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Person of the Week: Rudolf Nureyev

Published: September 24, 2019

Рудольф Нуреев (Rudolf Nureyev) was a Soviet ballet dancer and choreographer who was considered one of the greatest dancers of his generation. He was born in a Tatar Muslim family near Irkutsk, Russia, on March 17th, 1938. He began his dancing career performing Bashkir folk dances and was encouraged by many of his teachers to train in St. Petersburg. In 1955 he enrolled at the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. After completing his training, he joined what is now the Mariinsky Ballet, where he was immediately given principal roles. In 1959, following a trip to Vienna with his dance partner Ninel Kurgapkina to perform at a dance festival, Nureyev was told he would no longer be allowed to travel outside of the Soviet Union due to his rebellious spirit and tendency to break rules. However, in 1961, he was allowed to travel to Paris with the Mariinsky company, where he defected from the Soviet Union at the Paris airport. He was allowed to return only in 1987 to visit his mother before her death, and again in 1989, when he was asked to dance with the Mariinsky company in St. Petersburg. Following his defection, he became a principal dancer with first the Royal Ballet and then with the Paris Opera Ballet, where he ultimately became a director. In 1984, Nureyev tested positive for HIV, from which he began to decline in 1992, though he continued to work until his death in 1993. His legacy is a lasting one, and companies at both the Mariinsky theater and the Paris Opera have traditions to pay homage to him.