Nureyev’s fiery virtuosity proved to be a perfect counterpoint to Fonteyn’s elegant maturity, and their long partnership rejuvenated her career and established his. Despite his association with the Royal Ballet as a “permanent guest artist” for 20 years, Nureyev was not formally affiliated with the dance company. He worked as a guest artist around the world, both as a dancer and later as a choreographer. In the 1970s Nureyev branched into other performing arts. He appeared on television and in motion pictures, he also toured the U.S. as the King of Siam in a revival of the Broadway musical The King and I, and he even tried his hand at conducting. Although he became an Austrian citizen in 1982, he lived mainly in Paris, where he was director and principal choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet. In 1989 he danced in the Soviet Union for the first time since his defection. Nureyev made his last public appearance in October 1992, taking a bow at the Paris premiere of his new production of La Bayadere.
Nureyev died in 1993, in Paris, France.