21 September 2017

Ballet Star Honoured with English Heritage Blue Plaque

  • New plaque to Rudolf Nureyev unveiled today
Ballet dancers at Nureyev blue plaque unveiling
Celebrated ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque today (Thursday 21 September) on the building he considered his London home. The new plaque will mark the four-storey house in Kensington where the dance critics Nigel and Maude Gosling kept a self-contained apartment for their Russian friend Nureyev. An escape from the pressures of performing and socialising, the apartment was filled with the ballet dancer’s own antiques, records and books.

Professor Ronald Hutton, chairman of the English Heritage Blue Plaques panel, said: “Rudolf Nureyev was an outstanding dancer. He completely transformed the role of the male dancer from merely supporting the ballerina to being a star in his own right.

“The impact he had on British ballet is undeniable and his performances reached new audiences all over the world, with millions more seeing him in films and on television. It is a great pleasure to commemorate his achievements here today, at the building that he thought of as his London home.”

Though Nureyev owned his own property in London, he preferred to stay at the Goslings’ house at number 27 Victoria Road during his frequent and often lengthy stints in the city. He referred to the Goslings as his ‘parents in the West’ and it was to the apartment kept for him within their house that he came to relax before a performance and where he returned to have supper afterwards.

Other ballet dancers recognised by the Blue Plaques Scheme include the founder of the Royal Ballet Dame Ninette de Valois and Prima Ballerina Assoluta Margot Fonteyn.

Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)
Rudolf Nureyev was born on the Trans-Siberian Express in March 1938 but the exact day is not known. Evacuated from Moscow after Germany invaded Russia, Nureyev suffered great poverty and hunger during his childhood, but at the age of seven his belief that he was destined to be a dancer was awakened on seeing the ballet Song of the Cranes and, despite his father's disapproval, he took lessons in both folk dance and ballet.

At seventeen years old, Nureyev was offered a place at the Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad where he studied under Aleksandr Pushkin. He did not have the skills of his contemporaries, who had entered the academy seven years earlier, but he took this as a challenge. On graduation Nureyev danced with such brilliance that both the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets offered him a soloist contract, and he joined the latter. In June 1961, when the company was waiting at Le Bourget Airport in France during its first foreign tour, he was told that he had to return to the USSR. Fearing that - having gained a reputation as a rule-breaker - he would never be allowed to travel abroad again, Nureyev defected, eventually taking Austrian citizenship in 1982.

At the end of 1961 Nureyev made his London début, dancing in Margot Fonteyn's annual gala for the Royal Academy of Dancing, and in February 1962 he danced with her in Giselle at Covent Garden. Fonteyn had reservations because of the nineteen-year age gap; she was forty-two and he was twenty-three. But despite this, and huge differences in background and temperament (her coolness and his passion), they went on to create possibly the greatest of all ballet partnerships: Nureyev once said that they were 'one body, one soul. We moved in one way.' Individually superb dancers, they raised each other to new heights.

Nureyev remained Principal Guest Artist at the Royal Ballet until 1970 while, at the same time, pursuing an international career. In 1983 he became Directeur Artistique de la Danse at the Théâtre National de l'Opéra in Paris where, for six years, he greatly widened the repertoire and taught a new generation of dancers in the attached school. He staged his final production at the Ópera Garnier in Paris in 1992.

During his career Nureyev danced with dozens of organisations - including all of the major British ballet companies. He built up an unusually large and diverse repertoire, taking well over one hundred roles by more than forty choreographers. He was one of the first classically trained dancers to embrace contemporary dance, but above all, it was his partnership with Margot Fonteyn - who was commemorated with a blue plaque in 2016 - at the Royal Ballet Company that brought him idolisation, with the pair attaining celebrity status in London in the 1960s. 

Nureyev died from HIV-related cardiac complications in Paris on 6 January the following year, aged fifty-four, and was buried in the Russian cemetery at Ste Geneviève-des-Bois, near Paris. After making provision for his two surviving sisters and their families, he left everything to two foundations for benefiting ballet, helping young dancers, and promoting dancers' health (the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation and the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation). A memorial tribute to Nureyev was held at the Royal Opera House on 25 April 1993, and twenty years after his death, the English National Ballet presented a triple bill celebrating his work.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques Scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.

'step into englands story