RUDOLPH NUREYEV, Russian-born dancer and choreographer (d. 1993); Nureyev became the most famous male dancer in the West before he was thirty – and the most publicized. His influence on the world of ballet changed the perception of male dancers; in his own productions of the classics the male roles received much more choreography. Another important influence was his crossing the borders between classical ballet and modern dance by performing both. Today it is normal for dancers to receive training in both styles, but Nureyev was originator, and the practice was much criticized in his day.
That he partied everywhere and was photographed partying everywhere was as clever a manipulation of the press as Diaghelev’s successful attempts to get the public to focus on Nijinsky’s crotch. “We want Rudy,” the fans screamed, “especially in the nudi!” It was all part of the show. So when Dave Kopay, an athlete of a different sort, casually mentioned in his best-selling autobiography that Nureyev visited Gay bars, no one particularly cared. The Celebrity Register had already printed the peculiar warning of an English friend: “I told Rudy he can be as naughty as he likes, but if he isn’t more careful, they’re going to find him…some morning in an alley in Soho, his head laid open with a lorry driver’s spanner.”
This writer actually found him at his kitchen table one Sunday morning in the mid-70’s, in the company of my attractive roommate. I had gone for coffee for me and my boyfriend who was still in bed. I saw that my roommate was sitting with someone at the table. He greeted me with, “Rudy, this is Bo….Bo, this is Rudy.” I nodded hello….and tried to leave the kitchen as nonchalantly as possible, with only one cup of coffee so my BF could go back to the kitchen and see for himself.
When HIV-AIDS appeared in France in about 1982, Nureyev took little notice. For several years he simply denied that anything was wrong with his health: when, about 1990, he became undeniably ill, he is said to have attributed these to other ailments. He tried several experimental treatments but they did not stop his deteriorating health. Towards the end of his life, as dancing became more and more agonizing, he resigned himself to small non-dancing roles. At the urging of Fonteyn, he had a short but successful conducting career, which was cut short due to health problems.
Eventually, he had to face the reality that he was dying and he won the admiration of many of his detractors by his courage during this period. The loss of his looks pained him, but he continued to struggle through public appearances. At his last appearance, a 1992 production of La Bayadere at the Palais Garnier, Nureyev received an emotional standing ovation. The French Culture Minister, Jack Lang, presented him with France’s highest cultural award, the Commandeur de l’ordre des Arts et des lettres. He died in Paris a few months later, aged 54.