Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev Biography

Ballet Dancer (1938–1993)
Rudolf Nureyev was a charismatic ballet star and one of the greatest male dancers of the 20th century, who often partnered ballerina Margot Fonteyn.


Rudolf Nureyev was born March 17, 1938, in Irkutsk, Russia. After graduating from the Leningrad Ballet School, he became a soloist with the Kirov Ballet. In 1961, he made his London debut at Margot Fonteyn's yearly gala for the Royal Academy of Dancing. He took his first stab at choreography in 1964. In the years before his death, he served as artistic director of the Paris Opera Ballet and tried orchestral conducting. He died on January 6, 1993, in Paris.

Early Years

Ballet dancer and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev was born, the youngest child and only son to a peasant family of Tatar heritage, on March 17, 1938, in Irkutsk, Russia. When Germany invaded the U.S.S.R., Rudolf and his family evacuated from Moscow to Ufa, Bashkir. Although the family lived in poverty there, Rudolf's mother, Farida, managed to buy a single ticket  and sneak her children into the opera. At his first glimpse of ballerina Zaituna Nazretdinova, Rudolf knew he wanted to become a dancer.

At the age of 11, Nureyev started ballet classes, studying with Anna Udeltsova. A year and a half later, began training with Elena Vaitovich.

Professional Dancer

Nureyev started dancing professionally as an extra at the local opera when he was 15. From there he landed a job with the corps de ballet and toured with them in Moscow.

When Nureyev turned 17, he was accepted into the Leningrad Ballet School, where Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin became his teacher. When he graduated, Nureyev accepted a soloist contract with the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg and debuted opposite Natalia Dudinskaya. Over the next few years, he danced an additional 15 major roles in productions at the Kirov Theater, including The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.

In 1961, Nureyev and the Kirov company toured in Paris. That year, he also made his London debut at ballerina Margot Fonteyn's yearly gala for the Royal Academy of Dancing. As a result, Nureyev was invited to dance with Fonteyn during the following year's gala. Their chemistry as a dance team would captivate audiences and garner large fees for years to come, although the partnership was never exclusive. Nureyev's gallery performance was also the start of his long-lasting relationship with the Royal Ballet, his home base up until the mid-1970s.

Choreographer and Director

Nureyev took his first stab at choreography in 1964 with revised versions of Raymonda and Swan Lake. He would go on to re-choreograph four more ballets during his career.

In 1977 Nureyev was considered for the position of director at the Royal Ballet. At the time, he refused because he wanted to continue his dancing career. Six years later, he accepted the job as ballet director for the Paris Opera, which permitted him to continue dancing six months out of the year. During this time, Nureyev began to take on roles in films such as Valentino and Exposed

In the years preceding his death, Nureyev expanded his repertoire to include orchestral conducting. He died of AIDS on January 6, 1993, in Paris.

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