On the Sunday before last I discovered Rudolf Nureyev’s picture on the front of the Sunday Telegraph magazine. The article inside was in fact an extract from a new book about him by Carolyn Soutar but unfortunately the Telegraph magazine is not available on line. Since then a friend has alerted me to this review of the book in The Scotsman. http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/critique.cfm?id=972662004
Although the review states that the author worked professionally with Nureyev over a number of years, the Telegraph extract seemed to show more interest in his sex life than in his dancing. Also the author began her acquaintance with Nureyev in 1980 when he was 42 years old and his career was in serious decline. According to The Scotsman review one of the main contributors to the book is Robert Tracy, a former lover of Nureyev’s who reportedly once sued him for a large sum in ‘palimony’, so I wonder how objective his views on Nureyev will be.
A few years ago Simon Robinson wrote a book called “A Year with Rudolf Nureyev” which described the author’s time working for Nureyev when the dancer was already gravely ill. It was both illuminating and moving and even quite funny in places. Roland Petit, who knew him well, has also written a memoir of Nureyev, but it is yet to be translated or to find a publisher in the UK. There are also three major biographies written about him since his death. The first was a disgrace, appallingly edited with preposterous speculation and full of outright inaccuracies, the second was better written but marred by the author’s preoccupation with gay politics. It was only when the third biography, by Diane Solway, appeared that a totally accurate, un-sensational and well-researched book became available.
If I sound unduly critical about a book I haven’t yet read it’s because I feel so uneasy about this sex and sleaze approach that authors (and film makers: who remembers “Nureyev Unzipped”?) invariably seem to adopt when dealing with Nureyev’s life. In recent years I’ve noticed a trend in ballet circles, particularly among those that never saw him, to belittle both the man and his career. He is now constantly being compared unfavourably with Baryshnikov and others and his many achievements brushed aside. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if their knowledge of him comes from authors who view him as an easy way to make a quick buck.
I find all this desperately sad, especially since he always kept his private life under wraps during his lifetime. Surely more respect should be paid to him than this constant reminder about his sex life? At present I have 18 books in four different languages about Nureyev, many of them books of photographs: and one photograph can tell you more about him than reams of prose. I will certainly be buying this book and the other one in the pipeline by Julie Kavanagh which I have heard from a reliable source will contain contributions from people very close to Nureyev that were reluctant to collaborate with earlier biographers.
Dancers have short professional lives and are often soon forgotten. It looks as if Nureyev is to be remembered – but for all the wrong reasons.