''The Genghis Khan of dance, photogenic like Marilyn Monroe''

Rudolf Nuriyev: always marching to a different drummer

''The Genghis Khan of dance, photogenic like Marilyn Monroe'' Photo: kino-teatr.ru

Rudolf Nuriyev would be 80 years on 17 March. ''The Genghis Khan of dance, photogenic like Marilyn Monroe'' – people called him differently when he was alive. Ballet critics start to speak from time to time that Nuriyev's dance wasn't perfect, though the artist came from the alma mater of Russia classical ballet – the Vaganov College. Even so, this didn't impede Rudolf from conquering the world. Realnoe Vremya dedicates words to the memory of the great artist.

Eternal wanderer

He was born in a wagon when the train was running full steam not far from Baikal. His monument in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois is a huge suitcase covered with a carpet – a symbol of the eternal road. All his life after Nuriyev stayed in Paris is an eternal move around the world – tours, shooting, performances.

In answer to the question of this lines' author during an interview in Kazan in May 1992 whom he considered himself, Nuriyev firmly replied: ''I'm a citizen of peace''. And he explained that the place he considered his house was located in Paris, on Voltaire Embankment. ''My windows look out to Louvre,'' he noted. But he treated Kazan with special tenderness reminding that it's his mother's homeland.

Nobody will dare to claim that Nuriyev was a person of even temper. The character, to put it mildly, was complicated. When he came to Leningrad from Ufa and entered the choreographic college, he immediately started to fight for personal space among his classmates by experimenting all the ''trappings'' of ballet hazing first-hand.

Nuriyev, who was accepted into the ballet company of the Kirov theatre immediately after graduating from the Vaganov College, was given a room in a two-room flat soon. Young ballet dancer Alla Sizova was his kitchen neighbour. She remembered later that sometimes after her petition to tidy up the common territory, Nuriyev ranted that ''my people had been keeping your people in fear for 300 years, and you want me to mop the floor?'' However, Sizova possibly didn't see Nuriyev's peculiar humour in these monologues.

Rudolf Nuriyev's grave. Photo: wikipedia.org

March to a different drummer

Ninel Kurgapkina was his favourite partner. Arriving in Kazan for a ballet festival, which had already been bearing the name of her friend, she told the author of these lines that she considered herself partially guilty that Nuriyev decided to remain in Paris.

''Shortly before we went on tours to GDR. Then there was such a thing as patronage concerts, we performed in Soviet military units. We went by bus, and, of course, a supervisor from the KGB accompanied us,'' Mrs Kurgapkina told.

As a rule, Kurgapkina and Nuriyev occupied the last seat at the end of the bus, sat together and told jokes and funny stories to each other all the way long. The other part of the company seemed not to exist for them. When there was free time and one could see a German city, the company went altogether.

''If they went to the right, Rudolf said to me we would go to the left. He asked me so severely: ''Do you want to go with the crowd, with them all?'' I said, 'No', and we went together,'' Kurgapkina remembered. And the horror is that she walked in trousers in Germany, which was not allowed. When the company returned to Leningrad, the supervisor reported on Kurgapkina. She was not taken on tour to London and Paris. ''Then I had a feeling during all my life that my story frightened Rudolf when he was said he wouldn't fly to London from Paris, he understood he also would be banned from travelling abroad like me,'' the ballerina supposed. And he performed his famous ''jump to freedom'' by alarming the whole world.

Ninel Kurgapkina and Rudolf Nuriyev. Photo: liveinternet.ru

''Your orchestra is my polygon''

It's surprising that with his carefulness, Nuriyev also immediately accepted the offer of director of the Tatar State Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre named after M. Jalil Raufal Mukhametzyanov to come to Kazan. The negotiations started as early as spring 1989 in Leningrad when Nuriyev came to dance in La Sylphide at the invitation of his classmate Oleg Vinogradov who was the head ballet master of the Kirov theatre then. Zhanna Ayupova was his partner. Ninel Kurgapkina helped to acquaint Nuriyev with Mukhametzyanov and director of the Kazan ballet company Vladimir Yakovlev.

Then the trip failed, they didn't have the time to issue a visa for Nuriyev. He arrived in Kazan in March 1992 and had a series of rehearsals with the Kazan theatre orchestra. Rudolf chose Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker for conducting. Another performance was on the horizon – with a symphony orchestra, which was part of the Tatar philharmonic. Nurive rehearsed Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliette with this collective.

Conductor from Bulgaria Vladimir Kiradzhiyev helped Nuriyev to rehearse with the orchestras in March. They didn't get along with, and Rudolf fully demonstrated his complicated character. When he came in May, Kazan conductor Vladimir Vasiliev was already appointed as an assistant.

In fact, the opera theatre dealt with Nuriyev's visit to Kazan, the philharmonic immediately disappeared somehow. After the concert with the symphony orchestra, it turned out that the philharmonic orchestra couldn't pay Nuriyev the honorarium, though it was surprisingly not high. As a result, the opera theatre paid Rudolf the honoraria for both the play and the concert.

Deputy director of the opera theatre Yury Larionov assisted Nuriyev during all his visit. He brought a masseur, took to have lunch. In May, he agreed to accommodate Rudolf in a comfortable cottage of the Cabinet of Ministers, not in the cold hotel of the Youth Centre he lived in March.

Nuriyev's cousin who lived in Kazan and grandnephew often came to the rehearsals. Nuriyev rehearsed for long and thoroughly by making breaks every 45 minutes. ''Your orchestra is my polygon,'' he would say later in an interview to the author of these lines. And he would also tell Herbert von Karajan had advised him to conduct after leaving the stage.

Rudolf Nuriyev in Kazan. Photo: kazan-opera.ru

Both the concert with the symphony orchestra and the play were to a full house. Nadezhda Pavlova, whom it was impossible to invite to the classical ballet festival to Kazan, expressed her desire to dance in The Nutcracker. After the play, Head Director of the Kamal theatre Marsel Salimzhanov was in the box of the theatre director besides Nuriyev and employees of the Kazan opera theatre, Nuriyev permitted to give his name to the Kazan ballet festival. The artistic level of the festival quite satisfied him.

Nuriyev was going to cooperate with Kazan further on by offering to stage Minkus's La Bayadère as a ballet master. It was one of his favourite ballets – he staged La Bayadère in the West deliberately for his favourite partner Margot Fonteyn in the past. Moreover, he recreated the full version of the ballet, with the third act of ''shadows''. Before Nuriyev's staging, Minkus's this ballet was performed in Europe in two acts, the ''shadows'' were considered technically very complicated.

Unfortunately, the plans were doomed not to come true. But he did stage La Bayadère in Grand Opera, the premiere was in early October 1992, Ninel Kurgapkina was Nuriyev's assistant. The last time he was on the main Paris stage he dedicated tens of years to was on the premiere day.

This year the classical ballet festival in Kazan will be dedicated to Rudolf Nuriyev's jubilee. It will open with the premiere of La Bayadère on 10 May as a memory to the great artist and his visit to his mother's homeland.

By Tatiana Mamayeva