Rudolf Nuriyev, the great Russian ballet dancer, would have turned 65 on Monday.
He was called the "Illegal Comet," the "God of Dance." He stunned people with his fantastic capacity for work, his vehement temper, his exceptional courage: having contracted AIDS, he lived - and worked! -with it for a record breaking period of 12 years. He liked to be the first. He was the first to have started wearing a skin-tight tricot, he was the first to perform a high jump. He made masculine dance important again.
Born on a train in 1938, Nuriyev sped through his life at 100 kilometres per hour. No one danced as much as he. Having spent three years as a soloist with Leningrad's Kirovsky Theatre, he has a brawl with the Soviet leadership because of his "amoral behaviour" during a foreign tour. In 1961, he deserts Russia for good and settles down in France.
That moment marked the peak of Nuriyev 's fame and his innumerable tours. He gave at least 200 performances a year all over the world, and never left the stage for more than a fortnight. They said the only place in the world where he did not dance was Antarctica. Travelling across the world, Nuriyev kept falling under the influence of various ballet schools - Dutch, American, English, etc. -all the while remaining a true disciple of the Russian classical school. That was the essence of the "Nuriyev style." Having settled down in France, Nuriyev conquered Europe. He appeared at the Covent Garden and the Grand Opera. Among his dancing partners was the great Margot Fontaine. They called the Nuriyev -Fontaine duo the most beautiful and poetic pair in the world.
Still a highly prolific dancer, in 1983 Nuriyev headed the Paris Grand Opera. Despite protests from ill-wishers, he often staged Russian classics (mainly by Tchaikovsky). Worn out by disease by 1991, he left his post to change his profession and become a conductor. He was successful in that too.
Huge popularity brought him money, which he spent on immovable property, antiques, pictures and fabrics. His Paris flat still serves as a sample of exemplary design. Foreign publications labelled him "the richest person in the world of ballet." But neither money nor fame changed the dancer's "plebeian substance and socialist ideals," as Kirovsky Theater's ballet prima Gabriela Komleva put it. Nevertheless, millions of admirers, who were either ignorant of or forgave him his weaknesses, he remained an unparalleled master of movement.
Nuriyev died in 1993 and was buried in Sainte Genevieve de Bois, outside Paris.