Rudolf Nureyev: The Life
By Julie Kavanagh
This summer I embarked on the labour of reading Julie Kavanagh's opus on Nureyev. It is an expertly researched text. It is extraordinary to read page after page of detailed documentation of Nureyev's life, especially of his younger years, from his earliest days in Ufa to the fulfillment of his dream to dance in the Kirov Ballet. Much more is known of Nureyev's life from his defection onwards, to joining the Royal Ballet where he teamed up with Margot Fonteyn to form one of the most legendary ballet partnerships in history. Incidentally, the BBC Four is airing a TV movie of Fonteyn's life Margot as a part of its Women We Loved Season (Gracie Fields and Enid Blyton are the other two, the latter played by Helena Bonham-Carter... looking forward to that).
It is common, if not somewhat expected, that a biographer is empathetic towards their subject, sometimes so much so that they end up excusing their mistakes too easily. Kavanagh sustains an intelligent balance between her evident desire to understand Nureyev and a critical attitude to his misdemeanors. She remains throughout the book aware of the difficulties of Nureyev's character; how it affected his relationship with his colleagues, the ballet companies he danced in, and most of all his intimate relationships, both friends and lovers. Gifted as he was, the demands of his inflated sense of self-worth were regularly destructive in his relationships. Perhaps only towards the end of his life, when he was struggling against HIV/AIDS while continuing to overwork himself, did he become aware of his fallibility, and to a degree, came to terms with it. In conclusion, if one wants to read a biography about Nureyev, this is the one to read.