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He was afraid that the KGB people would break their legs: why did Rudolf Nureyev spend his nights in nightmares?

Date: June 7, 2023 Time: 05:55:56

Already at the end of a short but turbulent life, he returned to the USSR.

Photo: TASS Newsreel.

March 17, 2023 marks the 85th anniversary of the birth of legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.


The most temperamental of the great ballet dancers was born on the Trans-Siberian Express, on which his pregnant mother with three young daughters traveled from the Urals to the Far East. Nureyev always considered this a sign of fate, which determined the fate of a cosmopolitan for him: he could not call any particular settlement home. (“He was born near Irkutsk,” they write in the encyclopedias – well, what kind of small homeland is this?) So he will spend his whole life, between cities and countries. Diana Solway, the author of one of the many biographies of him, called him a gypsy.

But as a child he settled for some time in Ufa, where the family lived in extreme poverty. Nureyev wrote: “I remember the endless winters in Ufa, which lasted six months, without light and almost without food. I remember how my mother makes her way through the snow to bring some potatoes, from which we lived for a week… ”The mother had to walk 60 kilometers, and beware of bandits and wolves on the way. And Rudolf was fainting from hunger. And they carried him to the kindergarten in his arms, there were no boots. But at the same time, at the age of seven, he managed to enter the Ufa Opera Theater for the ballet: the performance surprised him, he seemed to understand what his vocation was.

And then – a school circle with sailor dances and a hopak, a ballet studio … The father did not really like that his son was fond of dancing, but he could not help it.

Well, and then: Leningrad, with which Rudolf fell in love, and classes at the choreographic school with the famous teacher Alexander Pushkin (he also taught Mikhail Baryshnikov). Well, and then – the Kirov Ballet. Nureyev’s talent was obvious, but everyone understood that his character was far from sweet. Another biographer, Julie Kavanagh, writes that Culture Minister Yekaterina Furtseva herself was an ardent admirer of him, calling him a “miracle”, but at the same time she believed he had behavioral problems. And indeed, when he was asked literally before going on a foreign tour why he did not join the Komsomol, he cheekily replied: “Because I do more important things than such nonsense!”

And in general, there is nothing surprising in the fact that during those very tours of Paris, Nureyev remained in France. Even before the trip, he discussed it with friends. He said that it was in Paris that all the great dancers, like Nijinsky, became stars. Yes, and those who knew Rudolf, like his colleague Mikhail Baryshnikov, argued that if he had left, he would have committed suicide in the USSR or would have been killed …

It is difficult to say how to correctly pronounce his last name: NurEev or NurIev



Nureyev’s exceptionally free behavior in Paris, and he met whoever he wanted, complained to the French that he was not allowed to open up at the Kirov Ballet, did not like KGB escorts. The theater company was supposed to fly further to London, but Nureyev was told at the airport that he would fly to Moscow. He realized that after that he would never be released from the USSR anywhere else. KGB officers escorted him to the airport bar and, waiting for the flight, sat next to him, never taking their eyes off him. But the French friend went to the police and the border guards to tell them that Nureyev wanted to stay in Paris, that they would take him against his will. They informed him that they had no right to approach the Soviet dancer: he himself had to approach them and say the phrase “Je veux l’asile politique”, “I ask for political asylum.” She passed it to Rudolf, and so she did. The KGB men ran towards him, began to push and drag him towards them, but the policeman exclaimed: “Oh no! Don’t touch it, we’re in France!”

Then the whole story was covered in a million fantastic and melodramatic details. They recalled that Nureyev allegedly jumped over barriers, waved a penknife, hit his head against the wall; that the KGB officers were dragged away from him by almost an entire detachment of French police; that a representative of the Soviet embassy urgently summoned to the airport slapped Rudolf when he realized that he was dealing with a deserter … In general, everything in the memories looked terribly cinematic, although in reality it looked rather boring from the outside .

But Nureyev himself, while the police were filling out the papers, took him to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and then to the apartment where they agreed to house him, he did not have to be bored: he understood that life had changed forever. And then letters haunted him: from his father, who called him a traitor to the Motherland (his father really suffered terribly in the distant USSR, emaciated and old), from his mother, who begged him to return … French communists in his first performance in Paris after the escape shouted: “Traitor! To Moscow! “And he threw tomatoes and banana peels at him, but the other part of the hall chanted:“ Freedom! Long live Nureyev!

And then he began to learn French, seriously study European cinema and ballet and think about how to cope with the glory that fell on him. And it was not just a scandal: everyone understood that this was a truly great dancer.

85 years since the birth of the legendary ballet dancer

Photo: TASS Newsreel.


One of the chapters of Maya Plisetskaya’s memoirs is entitled Why I Didn’t Stay in the West. The dancer explains there that she was afraid: they would catch up with her and take revenge on her. “They will stage a car accident, crush their legs, well, then will they beg in the subway if I’m still alive? … All those dreams were crossed out by fear. This is the first explanation I can give. Yes, yes, just fear. I was afraid they would kill me.” And further: “Now it has appeared in the press that the KGB, on instructions from above, intended to prepare an incident for Nuriev * with a broken leg. This is a rumor, but so real… (…) Both Nuriev and Baryshnikov undoubtedly spent more than one night in nightmares. None of them, during their years as fugitives in the West, uttered an unpleasant word about the criminal Soviet system. They only limited themselves to commenting that they want to dance a new and modern repertoire. And they did it well. They would have been killed in two counts. There was a real hunt for them.”

Whether this is true or an exaggeration, but… Except for the concerns, Nureyev was doing very well. He became close friends with the ballerina Margot Fontaine, who looked after him and was obviously in love with him (Nureyev’s orientation seemed to interfere with the novel, but he himself claimed that there was still a relationship). He often behaved like a big boy, becoming famous for his extravagant antics in everyday life and on stage (he could throw plates of food even at his friends, drop ballerinas on the floor, thereby proving that they had grown fat, and even, like the The New Yorker author wrote with a shudder in a review of Kavanagh’s book, blowing his nose into hotel towels). He earned crazy money, which he threw even easier than plates. He bought real estate because he liked houses and places (the most famous acquisition being the Li Galli archipelago off Italy’s Amalfi coast, formerly owned by dancer Leonid Myasin). Well, there were legends about his unbridled sexual behavior: apparently, he had not even hundreds, but thousands of partners. When the AIDS epidemic began, Nureyev became one of its most famous victims…

His tomb in the Saint-Genevieve-des-Bois cemetery is one of the most spectacular not only in and around Paris, but in the entire world.

Photo: TASS Newsreel.

And at the end of a short but stormy life, he returned to the USSR. First, she was given a 36-hour visa so that she could say goodbye to her terminally ill mother (she was horrified to learn that she lived in extreme poverty and was in a terrible state due to her illness; she barely recognized it, if at all, she really could not talk). He soon came to Leningrad to dance on the stage of the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theater, but he himself was already ill, and the performance was not as bright as it would have been in the prime of his career …

And in early January 1993, he died. Her tomb in the Saint-Genevieve-des-Bois cemetery is one of the most spectacular not only in and around Paris, but in the entire world: the tombstone is covered with a multicolored mosaic carpet, as bright as anything on it. happened to him in life.


It is difficult to say how to correctly pronounce his last name – NurEev or NurIev. Plisetskaya (like many people who knew him closely) confidently wrote and spoke NurIev. And in general, exactly like NurIev, he was known both in Soviet times and in the first post-Soviet years. However, in the meters, he was recorded as Nureyev, and in the West from the beginning he was known as Nureyev. There is a version that it’s all in the peculiarities of the Bashkir language: in it, the vowel sound may (in Russian hearing) seem to float between “e” and “i”.

Puck Henry
Puck Henry
Puck Henry is an editor for ePrimefeed covering all types of news.

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