NUREYEV, Rudolf (1938-1993)
Plaque erected in 2017 by English Heritage at 27 Victoria Road, Kensington, London W8 5RF, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Music and Dance
RUDOLF NUREYEV 1938-1993 Ballet Dancer lived here
Rudolf Nureyev was one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers. He transformed the role of the male dancer from supporting the ballerina to being a star in his own right. His partnership with Margot Fonteyn in particular earned him celebrity status in 1960s London. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 27 Victoria Road in Kensington and Chelsea, where he regularly stayed with friends from 1973 onwards.
Nureyev’s route to stardom was an unusual one. He was born on the Trans–Siberian express shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, as his mother was travelling to the Pacific port town of Vladivostok to join her husband – a Red Army political officer. The family were later evacuated from Moscow after Germany invaded Russia and Nureyev suffered great poverty and hunger during his childhood. At the age of seven, however, he saw the ballet Song of the Cranes, and from then on believed he was destined to become a dancer.
Against his father’s wishes he took lessons in both folk dance and ballet and joined the Kirov Ballet School in Leningrad under Aleksander Pushkin, aged 17. He was behind his contemporaries, having started later than them, but by the time he graduated he danced with such brilliance that both the Bolshoi and Kirov ballets offered him soloist contracts. He accepted the latter.
In 1961 Nureyev defected from the USSR. Ordered to return to the Soviet Union while waiting at a French airport, he was worried that he might never be allowed to travel abroad again if he returned to his home country. Following his defection Nureyev spent his life constantly travelling.
FONTEYN, LONDON AND FAME
During his career Nureyev built up an unusually large and diverse repertoire, taking well over 100 roles by more than 40 choreographers. He danced with dozens of organisations, including all 5 major British ballet companies, but it was his partnership with Margot Fonteyn at the Royal Ballet Company that brought him international acclaim. Despite their differences in temperament, background and age (she was 42 and he 23), they formed possibly the greatest ever ballet partnership. Individually superb dancers, they taught each other much and raised each other to new heights. Sir Frederick Ashton choreographed Marguerite and Armand for them (1963) and, controversially, they debuted Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet (1965), even though MacMillan had conceived the ballet for Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable.
Nureyev lived at several London addresses, spending some months in a rented Kensington flat with his long-term partner Erik Bruhn, and staying for a short time in Fonteyn’s home in 1962, also in Kensington. He bought a house near Richmond Park in 1967, but found the semi-rural location too isolating. Instead he preferred to stay with his 'parents in the West', Nigel and Maude Gosling, who were influential dance critics and friends of Fonteyn. It is at their former home – 27 Victoria Road – that Nureyev’s blue plaque can be found.
At number 27 there was a self-contained apartment that was always available for Nureyev. One biographer notes that it was ‘filled with his own antiques, records and books’ and Nureyev used it as ‘his sanctuary, the place he came to rest before a performance and to have supper afterwards’. After Nigel’s death in 1982 the ground-floor flat was where he always stayed when in London.
Nureyev was one of the first classically trained dancers to embrace contemporary dance, and his experiments with choreography led him to create his own productions. He staged productions of La Bayadère (1963), Don Quixote (1966) and The Nutcracker (1967). By 1983 he was the Artistic Director at Thèâtre National de l'Opera in Paris, where for six years, he greatly widened the repertoire and taught a new generation of dancers in the attached school.
Nureyev staged his final production at Ópera Garnier in Paris in 1992. He died the following year from HIV-related cardiac complications, aged 54. He is buried at the Russian cemetery at Ste Geneviève-des-Bois, near Paris.