Rudolf Nureyev was born in the region of Lake Baikal on a Transsiberian express on 17 March 1938 from Tatar parents and was brought up in Ufa, Bashkiria. As a child he was encouraged to dance in Bashkir folk performances and his precocity was soon noticed.
In 1955 he started to study dance in the world-famous school of Kirov (now Mariinsky) Theatre, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Here he graduated within three years instead of eight under the guidance of Alexander Pushkin. Soon he became solo dancer of the company.
In 1961 the company toured the West and after their Paris performances before boarding the plane for London at Le Bourget, Nureyev escaped the Soviet security officers and asked for asylum on 17 June 1961 which he was granted. This “leap to freedom” made headlines in the international press.
Within a week, he was signed up by the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas and was performing The Sleeping Beauty with Nina Vyroubova. He was an instant celebrity in the West, and his dramatic defection, outstanding technique, good looks, and astonishing charisma on stage made him an international star.
Soon after he was invited to London by Dame Margot Fonteyn (1962), a partnership that was to continue until the seventies. This, however, did not prevent him from appearing on practically all stages of the world in some hundred or so roles. He worked several times with the ballet company of the Vienna State Opera and at the Scala of Milan. In the first years he traveled as stateless, but later – with the help of “Papa” Hübner, Prof. Wilhelm Hübner concert master of the Vienna Filharmonics and his wife Lydia – he was granted Austrian citizenship.
He danced practically every important role of the classical and modern repertoir throughout the world with dazzling virtuosity and electrifying charisma which made him the idol of the public. He even had even created explicitly for him, such as Sir Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand (1963), Roland Petit’s Paradise Lost (1967), Maurice Béjart’s Songs of a Wayfarer (1971) with Paolo Bortoluzzi etc. He danced the first performance of Sir MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, and widened his range of performances by contemporary works of Martha Graham, Glen Tetley, José Limón and others.
As a choreographer, his first major work was the “Dance of the Shadows” from La Bayadère for the Royal Ballet (1963), Swan Lake for the Ballet of Vienna State Opera(1964 under of the balletdirectorship of Aurel Milloss) later Romeo and Juliet for the London Festival Ballet (1967) and Manfred for the Paris Opera (1969), where he soon became artistic director and raised the international prestige of the company. In October 1992, he staged one of Petipa’s most spectacular ballets for the Paris Opera, La Bayadère.
Among his non-dancing roles were the King of Siam in the musical “The King and I” by Rogers and Hammerstein and the Doctor in Flemming Flindt’s “Death in Venice”.
His VERY last dancing performance was the role of the Angel in Gábor Keveházi’s ballet Cristoforo on the stage of the Budapest Opera House in February and March of 1992.
His international fame was increased by his films and TV-shows. His full-length film “I am a Dancer” was premiered in 1972 which added to his fame.
At the twilight of his career, the “Superstar of the Dance” also acted as a conductor, starting in the Auersperg Palace in Vienna on 25 June 1991, a music critic of the Vienna Radio referred to him as the “Little Karajan”.
After Vienna and Athens the public of the Hungarian State Opera House had the opportunity to enjoy the art of Nureyev as a conductor of the Failoni Orchestra on 30 September 1991.
Though his health started to deteriorate he still conducted on such important stages such as the Opera House of Los Angeles, or the Met of New York. He worked as a dancer with great determination almost until the very end. He died after a long battle with the fatal disease on 6 January 1993. He was buried in the Russian Cemetery of Paris.