The Kennedy Center

Rudolph Nureyev


Rudolph Nureyev was born in Irkutsk, Russia in 1938. He began his dancing career with amateur folk dance groups and the Ufa Opera Ballet. When he was seventeen, Nureyev entered the Leningrad Ballet School and studied with the prominent teacher Alexander Pushkin. After three years of training, he joined the Kirov Ballet as a soloist and danced full length roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Gayane, The Nutcracker and La Bayadere.

Despite his phenomenal early success, Nureyev had a troubled relationship with the Kirov management and Russian political authorities. 1961 was a pivitol year for him. Although Nureyev’s appearance with the Kirov in Paris in 1961 was an extraordinary success, he defied company regulations and was commanded to return to Moscow. On June 17 he sought political asylum at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, severing his ties with the Soviet Union.

In less than a week Nureyev joined the international Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas. He made his London debut in October at the Royal Academy of Dancing, where he met Margot Fonteyn, his principal partner for many subsequent years. From 1962 to the mid-1970’s, Nureyev was a regular guest artist with the Royal Ballet and performed with Chicago Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

With his tirelessness and compulsive drive, Nureyev performed at a non-stop pace, dancing in over ninety roles with over thirty major ballet and modern dance companies. Fascinated with modern dance, he performed with choreographers Martha Graham, Murray Louis and Paul Taylor. In 1972 Nureyev entered the film medium as a director, and in 1976 debuted as an actor in Rudolph Valentino. In 1983 he became director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Nureyev's virtuosity, charisma and savage power brought him international acclaim as the greatest male ballet dancer of his generation. His last stage appearance was for a curtain call at the Palace Garnier in Paris, after the production of La Bayadere. He died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of fifty-four.
Rudolph Nureyev