Sunday 7 October 2018


Rudi made me cry. 
I don't cry at or during films anymore, mostly because the varying levels of discomfort my eyes are usually in, make it hard for me to escape entirely into the visual world before me. But the life of Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev contained within a single powerful documentary, All The World His Stage, had me in tears for much of the second half.

Exile is a common enough story for many of us. Voluntary or involuntary. But in Rudi's case he was a pawn of a nation, a government, an ideology that his body and will refused to succumb to. Of course, his defection in Paris in 1961 had nasty consequences for his friends, the 'kitchen culture' crowd, who had, in secrecy, danced and recited poetry and played under the wrap of darkness. But they separated him from his mother, and more than anyone else in his family, I think that may have been the worst of it, though in the end they let him back for the days before her death. They say that although she was failing to recognise anyone else, she knew he had been to see her, but what was that one moment against all the years - the millions of yearnings, and achings for home?

And then there was Dame Margot - La Fonteyn - the substitute mother figure? No, she was more, she was everything to him;  after she died, he had no one; he would call friends before dawn, and say nothing, only cry. She was on the verge of asking her husband Tito for a divorce, and then he got shot, and Fonteyn's mother said how will it look if you don't go immediately to his side? How will it look? Even the greatest prima donna ballerina obeys when her mother says those four sinister words. That was the end of Nureyev and Fonteyn, so said the documentary, although in reality they danced for years afterwards, and stayed close until her death. 

The violinist Yehudi Menuhin called Nureyev a panther. Parkinson asked him to describe how things had been in Russia when Nureyev was a child. 'Bad,' replied the dancer. 'But how bad?' pressed Parky. Because people always want to know how bad, from the safety and comfort of their own lives. Richard Avedon photographed Nureyev's leaps into air as though he were challenging gravity to call him merely human, but Bob Dylan wrote 'No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.'  

The documentary was at once the embodiment of freedom and simultaneously a chaining down, a weighing down of things that are bigger than us, wider than we can control. Politics, AIDS. Being called Russian when you are really Tatar, but no one knows of Tatars or their complicated history with Russia...

 Ah... go watch the documentary if you can. Also Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two. Also M.I.A, about the Sri Lankan Tamil English singer and activist Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam. Also, the manager of the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse has promised me the Nureyev poster when the film has finished running... these are moments worth living for.  


Sherry Blue Sky said...

Now I want to watch ALL these films. How wonderful this post is with exciting stories to pursue. I always know I will like films and books you like, we share a worldview I believe. I am so drawn to true stories of peoples' lives and how they rise in spite of their hard journeys. Thank you for this post, my friend.

rallentanda said...

We were still giggly but precocious little school girls in the sixties. Our parents ( relieved that we were interested in high culture and not those awful Beatle boys:) allowed us to camp out over night to buy tickets to see Nureyev making his first visit down under.

My best friend and I were both mad about him. We had pictures of him inside our desks at school and all over our bedroom walls.We were lucky enough to get tickets and I will never forget that performance. Now what follows is even more amazing. The Prime Minister and his retinue were present at this performance. We just tagged on to the group ( looking as if we belonged) and merged with them back stage. In those days security was not an issue here( obviously)

We met Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev. My friend asked for his autograph...did not have anything for him to write on except for a newspaper (we could not afford programs, the tickets cost a fortune)...He did... somewhat bemused... made some sort of joke and then we left...He was gorgeous . Thank you for reminding me..

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