There has been a noticeable spread of ballet competitions in the past few years throughout the whole world.

But what can be behind the growing number of ballet competitions? Who needs these competitions: the ballet dancers, the critics, companies or the audience? All do and resolutely do so. The young dancers obviously regard competitions as a much needed challenge. This as such is already a compelling reason, not even mentioning the demand of the audience, the balletomanes. Organizing the RNIBC was based first of all on our deep love for the art of ballet and – apart from all the above mentioned motivations – Rudolf Nureyev himself urged us to create this challenge.

When questioning the importance of ballet competitions nowadays, one should also keep in mind that the classical ballet has undergone a change – as an école and as a style it is endangered and is almost in minority. The repertoire of this competition gives the audience on one hand a chance to get acquainted – even if not entirely – with its rarely seen gems. On the other hand, this cultural event is a great opportunity to arouse the competing spirit of the young dancers, let them be participants or among the audience.

Hungarian State Opera House

Hungarian State Opera

The Rudolf Nureyev International Ballet Competition of Budapest emerged rather late compared to other well established competitions. Still, we see the perspective in organizing it. Our aim is to provide in Central Europe an “umbrella” organization for young, fledgling dancers; to give them a chance to prove their talent. Using Nureyev’s name is not a “publicity stunt” as many would think…

Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev performs
at the
Hungarian State Opera

Our cooperation with Nureyev dates back to the late eighties when Roland Bokor contacted him. He invited him to Budapest to conduct an orchestra and to take part in “Cristoforo”, a new ballet choreographed by Gabor Kevehazi. All this happened here in Budapest, and not in Bucharest as has been written in one of his recent biographies.

Nureyev, although being an artist who loved to travel, has practically never been to Budapest, with the exception of the 1958 Vienna International Youth Festival. As a member of the Kirov Ballet group coming from the Moldavian border by bus, driving through Hungary, they stopped in Budapest for some hours. They were shown around the city and even the Opera House, but were not allowed to get out of the bus. As Nureyev related later: “I was boiling from anger, terribly annoyed that I could finally see something nice, first time being far away from Russia…” He always wanted to come to Hungary ever since, but of course this was impossible at that time… Later on, by the time of a more liberal political era Nureyev and Bokor patched up a contract and in a sweltering summer heat Nureyev arrived by train from Vienna to Budapest accompanied by Madame Douce.

In the 1990’s Nureyev found a new outlet for his restless talent as a prospecting orchestra conductor – by the way Bokor and his crew had has recorded Nureyev’s first concert in Vienna -, so it came natural that on Bokor’s request he would conduct the Failoni Chamber Orchestra (a part of the “big” orchestra of the Hungarian State Opera House). This concert took place in the Opera in front of a (to put it gently) half house audience. Nureyev did not seem to care very much but we did, since we knew that the Hungarian audience hardly knew who he was.

When Nureyev installed in Budapest, he and Bokor had several conversations during the period of the “Cristoforo” rehearsals. Whether you believe it or not, Nureyev trusted and even liked Bokor – this was unusual from such a distrustful person as Nureyev. The idea to organize a Ballet Competition came from both of them.

At that time Nureyev was already very sick. Sometimes he had telephoned several times in the middle of the night as an emergency to get a doctor. During the two months period while he stayed in Budapest alone, having no butler, driver, confident, secretary around him, Nureyev and Bokor became somehow dependent on each other.

Nureyev sometimes was sitting in Bokor’s office for long hours, discussing about plans as well as the future competition. Again, there were no foundations, friends or agents when he left behind an enormous medical and telephone bill which partly had to be paid by Bokor himself. An amount that was terribly high even by western standards. Nureyev in return fully committed himself to the competition.
Roland Bokor with Rudolf Nureyev

Rudolf Nureyev and Roland Bokor

The Budapest Ballet Competition was a common idea. To use his name as a trademark was an appealing idea for Nureyev. He wanted the event as a surprise and a secret operation. He wanted to be, of course, president of the jury which he would have helped to select. Bokor convinced him that this could be the first ballet competition employing a big name of the world of ballet. Our “Agon” is in Nureyev’s memory. He was born on the 17th of March 1938 and by the time of the first Budapest Competition in 1994 he had already passed away.

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