Russian dancer, director and choreographer Rudolf Nureyev (1938–93) was one of the world's most famous dancers. He won admiration as much for his breathtaking jumps and lyrical style as his personal glamour. He was a Guest Artist with The Royal Ballet 1962 until the mid-1970s, during which time his dance partnership with Margot Fonteyn became one of the cultural icons of the era.
Nureyev was born in Siberia and trained at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad from the age of 17, joining Kirov Ballet in 1958. On a Kirov tour to Paris in 1961 he defected to the West, in the first political defection by a Soviet artist. After debuts in the USA he made his London debut dancing with Fonteyn at a charity gala, and his Royal Ballet debut on 21 February 1962 in Giselle with Fonteyn. While with the Company he danced with the world's leading ballet companies, on Broadway and on film, and won wide acclaim as a stager (including Don Quixote) and choreographer (including Romeo and Juliet). His many stagings for the Company include Raymonda Act III. He was appointed Artistic Director of Paris Opéra in 1983 and was awarded the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur at the premiere of his last work with the company, a staging of La Bayadère, on 8 October 1992.
Nureyev fundamentally changed public perception of both ballet and the male ballet dancer. Part of his legacy is the continuing development of the male virtuoso.
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Rudolf Nureyev, 1963 © Frederika Davis
Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Frederick Ashton at the Silver Jubilee Gala. Photo © Donald Southern/ROHMargot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev and Frederick Ashton at the Silver Jubilee Gala. Photo Donald Southe© Donald Southern/ROH
Frederick Ashton, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during rehearsals © 1962 Royal Opera House/Donald Southern