Rudolf Nureyev, dancer, choreographer and Director of Dance
Directors, ballet masters, stage directors, choreographers, architects, ... Octave discovers the personalities that have marked the history of the Opera which continues to attract the great names of music and dance.
Born on board a Trans-Siberian train in the region of Lake Baikal, Rudolf Nureyev began practising folk dance at an early age and followed classes in classical dance at the theatre in Ufa (Bashkiria), the city of his childhood. In 1955, he was accepted into the prestigious Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet (Leningrad) where he met his favourite teacher, Alexander Pushkin. In 1958, he joined the company of the Kirov Theatre Ballet (formerly the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet) in Leningrad as a soloist. His debut in the pas de trois of Swan Lake and his numerous appearances thereafter soon made him a sensation with audiences. In 1961, for the Kirov’s first tour abroad, he appeared on the stage of the Palais Garnier in the Kingdom of the Shades act from La Bayadère. A few days later, he asked for political asylum at Le Bourget Airport after his Soviet handlers tried to send him back to the USSR as the rest of the troupe were flying on to London. A few days later, he signed up with the Grand Ballet du marquis de Cuevas. It was an opportunity for Rudolf Nureyev to make some decisive encounters: Erik Bruhn, Étoile dancer of the Royal Danish Ballet, with whom he would study the Bournonville style, and Margot Fonteyn who would become his dance partner in Giselle then Marguerite and Armand, after he became a “guest artist” at London’s Royal Ballet—a title he would retain until 1977. In 1963, Rudolf Nureyev restaged the Kingdom of the Shades act from La Bayadère for the first time for the Royal Ballet and his career took on an international dimension. He danced as a guest star with all the great ballet companies in Europe, and the United States, performing works from the great repertoire and new creations by Frederick Ashton, Rudi Van Dantzig, Roland Petit, Maurice Béjart, and George Balanchine… In 1983, he became the Paris Opera’s Director of Dance, a post he would hold until 1989. During those six years, he focused on expanding the repertoire (with baroque and pre-romantic reconstitutions) and by incorporating the great ballets—Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and Raymonda after Marius Petipa. He also brought back Jerome Robbins and Merce Cunningham to the Palais Garnier and then invited—in addition to Roland Petit, Maurice Béjart, and John Neumeier—Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp. He asked Robert Wilson to propose his vision of Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien (1988) and he commissioned works from Dominique Bagouet, Maguy Marin, and Karole Armitage. He was also instrumental in propelling William Forsythe to international fame. In 1990 and 1991, whilst still the “principal choreographer” of the Paris Opera Ballet, he restaged revivals of Swan Lake, Don Quixote, and Romeo and Juliet and he devoted the last of his ebbing strength to a new production of La Bayadère (which premiered in 1992), the very same ballet in the very same theatre that had launched him to glory and made him choose freedom all those years before.