Ballet's first pop icon, Rudolf Nureyev revolutionised an old art form, bringing a new young audience to opera houses, and sparking Rudimania across the globe. From his birth on a train in Siberia at the height of Stalin's Terrors, Nureyev's life was extraordinary. His career was decided at the age of 8 and nine years later, leaving his Tatar peasant family behind him, he realised his dream of studying at the Kirov's school. The account of Nureyev's Leningrad years has never been more compellingly told, focusing on a teacher of genius who moulded the late starter into a star; the guilty affair with his beloved mentor's wife; and the dancer's homosexual rite of passage, a secret liaison with an East German student who was the catalyst behind Nureyev's escape to the West.The 1961 defection was just the beginning. Nureyev spent the rest of his life breaking barriers, re-inventing male technique; 'crashing the gates' of modern dance; iconoclastically changing ballet's most hallowed classics; and making dance history by partnering England's prima ballerina assoluta Margot Fonteyn - a woman twice his age.
Through previously unpublished letters the author traces Nureyev's passionate and deeply troubled relationship with the great Danish dancer Erik Bruhn, and tells the story of his poignant, on-off 'marriage' to a young American film student. Then there were the women; women of all ages were dazzled by the star, a few successfully seduced him, others simply enslaved themselves. Sex was a driving force for Nureyev, but conjoined to the sinner was always the saint, and it was this Byronic duality in himself of 'dirt and deity' that Nureyev used his ballets to explore.This definitive biography, nine years in the making, draws for the first time on private papers, diaries and home-movie footage, and includes reminiscences from scores of colleagues and friends, the closest of whom had hitherto refused to co-operate with any writer. Julie Kavanagh, herself a former dancer, examines with authority Nureyev's legacy as a choreographer and director (an inspirational Diaghilev figure to young proteges like Sylvie Guillem), and her memories of the star's greatest years creates a sense of the exultation and heart-bursting impact of watching Nureyev on stage.
Commended for Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2008.
Shortlisted for Theatre Book Prize 2007.
Shortlisted for Costa Biography Award 2007.
Julie Kavanagh trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet School, and is the author of Secret Muses: The Life of Frederick Ashton. She has worked as ballet critic of The Spectator; Arts Editor of Harpers & Queen; and London Editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. She is married to the ex-Royal Ballet dancer, now dance film maker, Ross MacGibbon, and has two sons.