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Rudolf Nureyev

Dancer

Biography

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.

News and features

The Mariinsky in London: A look back at six decades of London performances

The Mariinsky in London: A look back at six decades of London performances

29 July 2014

The company, formerly known as the Kirov, have dazzled Covent Garden audiences on 11 occasions since 1961.

The Male Virtuoso

The Male Virtuoso

7 February 2014

A look at the development of the male dancer.

Ballet Essentials: Romeo and Juliet

Ballet Essentials: Romeo and Juliet

16 October 2013

A quick guide to Kenneth MacMillan's adaptation of Shakespeare's timeless tragedy.

5 things you need to know about Don Quixote

5 things you need to know about Don Quixote

3 October 2013

Our quick guide to Carlos Acosta's vibrant staging of Marius Petipa's exuberant ballet.

Swan Lake: An Essential Guide

Swan Lake: An Essential Guide

11 October 2012

Interesting articles, links and videos allowing you to dive deeper into Swan Lake.

Royal Opera House Nureyev costumes on tour to San Francisco

Royal Opera House Nureyev costumes on tour to San Francisco

8 October 2012

De Young Museum exhibition on the dancer starts this week.

Photos