Nureyev (DVD)

Warner Classics
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Rudolf Nureyev, Patricia Foy


Rudolf Nureyev

Patricia Foy (director)

Duration: 90’

English commentary with French and German subtitles

No performer on the world stage received so much acclaim and publicity as Rudolf Nureyev, and no one gave away so little about their private life and thinking. In this television biography, made some twelve months before his death in 1993, Nureyev tells his own story in his own words and recalls turning points in his career.

The programme traces Nureyev’s life, starting out from his home town of Ufa in the shadow of the Ural Mountains, half way between Moscow and Siberia. When filming took place there, Ufa had changed very little since his departure thirty years before. The school was still there and so was the modest wooden house, which his family shared with two others. The green curtains still hung at the old theatre, where he saw the ballet performance which changed the course of his life.

Nureyev’s sister, his head mistress and the dance teacher who first discovered him (101 years old at the time this programme was made), all recall the solitary rebel. At the Kirov Theatre, the prima ballerina who was his first partner remembers the student who emerged as the most brilliant dancer of his generation.

The cameras were also allowed to film Nureyev on his Mediterranean island of Li Galli, which once belonged to another Russian dancer, Massine.

Nureyev’s dancing career has been extensively chronicled on film and television. This definitive biography incorporates extensive archive material and documents Nureyev’s career with footage of his greatest roles and the most important events in his life.

Ninette de Valois, mentor; Margot Fonteyn, partner; Roland Petit, choreographer; and Sylvie Guillem, dancer, are among those who comment on the life and legend of this fiery Tartar. There are extracts from the following ballets: Le Corsaire, The Sleeping Beauty, Marguerite and Armand, Apollo, Aureole, Don Quixote, Cinderella and Pierrot Lunaire.



This is the story of a dancer. It describes the struggle of an impoverished and misunderstood boy against his environment, enfolds a dramatic and romantic success story and reveals unexplored scenes of Russian life. Above all, it traces the development of an exceptional artist who totally changed the face of ballet.

Nureyev was born on a train, in the vicinity of Irkutsk, on 17 March 1938. His mother and three sisters were on their way to Vladivostock to join his father who was a political instructor with the Red Army. Both parents were Moslem Tartars and Nureyev never regarded himself as Russian. His early years were spent in a poverty-stricken village near Ufa. The farnily of five shared one room with an old couple and existed on an irregular diet of potatoes. He was permanently hungry and inadequately clothed. On his first day at kindergarten, he wore his sister’s dress and had no shoes. His mother carried him to school and all the children laughed and called him “the beggar”.

Shortly before hs sixth birthday, his whole world changed. His mother smuggled him into a ballet performance at the local theatre. The impact of the experience had such a magical effect that, from that moment, he resolved to become a dancer. He joined the folk dance class at school and could think of nothing else. At home he danced and sang continuously. His father planned a military career for his only son and found these artistic inclinations frivolous and unmanly. He beat him for dancing. Nureyev was always frightened of his father and, even in his teens, could never look him in the eye.

Nureyev was always a loner. About tlvs time he discovered a small hill near hs home fkom which he could observe the people of Ufa going about their daily lives. It had a good view of the Bath House, which was the social centre on a Saturday morning, but, more important, it dominated the railway station. He was magnetised by the trains and, throughout his childhood, spent hours each day watching them and imagining himself aboard.

It was not until he was 17 that Nureyev took one of those trains. He saved up and bought the cheapest ticket to Leningrad (St Petersbwg). He made his way to the Kirov Theatre and asked for an audition with the Ballet. He was 18 years of age with almost no classical training but was accepted. Within three years, he had become the most outstanding dancer of his generation.

There were constant collisions with authority. He rehsed to become a Party member and in other ways maintained his independence. Matters reached a climax during the visit of the Kirov Ballet to Paris in June 1961. As the Company were waiting at Le Bourget

Airport to board the plane for London, Nureyev was told he would be returning immediately to Moscow. Eluding his two Russian guards, he gave a balletic leap over the barrier to freedom. Overnight, he became the most famous dancer in the world. He was 23.

The following season he made his dkbut with the Royal Ballet, in Giselle, with Margot Fonteyn. This legendary partnership generated international acclaim and they danced all over the world. They were ‘superstars’, bringing ballet to a new and wider audience. Nureyev was equally at home in the classics or modem dance styles, with a repertoire of more than 90 roles.Averaging 200 performances a year, he re-established the importance of the male dancer and his image was comparable with that of a pop idol.

With so much creative energy, Nureyev’s talents expanded beyond dancing. He choreographed five original ballets and remounted 20 more classical productions. He CO-directed films and appeared as an actor. He starred in a stage revival of The King andI. In 1983, he became Artistic Director of the Paris Opera Ballet, transforming it into one of the finest companies in the world, remaining, until his death, their Resident Choreographer.

Nureyev’s life-style was exotic but he never put down roots. He had a wardrobe of designer clothes, but invariably wore well-worn garments. He had homes in Paris, Cannes, London, New York and a farm in Maryland, as well as an island between Capri and Positano. The island had previously belonged to the dancer and choreographer Massine and, in a Saracen’s tower, there is a fully equipped dance studio. The island had been unoccupied for ten years and, with a concentration of energy and involvement, Rudolf set about making it habitable. A helicopter pad was made and building materials and furniture began to arrive. A gilded bath was ordered from Paris. Its perilous delivery by helicopter, swinging and glinting in the sun, was for Nureyev a moment of sheer delight. The Bath House at Ufa was far, far away.